Costumes in progress

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While I’m writing a book about cosplay, I figured it was a good time to take a look at my own list of costume projects that have been in the works for a while. I’ve got a bunch of things that are in the works, above and beyond the costumes I already regularly use (Stormtrooper, First Order Stormtrooper, AOTC Clonetrooper, Shoretrooper). I’ve been meaning to take stock, to figure out what I need to do to clear off the to-do list.

Here’s what I’ve got, ranked in order of most complete to just shy of pipe dream.

First Order heavy trooper, The Force Awakens

This costume is actually done, wearable, and 501st approved, but there’s some additional things that I’m working on to flesh it out. I’m getting a friend to print me up an F-11D blaster for my First Order trooper, and I need to get a pistol for the thigh as well. I’ve got a couple of parts for a set of quadnocs that they carry around to use for troops where I can’t carry a blaster, and need to get the rest printed up. I also need to get the backpack painted — there’s some small details that I need to finish up on it, before I figure out how to get it attached to the costume itself. I saw someone at Celebration who had attached it to their equipment vest, and I might try and do something similar, rather than bolt it to the back of the suit, something I’ve been wanting to avoid.

212th Airborne Clone Trooper, Revenge of the Sith

I love this set of armor. It looks fantastic, and I really dig the orange-and-white color scheme, as well as all the gear that’s on it. I do like the 501st Legion clones from The Clone Wars, but the 212th Attack Battalion is by far my favorite.

A couple of years ago, I picked up the armor for this trooper, in trade for another clone that I’d made for Megan that she wasn’t wearing. This is the costume that I’ve got that’s closest to being completed: it really only needs some minor adjustments to get it to sit right. I tried it on recently, and really just need a spare set of hands to help me figure a couple of things out.

Some of the minor things: I need to put some screw on micro-grenades on the left shoulder bell (they’re held on with glue, and have a tendency to pop off. The shoulder strap needs some Velcro, I need to trim out a bit of the knee pads so that the foam isn’t visible, and I need to do something with the Kama.

The biggest issue so far has been the shins, which I haven’t been able to wear at all until now, because of how the 501st Legion handles approvals. I’ve made a small fix to allow me to get them on, and I think that that’ll work eventually with some fiddling. It’s definitely a costume that’s going to require a dedicated wrangler to get dressed.

Shoretrooper Grunt or Captain, Rogue One

So, I liked the Shoretrooper well enough that I went out and bought another one when it was on sale, with the intention of building it for my wife. This one’s fully trimmed out, but it’s sort of been languishing for months, because she’s pregnant and won’t fit into it for at least this year. So, maybe I finish it? Maybe I sell it? Who knows?

Sam Bell, Moon

This was a fun costume to throw together, and it’s another comfortable, casual con one. This one has all the patches on it — I just need a bigger logo decal for the back of the jumpsuit (I think that’s an iron-on thing), and it’ll be 100% finished. I’ve ordered one of the yellow shirts (Wake Me Up When It’s Quitting Time!) to wear under it. I’ve been searching for the red had that he wears, but it’s not required. I should find a pair of cheap aviators to hold in a pocket or something. Maybe I can find a coffee mug with the logo on it as well.

Jack Cooper, Titanfall 2

This is sort of a casual thing that I haven’t gotten around to doing yet, but I have the main component already: Cooper’s helmet. I loved Titanfall 2, and particularly the look and feel of the pilots who drive the giant mechs around.

Helmets are usually the most distinctive part of a costume, and this one is one of those rare pieces of merch that’s out there. I picked it up on sale a couple of years ago, and it’s a really nice piece. I’ve also ordered a pair of gloves that should work for this.

After that, I need the rest, and need to do a lot of research. At the very least, I need a red jumpsuit, and a bunch of accessories. I think I can get away with regular combat boots, but I need a pad for the shoulder (which I can get printed), knee pads (which I can probably modify from existing ones), body armor (not sure how to make that yet), knee coverings (probably something to sew together and strap on), combat knife, ammo magazines, the jetpack (not sure how to do that just yet), and a gun or two (which can be printed up). So, a lot to do, but a lot of the parts are out there, provided I get some time with a 3D printer.

ODST, Halo ODST

I have a random ODST helmet that a friend made years ago, with the idea of putting together an ODST costume at some point. I honestly thought I’d gotten rid of it, but I’m starting to think that I might just go and do it. There are a ton of printing or foam options when it comes to armor, and it could be a fun one to do. First step will be to finish up the helmet and get that cleaned up — it has some soft details in place, but i think that’ll be okay once it gets painted up. Not a huge priority, but it might look cool on a mannequin.

