Cosplay: The Making of a Jedi

It's funny; every semester seems to have a certain inertia to it. The first several days following the incept of hard-won freedom are almost always met with confusion by both my body and mind. This duo, still entrenched in study mode, are convinced that I should be doing something, specifically something pertaining to academia. It may take up to a week to convince myself that I am not, in fact, procrastinating, that there's no pre-labs or paper-writing to be done, and that it's perfectly alright to relax. Fortunately, the blog is here to absorb my post-finals antsiness and the timing for both the conclusion of the semester and this particular post couldn't be better.

This past weekend was a confluence of nerdy awesomeness on a scale rarely seen, even in the midst of our modern Nerdissaince. We had the release of the Avengers (which was astoundingly good and may have driven home the nail in the coffin of my loyalties to DC), Star Wars Day, and Free Comic Day. I would gush on about the sheer brilliance of the Avengers, but everything I'd mention has already been covered here and here by the nerd news pros. The movie will merit several viewings to say the least.

So it was: ([the Avengers + Free Comic Day]*Star Wars Day)^spring semester being over = pretty damned near perfect. With all this awesome fleeting about, I was completely unprepared for things to get even more squee-worthy. On Saturday, the first real piece of my costume for Gen Con 2012 arrived!

Some quick background may help clarify that last bit. My year is effectively bifurcated, with each approximate half orbiting a particular convention: either Gen Con or PAX East. Though the boy and I have plans to expand our convention repertoire, ideally to include at least one incarnation of Comic Con, our itineraries for 2012 and 2013 are comprised of just those two events. Honestly, even if it weren't for the specter of grad school constantly looming overhead two conventions a year would still be a solid limit.

Why? I find the 4-8 month interval between conventions (this period varies year-to-year) provides just the right amount of time to plan a costume, procure materials, and construct the components while also allowing for a period of trial-and-error AND not draining my checking account simultaneously. As of late though, my planning period has expanded considerably and my cosplay syllabus now extends into 2014 (if that whole apocalypse thing doesn't go down in December).

Even though I'm constantly thinking of ideas for potential costumes, it's probably 3-6 months of actual physical work to go from brainwaves to the convention hallways with the majority of the construction taking place in the final six weeks. Furthermore, as I get more costuming experience under my belt, I find myself wanting to take on increasingly elaborate pieces which, in turn, tend to take more resources to pull off. This year's costume will be my most ambitious to date.

You may recall my use of the phrase 'cosplay Padawan' to describe those long-ago days of playing make-believe and my current goings on are the work of a 'cosplay Jedi'. Well, this metaphor is going to morph beyond the figurative in only a few months. In honor of this year's release of Star Wars: the Old Republic (that and I'm just obsessed with Star Wars as a whole) I'm going to cosplay as Aayla Secura at Gen Con 2012. 
Defending the Galaxy until the passing of Order 66
The hows and whys that comprise the cosplay selection process will be the subject of another blog entry. This post is the first in a series to document a costume-in-progress.

Once I figure out who or what I want to attempt to mimic via costume I start gathering as much visual and canonical information about that individual as possible. From there, I'll brainstorm several different ways to pull the costume together and target which pieces will likely take up the most time/resources or would otherwise prove most challenging (though it's often the piece that I think will be 'super easy' that ends up being the biggest pain in the ass).

For Aayla though, it's fairly obvious which piece is going to be the biggest challenge: her lekku (the head tentacles). After perusing the notes of quite a few professional and semi-pro cosplayers who've done a twi'lek costume, I found there are really two tried-and-true ways to pull off lekku convincingly. The first, and more common, route is to sew a pair of lekku from nylon or cotton knit. Summer over at Complete Wermo's Guide has an excellent tutorial on how to make your own lekku from fabric. Some cosplayers will paint their fabric lekku with a few layers of liquid latex which will make the tentacles feel more life-like, but will also add weight to your headpiece.

The second method for lekku creation is to cast a pair with latex. The eponymous Pam of Pam's Twi'lek Creations has become somewhat famous in the cosplay world (and rock star amongst the 501st and their ilk) for pioneering the technique for casting lekku from latex.

These two ladies helped guide my research considerably (they are both incredibly nice) and led me to draw the following conclusions concerning each type of lekku:

Inexpensive, easy to transport, can take a fair amount of abuse
Highly reusable, very durable, lifelike, can hold their shape for prolonged periods
Less realistic, limited range of available colors/textures, limited reusability, may lose their shape after hours of wear.
Expensive, require some gentle handling for transport

It ultimately came down to a question of reusability. If I'm going to invest time and resources into a costume piece I'd like to get several uses out of it if at all possible. This, and the fact that I've wanted to be a Twi'lek since I was maybe seven years old, led me towards the latex. Fabric is definitely the more viable option if you're handy with a sewing machine, aren't particular about color availability, or only plan on being a Twi'lek once or twice.
Pam's UltraCal mold for makin' lekku
After several long, but fun, discussions with Pam, she agreed to cast a 'rough' set of lekku for me, which is what surprised me from the floor of our sunroom on Saturday morning. The casting process takes 3-4 weeks and is completely dependent on the meteorological conditions in Pam's part of California. After Pam's cast dried sufficiently, she boxed up the lekku and sent them my way. As mentioned, the set she sent me were 'rough', (i.e. directly from the mold), and I've spent the past few days trimming off excess, sanding down the surface, and stuffing the actual tentacles with foam so they now hold their own shape. The bottom five inches were filled with tiny polystyrene pellets, which keep the tips in the right shape. The middle section of the lekku is just plain nylon pillow stuffing, which allows for flexibility while maintaining the overall structure The top curve (where the lekku would join with the skull) are filled with a polyfoam compound. (It's the same stuff used inside car seats)

My sanded and stuffed lekku
Now that the base of this crucial component is all set for the time being (painting and finishing the lekku will take place a few weeks from now) I'll move on to the clothing portions of the costume. It's off to a good start though! Only 99 days until Gen Con!
First test run!

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