Cosplay: Character and Creation
by Michaela de Bruce, i.Chimaera
Interpreting a design
Costume is all around us. Every day we wear clothes that either about our personal choices as to how we want to look, or for comfort, or to fit in with a brand we represent. No two people dress the same even in uniform as each person is an individual.
Characters that have been designed as part of a fictional world often live the same way. Their clothing reflects if not the same world as our then their world, and how they connect with it.
So when recreating a costume as part of a character it helps to begin the process by understanding the design as it fits with the world.
Find clear static poses/renders of the character not in motion. From all views where possible. This will allow you to find where layers of costume begin and end and you can use the image proportions to work out how the costume will scale to fit you.
Print this and mark in pencil any areas you are not sure of and use a marker to highlight what you are sure of.
Find an action shot, or series of images showing the costume in motion. This will show what the costume is or is not supposed to do. But it will show how the costume moves with the body and against gravity. Sometimes this is to defy physics! But it is important to know this too!
Using the above two references determine the setting the costume is used in. Is it in combat (of any sort- magical, military, etc.)? Is it for a social event? What level of formality is it?
Think of real world examples that mirror their situation. For example does a superhero engage in hand to hand combat? Do they display protective gear? Are they more inclined to leap about in acrobatic forms which requires a great degree of flex and stretch like dancewear?
Get familiar with the current, or historic, gear associated with the situation and even the fictional world, and see what may have been influenced in return.
example: Would a trench coat be made of satin? Homespun cotton? Would these function to protect the wearer from cold and wet?
example: A school uniform is nearly always built along the lines of business attire (wool or wool mix blazers, light cotton shirts, light wool/wool mix skirts/shorts/trousers.) There are usually elements of regional changes but often the same base fabrics are used as they are durable. Though some schools may still inflict poly-cotton shirts/blouses!
example: A ball gown is one of the highest formal social event in the west, behind weddings, and behind coronations. So they are usually the show piece so the most impractical fabrics can be used, the most impractical underpinnings to make it stick out or as close as possible. The aim is to stun.
example: Combat gear tends towards very strong materials in rip stop type materials with several layers of covert and overt forms of protection. It tends to render the wearer relatively shapeless and anonymous. Some fictional setting follow this. Some do not. The majority do not. However the need for fabric that looks like it could not snag and the need for separate layers of protection remain the same.
Suits are weird. Ties in particular have the strangest history. They make no sense, but they are part of daily life. Sometimes clothing is illogical in how they became traditional.
Designers also look to different times and places. Sometimes they look to the original source, more often than not they look to old movies.
Often anime set in western historical settings will use very modern construction. Often it’s useful to look at modern theatrical adaptations such as the Takarazuka troupes, or other stage adaptations. Visual Kei can also offer ideas and potential intent.
All art media has limitations, there are short hand codes to indicate meaning.
Once you have determined what the costume is supposed to be you can start to look for whether it could really exist or if you need to adapt it.
This can sometimes be obvious (gravity defying hair that moves) sometimes only comes about when worn (armour not hinging in a way to allow movement.)
Start taking apart the layers to determine how much you can make move the way you want it. Usually more layers will allow for different anchor points for each element.
In games often many layers are formed in a single model and so move and flow as if they were full body prosthetics. This can be where you decide if you want the same look as the end result, what it was intended to look like, or what it should look like in the real world.
I have written a form that helps me decide on how to recreate a costume or garment in a way that I feel best represents what the original character or artist intended. This can be copied or printed from a pdf available here: character sheet.
In world Environment:
In world Role:
Comparable real world environment: urban, city, cold, warm, dry, rugged, etc.
Comparable real world role: social occasion, uniform, combat, etc.
Established real world interpretations (translated to different media): stage shows, bands, movies, etc.
Possible Real World Inspirations: Designers, national costume, art history, etc.
Special properties of materials: stretch, hardness, thickness, waterproofing, wrinkle resistant, warmth, etc.
Comparable materials actually available: faux suede, foam, thermo plastics, leather, ripstop, drape, flow, texture, etc.
Anything physics defying: floating, digitigrade legs/feet, etc.
Resources: Art books, fashion books, specialist technique books, online resources including audio/visual media, etc.
The answers to each of these questions can be contradictory, having them laid out so you can choose which are the most important to you helps you work through each challenge as it crops up.
I have also included examples of how I have used this simple sheet to answer my own questions and establish my own solutions.