Monday, May 11, 2015

Cosplay Shenanigans: Building and Being Admiral Trench

When I got passes for Star Wars Celebration, I was a bit apprehensive about cosplaying at all.

I remember this story Kevin Smith told about the time when some kid went up to him and asked to take a picture.  He later found out that  the kid thought (or joked) that he thought that he was the X-Wing Pilot Porkins.

"What have I gotten myself into?!" I asked myself.  I know the modern cosplay community is very accepting and tolerant.  Hell, there's even a lot of "Cosplay is not consent" placards at Star War Celebration (though people do tend to forget it is a reminder about ALL harassment, not just creepy advances).  I heard that story, and I hear about these Star Wars cosplayer groups being very "Accurate-minded," some even inspect and accept or deny club memberships based on such factors.

I was very worried, so part of this costume's decision process was because I wanted to find a character with a figure close to my ....size, and I refused to give in and simply be a Porkins.  I was marathoning Clone Wars, and the episode "Cat and Mouse" was on, and there was Admiral Trench! He was just just an awesome character, who was so unphased by going up against a Jedi, and was chilling.   It also helped that because of either his species, or other factors, this guy has a pretty thick figure, though that is really just a peripheral factor.  The fact that he's a LARGE WOOLY TARANTULA took the cake for me. 

Why do people at Star Wars Celebration kept on telling me they have arachnophobia?

When I finally wore it, however, it was nice, and it was great to have a lot of people enjoy the costume I made.  It was also interesting to see a great number of these interactions occur when seeing my costume:

Kid/Teen Fan: "IT'S HIM!!!"
Older Fan:: "Who's that guy?"
Older Fan: "Who?"
Kid/Teen Fan: "From The Clone Wars!"

It was an interesting way to see the Star Wars generational gap, and it's very good to see that Star Wars is good and alive in new generations.  Not that only younger fans were the only ones who recognized my costume, there were a good number of older fans who did a well, but I would say around two thirds of the times, it would be a younger Star Wars fan, and it was very invigorating.

On the other hand... (Or dare I say it...) on the Dark Side of things.... While I did not experience the type of elitism I expected (as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago), I felt a disturbance in The Force a few times.  I counted around, perhaps around five or so.... unpleasant conversations some fans had with me, based on either my costume or my choice of character.

One, in particular, came from a very arrogant self-proclaimed superfan, who went up to me and went, "So [looks me up and down, and also points up and down as well], what is this" I can already tell it's a very arrogant tone, and he continued, "because I know Star Wars backwards and forwards and I don't know this [and he continues to point up and down]"
"Admiral Trench" I responded
"Who? Is it a made-up character? Because I only recognize characters in cannon" the so-called superfan responded, oh-so ignorantly.
"From the Clone Wars."  I added
"Well, that's not cannon"
"And I thought you knew Star Wars 'backwards and forwards' as you said." and I walked away.

Another few conversations were similar to that, mostly of people who question my choice to pick a Clone Wars character as my cosplay.  I was expecting elitism, but not THAT kind of elitism, though it did come far and few in between and each time a kid's eyes lit up in joy or terror to see Admiral Trench, or an older fan went "OH DUDDDDE! HE DETECTED ANAKIN'S STEALTH SHIP!"  Perhaps it's worth it.   

Twi'leks have two tails on their heads. Harches have six arms. This picture's starting to look like a math problem.

Being some sort of creature/monster, I suppose, has been a proverbial cosplay refuge for me, as I don't have to necessarily handle or deal with outward issues image and looks.  I've been a Rhinoceros.... twice as two versions of of my Rocksteady costume.  I've been a Space Elephant when I was Brother Warth.  I've also been Clayface.  Hmmm, does that make being uncomfortable in a large creature suit preferable to showing my face?  The thought has crossed my mind as well.

What really intrigued me, however, was the way I would go about making the arms.  I mean, he has six arms.  The closest thing I made before was my Thanatos (from Persona 3) cosplay when I made a rig to be able to spread open all eight wings.  There was ONE large difference between Thanatos' wings and Trench's arms: Thanatos' wings only go up and down, and it goes down by itself if I let go of the strings. Gravity just pulls down the wings back to its "resting" position.  Admiral Trench's arms, I imagine, would have to move in different ways, and possibly not just up and down.  They also have elbows and wrists in addition to just shoulder joints (the wings only had something analogous to a shoulder joint). 

This was horrible to wear at crowds in cons, and that's with the wings UN-deployed!

I was starting to think of different options, and I had to think about my worst case/ if I ran out of time option, and it was this: to have arms that are just "there."  After all, I have seen pretty impressive cosplays with still arms and all the arms did look good.  If I made arms that were essentially just still, I could dedicate its construction to it being still.  I actually had two options with it - I could make it as reinforced and as strong as it could be, or it can be flexible, so when it gets bumped by random people in a crowd, it will just spring back.

The ideal option was a moving set of arms, but unlike my wings, these arms will not just go up and down, and therefore will not "reset" through gravity after I finish pulling at it with a nylon thread.  I needed something with maybe a spring-loaded joint.  I was thinking, I would set the arm on one end of the spring, and the other other end would be connected to my arm, so the arm, or arms would move when my arm would move, and when my arm would relax, the arms would spring back into place.

