“I don’t think I can enter this contest. It’s my original Princess Luna design and they want reference photos! WHATDO?!” First of all, I’m quite proud that many of my cosplay colleagues wish to compete with original designs. Most broad based conventions have been allowing original designs and original characters to enter in the cosplay contest. Because cosplay has grown so much, we have been seeing a ton of personal interpretations and creativity when approaching a character. The most known are the Rule 63 heroes / heroines (aka genderbends) and gijinka (human version of non-human characters…most notably Pokemon and My Little Pony. I’ve been reading up on my Facebook feed and partaken in some forum discussion on how to present one’s craft to judges should a cosplayer enter a contest. Here are just some tips to consider.
1. No reference photo? No problem.
Cosplayers coming from an anime background know that accuracy is key in presenting a costume for contest. Reference character shots are shown to show attention to detail and precision. This may not be the case for an original design. While the cosplayer may have created renderings of an original design on hand, sometimes a cosplayer may have just created something from scratch. For example, when I did my 1940s Giovanni’s Persian, I just wanted to follow a business suit pattern from the retro Vogue line but keep it with Persian’s colorations and details. Remember, judges at this stage want to see how you made the outfit and will question your choices in how you came up with your original design. Even if you may not have an exact reference photo of your design, have one of the character on hand so you can show the character’s color palette.
2. Ask yourself this – how is my design true to the character I am representing?
A while back, I wrote an article for Inside AX on how to approach gininka cosplay. I emphasized to design your cosplay to represent the character – coloration, wigs, accessories, etc. Going back to my Giovanni’s Persian example, I scoured Google to see how other artists interpreted Giovanni’s Persian. Some had it in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” and others had a gangster’s moll design to it. I wanted to do a classy cat secretary version of Giovanni’s Persian since this particular Persian was associated with Team Rocket and never quite left Giovanni’s lap. When I did Fluttershy, I wanted to make a retro 1950s day dress with the cutie mark on said day dress, but also stay a bit conservative too since she’s a demure one.
When presenting to judges, it is totally cool to talk about how your design relates to the character’s traits. Even though I don’t have a photo of a Mad Men rendition of Giovanni’s Persian, I can certainly talk about how the design relates to the character. If you’re cosplaying as Princess Luna, you can talk about the style you went with and why you thought it would be awesome. Judges want to see that you put effort out into planning and researching.
3. Craftmanship is key
After the judges hear about how you imagined your character design, now it’s time to talk about the details! If you’re doing a historical recreation, this is the time to talk about methods you’ve used to make it work with your design. I’ve seen Pokemon versions of an Elizabethan style Pikachu and a French can-can dancers of starter Pokemon. It is a good idea to talk about how you might have modified something to fit with the character. You can also talk about fabric choices and creative approaches to portray the character in your craftsmanship.
4. Most of all, credit third party art where it’s due.
In a more recent case, the artist for the Sailor Moon lingerie fan art made it clear that her designs were not meant to be cosplayed. If you do plan to go with an existing piece of fan art, it is always courteous to ask first. If you are granted permission, credit the artist in your photos and your presentation to the judges. While you may have spent a sum of money and time on recreating said art, it is always courteous and best practice to acknowledge the original artist. When in doubt, you can ask around if something is considered original art or not. It can get really tricky nowadays with so much fan art shared that may look like the original designs. When in doubt, ask first.
I encourage cosplayers to keep the creative juices going. I really enjoy a community that can come up with amazing interpretations of characters. Keep on using that imagination!
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