Cosplay is a crazy craft; cosplayers all begin somewhere and the question is where? How does someone start cosplaying comfortably? Who can cosplay? What are the etiquettes behind cosplay and what does a cosplayer need to know? Can someone with an unsteady hand become a cosplayer? Can someone who has never sewn-up a hole create stunning works of art? What do you need to get started? In a series of mini-guides, I hope to quell some of these questions and more.
GeekOut Media’s Cosplay Guide #6: Proper Props
A prop can make or break a costume, depending on the character. Whether it’s an in-your-face prop such as Ruby’s scythe from RWBY, or if it’s a more understated design, such as Franziska von Karma’s whip from the Ace Attorney series, a prop can really sell that character. They also make for an excellent action shot for poses, which is something we’ll talk about later down the line in the series.
I’m going to say this now, as I think it’s important: Not all costumes need a prop. So if all of your planned costumes are better off without one, leave this article alone and enjoy your day! Right, with that out of the way with, the rest of this article will discuss some typical problems for props and ways to work with them, as well as some of my personal favourite examples of how to deal with the problems, or just favourite costumes using props. I, myself, need a lot more experience with them!
Props come in all shapes and sizes, so let’s start small and work our way up to the larger pieces.
I’m going to make a couple of broad generalisations of the props, which may mean that you specific prop ideas might be left out. Don’t worry, you can apply this knowledge typically across the board when it comes to props. We’re going to focus on a few key elements of props, of which these can apply to larger props too, but we’ll cover the difference between designing a small and large prop when we come to the larger props.
A prop will need to be carried around from convention floor, perhaps to the masquerade stage. You’ll need to consider how you’re going to carry this around, because holding a prop gun for 6-7 hours at a time will be tedious and honestly, you’ll likely end up producing a lot of sweat from your hands, which could potentially damage your hard-work. Ultimately then, you need to consider how to carry the prop from place to place.
For a weapon, check if the character has a holster. If so, you’ll definitely want to create that too, being specific to make sure you can fit the weapon into it, without it sliding out. You may have a sword, which is in a scabbard, or a gun in its holster, or perhaps (for the larger props), you may have some form of velcro to hold the weapon in place. No matter what, you’ll need to have some way to carry it around.
The easiest way to make a quick holster is to create a 2 piece leather pattern (or the much easier to buy and work with pleather). Cut them out, sew them together, there’s your holster. But this isn’t necessarily the most secure way. The best I’ve seen is someone using thermoplastics to be heat sculpted snugly around the weapon, then covering that with a pleather fabric. Inside of the holster however, was a small block of foam, which was glued to the thermoplastic. This gave it a soft cushion to push against. This meant the weapon was perfectly secure, as it was a deep holster, with a secure fit. Very clever!
Not gonna lie, the worst I’ve made is a scythe. Tessaiga being the second largest thing I’ve created, so I’ve not made many huge props. For professional advice, certainly look for cosplayers or prop makers, who have been doing this for a long time, people like Punished Props who I mentioned previously. However this is how I’d take the approach to do larger weapons and the difficulties that come with them.
Okay, not all props need to be up 24/7, especially when it comes to actually looking the part. Some weapons can be collapsed, according to their source material. The only thing I’d recommend here, is watching or looking at as many examples as you can for how the weapon collapses or adjusts. From there, look for any mechanic which is similar in motion. Do you have a huge axe, which folds down? What about a sword which changes sizes?
Look into possible solutions, based on what you want it to do. Do you need to be able to change it as you move around? Or, would you be okay with changing it before you go in/out of areas? Remember that you don’t always need to be exact, but rather to make it as believable as you can.
Certainly look into how hinges work for this sort of mechanic, though.
A prop doesn’t have to be something you always carry around – Indeed, in some props cases, that isn’t very smart. You can create props that you wear – These could be masks, or massive pauldrons (especially if you’re doing a World of Warcraft cosplay). I’d not consider those a normal “costume” piece, but definitely a prop of some kind. Consider what you’re making – Here are some ideas you could use for different types of wearable props.
My first wearable prop as it were was my Oskar mask, which I always had a lot of praise for – Even though it’s ludicrously easy. Over the years, it got more and more broken, but it lasted approximately 4 years, with me having worn it out to probably well over 20 events. But alas, he’s now sat quietly in the living room, with a broken string and the mesh backing in shreds. It’s a 10 minute job to fix, so I’ll get him back to “unhealth” eventually!
To make the Oskar mask, I simply heat-moulded some EVA Foam (the floor mat style). This was just curved enough to not hurt the nose. The eyes are large enough to see out of, but a black netting fabric conceals the “person” behind the mask. That was a simple example of a mask. But you can use EVA foam to build upon it, to make a more “sculpted” looking mask… However, it’ll never look smooth like this, unless you use large shapes.
If you’re looking for a smooth mask, consider a thermoplastic like cobracast, or a much easier to obtain plaster of paris. In both cases, you’re going to want to papier mache over it. This’ll allow you to much finer sculpts; especially useful if your character has a particularly bulbous nose (or hey, if you’re making a plague doctor’s mask, this is a perfect example).
Bottom line then: Foam is a lot smoother for large pieces; modelling with thermoplastics/plaster of paris and using papier mache for more intricate pieces. You can also use a more dense foam to sculpt, but that’s gonna get heavy!
Large armour pieces
Ignoring the obvious elephant in the room of “where do I even keep these?”, large armour pieces are obviously not your typical sewn garment. As such, you’ve got to think about how you’re going to wear it, how hot it’s going to be, how heavy it’s going to be and how easy to move it will be. There are many factors that go into these large pieces, but let’s quickly talk about the merits behind different possible materials.
Thermoplastic will typically look good, as it’s mostly about sculpting it. Typically, to make a curve, you’ll flatten it out over a curved object, such as a bowl, then cut off excess – It’s easy enough to work with. It’s also very light and hugely durable, which is a huge bonus. However, where Thermoplastic fails, is the fact it’s expensive. Furthermore, for huge pieces, you’re not going to have much wiggle room – It’s certainly not that flexible. Great for pieces that need no flexibility, however!
Foam’s next and this takes a fair bit more effort. However, if you give it the time needed, you can make foam look like whatever you want it to look like. Shaping foam is easy, with knives and scissors, as well as it being light. Foam isn’t as durable and it’s going to be incredibly hot to wear a full foam costume. However, unlike thermoplastic, you’ll get a lot more flexibility. Great for when you need that flexibility.
Finally – And don’t laugh – Cardboard. Cardboard is arguably the hardest to sculpt, as you’re going to need to cover it once cut up. You’ll have to spend a lot of time working with it. It’s also the heaviest option here. However, if you’re looking for price, cardboard works and can be used to produce some incredible pieces. Just don’t expect any extra flexibility… Because you’re not getting it. Oh – And it’ll be hot. It’s mostly for those pieces that need barely any movement and would be too expensive to use foam or thermoplastics.
Hopefully I’ve given you a bit of food for thought here – But join us again next week, as we’ll be looking at paints and primers! As ever, share with us in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter if you’ve ever had to make a prop which some of this advice covers – Or doesn’t cover! Meanwhile, Joel and I are at AmeCon from today, meaning that we’ll be getting lots of snaps of some amazing cosplays, which I hope to show you all on Sunday 5th!