"Shoulder" construct with each "front" arm connector facing th side and each "back" arm connector facing the back. It arches around the collar piece, and it is connected with pvc cement, and tied tot eh football collar via zip ties.
My initial trip to Hope Depot for PVC pipes and pipe fittings for the rig did not produce any spring-loaded joints or hinges.  I even thought about using regular door hinges on the pipes and angling them so instead of "springing back" into place, they'd fall back down through gravity.  However, the answer [somewhat] came during the trip to the pipe and pipe fitting section of the trip.  I found vinyl tubing.  These rubbery, flexible, but resilient tubes are springy and durable enough to act as my joints!  
Four artificial arms. The forearms have the "T" fittings with a hook on top for the nylon thread to tie onto.

So I made my PVC rig around an old football collar that I cannibalized from my first Brother Warth cosplay (which I cannibalized from my second Rocksteady cosplay).  I also made individual arms, each with individual vinyl tube shoulders and elbows.  There are also room for wrists, which are connected from the hands.

Originally, the nylon thread hooks were positioned differently, so each would be pulled differently, but after testing, they did not fare too well.

I drilled holes on each front "forearm" and installed metal hooks for the nylon thread to attach to.  The nylon looped through a larger tube on what would be my collar bone and it comes out somewhere inside my coat, so it can be attached to my real-life wrist or arm to be pulled.  This way, when my real arm is down, it will pull the puppeteer ed arm up, making the movement of arms more noticeable since it is not a 1:1 movement.  The back "forearm" is a simpler attachment, being just lashed onto my real forearm by a short nylon thread, and yes, the back arm would follow my real arm in a 1:1 movement, when my arm moved, it will follow it.   

I also wanted my spider arms to match my regular arms in size, so I measured my arms and forearms, and constructed my spider arms at roughly the size of my real-life arms.  It's when I realize how heavy and large my arms are, especially when there are 4 extra ones! 

"Ribs" to support the cylindrical shape of the arms before the surface is put on.

The surface is put on to make much of the cylindrical shape of the arms.
The harder, and ailbeit, less stellar part of this costume are the hands.  For one, they are not articulated.  They are just still pieces of spandex-wrapped EVA foam.  The best I could do is put a vinyl tube for the wrists, so they can loosely move around, and set each hand and fingers in a variety of realistic position like a saluting, pointing, or hand-shaking position.  Since I made the costume in segments, and therefore a bit modular, I can always go back in the future and make "better" hands. For the mean time, these hands are made the same way I made Clayface's and Brother Warth's faces: EVA foam wrapped with spandex. 

The hands are sized after my own hands, so they would conceivably look like my own if I'm wearing gloves... and i can shake my own hands.

My real arms would be positioned in between the front and back artificial arms, so it can pull on both arms to puppeteer each of them. 
Then, comes wrapping the furry fabric around the EVA arms.  Even though I originally planned and tested to use a fabric adhesive to attach the fabric to the EVA, I found out, it was much easier to use certain types of pins to basically nail or staple the fabric onto the EVA foam because the EVA is basically a giant pin cushion.  The fabric held on much better than the adhesive as well. 

It takes up two seats, making it a bit clunky to travel with.  You have to choose between cosplaying this or carpooling with two other friends.  Apparently, I chose to cosplay Admiral Trench. 

The mask was a bit easy.  It's actually a mix of some household products.  The dome is a cheap bowl I got from 99 cents.  The smaller eyes are from Wal-Mart, sold in the crafts department as craft jewelry in a giant pack.  The mesh is from a safety face guard I painted.  The mandibles are more EVA.  The eye domes are vending machine prize thingies with my favorite material, retro-reflective vinyl inside, so they glow with flash photography.  Then, there's more of the fur, and this time, I use the adhesive since there is less EVA foam to pin these things onto.   

As always, shiny vinyl!
..... Aaaaaand I ran out of time.  I was not able to do a couple of things:

1) Put blue cloth sleeves on the spider arms
2) Make a furry spider forearm sleeve and three-fingered brown glove for my real arms and hand
3) Make medals, do the markings, the shoulder pads, the trim, and every other thing for his coat.... it was just a plain blue coat.
4)  Make boot covers, so that his feet will look like spider feet.  They're not as noticeable, but it would have been nice and the spider feet would have just been another pair of spider hands anyway. 

I also found out that the costume took two people's seat in a car or a bench, of anywhere else, so it's a bit difficult to travel.  He is a bit hollow inside, so perhaps, I can stuff a backpack or a sleeping bag inside the chest cavity.  When I wore him, all the faux fur made the costume extremely warm, but the mesh face made the air circulate through the costume pretty well.  It was also because of that mesh face that I was able to clearly see throughout the whole day.  The whole thing was easy to remove for going to the bathroom purposes.  I had to last min lash the headpiece onto the collar of the costume, which made it a lot more convenient, since everything was just one piece.

Besides the random threat of heat exhaustion, which the easily removable and the mesh front of the costume mitigated, it was a great costume to wear.  The naysayers and the random elitists I faced were downers, but I also faced a lot more fun people who made donning this costume a lot of fun.

John Garcia is an English Teacher and Cosplayer in the Los Angeles Area.


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