Belter, The Expanse

I don’t have anything for this one yet, but it’s a pretty easy thing to put together: blue jumpsuit, a bunch of patches, boots, fake tattoos. Should be pretty easy to put together, and like the Sam Bell costume, it would make for a good one for walking around a convention. There’s a growing group of people doing these costumes as well, which is cool. I’ve also got a helmet that was the base for a belter spacesuit helmet, and I need to do a bit of printing to get all the parts for that together.

Update: ordered coveralls and patches. Should be easy to throw together once they arrive.

Martian Marine Armor, The Expanse

Okay, this is the most ambitious project I have on my plate, and it’s a particularly fun challenge, because i haven’t worked a whole lot with foam yet. I’ve really wanted to put together Bobbie’s armor from The Expanse, because it looks awesome, and because Bobbie is one of my favorite characters from the series.

I have a bunch of foam mats that can be used for it, and looking at the armor itself, the shapes aren’t all that complicated. I need to do up a body drawing to get the basic shapes of each piece of armor sketched out, then do some trial-and-error. There’s a lot there — shoulders, upper arms, forearms, chest, abs, back, thighs, knees, shins. It’s on par with a stormtrooper with piece count, and it’s a bit more complicated, although some bits look like they should be pretty easy, like the thighs, shoulders, upper arms, and knees.

Someone in one of the Expanse costuming groups has been modeling the helmet, which would make things a whole lot easier. People have already begun sourcing the undersuit, which is cool, and another big component to check off the list.

Other Stuff

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I have a handful of other things that I’ve been working on. I’m working on a ChemRail rifle from the movie Elysium, which just got its first coat of black paint. That’ll need another coat, some detail work, like coloring in the lettering, and painting the magazine, and a couple of other things here and there. This one doesn’t go with a costume, but it’ll make a nice display piece when it’s finished. I’ve also got some pieces of a Han Solo blaster that I’ve started printing out, but my printed is out of commission right now, and also a little too small for what I need. Might need to outsource that, but it’s not exactly a huge priority.

I’ve also got a couple of round satellite dishes that I acquired years ago from a friend, with the thought of turning one into a Captain America shield. After watching Avengers: Endgame, I’m thinking that I might start that project up again (if I still have them), with the intention of putting together something to mount on a wall.

Somewhere in there, I need to make a costume for my son for Halloween. Spider-man is a favorite right now, but that could obviously change at some point.

Finally, after Celebration, I ran into a couple of people who were suited up as Blue Squadron pilots from Rogue One. Imperial Boots sells the entire ensemble (minus the helmet), and while it’s a bit pricey, it looks fantastic. I’m very tempted. Maybe I’ll sell off the unfinished Shoretrooper to fund this.

I'm writing a book about the history of cosplay!

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Some personal news that I can now announce: I’m writing a book about the history of cosplay!

I’ve been calling the project Cosplay: A History, (something that might change), and it should be out by Summer 2021. Syfy has the details here.

But as fascinating as the current state of cosplay is, Liptak is also interested in exploring where it came from by researching the history of halloween costumes, Hollywood designers, and old costume masquerades from the earliest conventions. Cosplay: A History is a deep-dive examination into the dynamic story of cosplay and how it has grown to become a world-wide phenomenon.

Seth Fishman sold the book to Joe Monti at Saga Press, which I’m extremely excited about. Saga has published some really great books in the last couple of years (Seriously, I’m sharing the same space with people like Kameron Hurley, Rebecca Roanhorse, Ken Liu, Elizabeth Bear, Theodora Goss, and more — to say that I’m feeling imposter syndrome is an understatement.)

I’ve spoken with Joe a bunch of times over the years, and the topic of cosplay came up more than once. Those conversations dovetailed with a growing interest in Cosplay. I’ve dressed up in armor with the 501st Legion for more than a decade now, but I’ve begun thinking and writing about how people come together in larger communities over a shared interest in suiting up as their favorite heroes. I’ve written about costuming for outlets like io9 and The Verge, spoken about it on Vermont Public Radio and at Norwich University. In particular, I’ve gotten really interested in how the movement formed, and how it’s changed over time as new franchises pop up and as makers have begun to use new techniques to make costumes.

This book will be an attempt to expand on some of the writing that i’ve done over the years, looking the roots of cosplay and how costuming became this big, global phenomenon, how internet culture has helped shape it, and what it means for the future of entertainment. It’ll include interviews with folks about their involvement in the space, along with photographs of people I chat with along the way.

Obviously, there’ll be some nerding out about the 501st Legion, but also things like 3D printing, the rise of Comic-Con, and historical reenacting. I’m also hoping to talk about the wide range of costumes that are out there, from the marquee superheroes to the obscure characters that show up in the background of the Mos Eisley Cantina.

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What I’m hoping to ultimately cover in this project is the relationship that people have with stories, and how costuming brings them closer to the characters and worlds they love, and how it allows them to interact with the text in unique ways.

I’ll be working on the book this summer and fall, and I’ll likely have a bunch of updates and anecdotes as I do so. The best way to stay up to date will be to sign up for my newsletter, but I’ll probably be posting up pictures to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter while I’m at conventions or generally researching it. I’d also like to hear from cosplayers from all eras — I’ll be setting up a way to get in touch about that.

My shop

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When we bought our house back in 2012, one of the biggest selling points was a basement workshop that the previous owners had installed. The husband/father was a tinkerer, according to his daughter, and there’s evidence of that scattered throughout the house in little ways: different types of screws holding on light fixtures, innovative shortcuts when it comes to things that were repaired, duct tape holding together random pipes. I’ll alternatively curse and marvel at this now that I’m the one doing my own work to fix or upgrade things.

I’ve put this workshop to use in the time that we’ve owned the house. I’ve built several costumes here, and worked on a bunch of other projects for the house. It’s got a fantastic work surface, plenty of outlets, and a lot of storage space that I’ve squirreled away parts and tools into. It’s become a bit of an organic mess, and one of my projects this year (along with the rest of the basement) is to give the walls a coat of paint to make it not quite so dark and cave-like.

I’ve been spring cleaning, and finally gone through and done a periodic cleanup down there. Basic stuff: putting the tools back into place, cleaning up a random pile of cat barf, swept up plastic and ceramic bits off the floor, restacked armor bins, and so forth. I’m in project mode right now, so I’m also taking stock of what projects I’ve got in the works.

I also need to set up some sort of shelving system for the various suits of armor that I’ve accumulated. It’s not entirely practical to mount them on mannequins when they’re not in use — it takes a long time to get them on and off. I also need to figure out some sort of gun rack for the various prop guns that I’ve accumulated over the years (E-11, E-22, DC-15, 2 DC-15Ss., and the ongoing ChemRail project), as well as helmets (X-Wing pilot, 3 Stormtroopers, Shoretrooper, First Order Stormtrooper, 212th and regular Clone, and a random Halo ODST bucket I forgot about.)

Another project(s) to add to the list of things to do this year.

New Project: TST ChemRail Rifle from Elysium

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I’ve got a new prop-building project that I’m embarking on: a TST-ChemRail rifle from Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film Elysium.

I’m a big fan of the film — it’s one of my favorites out there, with a solid story, fantastic worldbuilding, and messaging. Not everyone agrees, but it’s one that I’ll stand by. One of the things that have always impressed me with Blomkamp’s films is the design of the world, and Elysium’s far-flung future is loaded with military gear and tech. In particular, I’ve always really liked the ChemRail gun that’s used at a pivotal point in the film — Max grabs it when he’s onboard the station, and uses it as he works his way to the control center. It’s a futuristic weapon, but one that’s functional and realistic-looking device that isn’t cartoon-y, like so many science fiction weapons can be.

Last fall, the Replica Props Forum posted up a couple of pictures on Twitter from one of their member-builders: a ChemRail gun that they had designed based on reference images and sold as a 3D-printed kit.

I ended up splurging on it at the end of the year, figuring it would make for a good build project. It just arrived earlier today, and I’m really impressed with the quality and detail. The print is extremely clean (ANY seller who cleans up their 3D prints before shipping is appreciated) and finer details like logos and functional pieces are printed right into the design. It isn’t an exact match — I spotted some tiny things that differ, but they’re unnoticeable if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

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The printed blocks are also finely-printed, which means that they won’t need a whole lot of cleanup anyway — a bit of sanding, then glue, a couple of coats of primer, paint, and then weathering. It’s kind of goofy-looking now, because the printer just threw whatever filament they had on hand to get it finished.

So, step one will be to sand down the entire thing. I did a little with a piece of fine sandpaper to start over lunch, and it works nicely. Fortunately, the original prop models were also 3D printed, and they have some of the print lines remaining, so I don’t actually have to make this super-smooth. The only thing I really need to get for this is a thin dowel to go through the middle, which will provide it with a bit of a spine when everything is glued together.

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Once it’s done, it’ll go… somewhere. I’ll probably find a way to mount it on the wall in my office. I’m not a huge fan of real guns, but I’ve always thought it would be cool to have an armory of weapons from science fiction and fantasy films at some point.