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It’s cosplay convention time, and fully costumed characters are everywhere. Wolverine strides down the bus aisle with blades bristling. Ichigo Kurasaki turns the city block corner, his enormous sword swaying behind his back. At the grocery checkout, Sailor Moon flips her hair and coyly flounces her schoolgirl skirt. It’s a paradise for TV fans, anime and manga otaku, movie lovers, YouTubers and video gamers—in short, the kind of pop culture frenzy that makes digital filmmakers swoon. And cosplayers have mastered four keys to the art of digital filmmaking.
Cosplay, short for “costume play,” is a dramatic art in which individuals dress up as their favorite characters from comic books, television shows or movies. The art form came on the scene in the late 1940s, gaining the name “cosplay” in mid-1980s Japan, and continuing spread worldwide today. Huge online forums, massive conventions, and an entire industry has developed around this ultimate expression of love for a fictional character. Utah fans are especially devoted, bringing over 120,000 attendees to Salt Lake Comic Con each year, and even setting a world record for bringing together the largest number of characters dressed as comic book characters.
Cosplay actors take their art very seriously. Many spend countless hours viewing every clip of footage available, every drawing ever made, and every interview ever conducted with the actors who portray their chosen character. By understanding every nuance of the character’s persona, cosplayers feel that they can accurately channel the character’s behavior in real life. By imitating every twitch, tic and commonly used expression, cosplayers ensure that they don’t miss a thing about their character.
When it comes to costuming, don’t expect serious cosplayers to don cheap, commercially made Halloween costumes. Cosplayers can spend thousands of dollars on costuming. As every filmmaker knows, the cost of wigs, period clothing, shoes, makeup and even prosthetics quickly add up.
Those cosplayers who reach the pinnacle of their artform have large fanbases, sign autographs, and appear in countless photographs with their fans. For cosplay devotees, these upper-echelon cosplayers provide a way for them to interact with their favorite characters in real life.
Because cosplayers have such a fanatical devotion to characters depicted in films and shows, they often show a keen interest in the intersection between cosplay and filmmaking. Filmmakers would be wise to learn from cosplayers, as well. Here are four skills cosplayers have that digital filmmakers should aspire to.
One of the most important lessons that a cosplayer learns is that fans of a given work know everything about a character. With a critical eye, these fans are quick to point out any inconsistencies between the cosplayer’s portrayal of a character and the character as represented in the original work. Because of the intensity of this fan microscope, cosplayers quickly understand that to be at the top of their game, they must dive into their characters wholeheartedly.
For digital filmmakers, this lesson can be translated across artforms in several ways. First, digital filmmakers must understand the importance of consistency in character development. Some digital filmmakers have a tendency to neglect the nuances of the characters portrayed in their work. This mistake can lead to unhappy fans. Appreciating every detail of the characters’ personae is one way to ensure that digital works are engaging to a variety of audiences.
Additionally, digital filmmakers should hold a critical eye to their work from inception. Instead of focusing only on the portions of your work that most impress you, spend your time focusing on those details that your instincts are telling you to gloss over because they are “insignificant.” In quality work, no detail is too small to be important to a perfect finished product.
Another concept that cosplayers understand all too well is that they must constantly fine-tune the character they have developed. There is always a more dramatic costume or a more effective way to imitate an accent or facial expression to make their portrayal more accurate. Cosplayers embrace these necessary tweaks and enjoy the process of developing their character over time just as much as portraying the character in the present.
Digital filmmakers should also consider fine-tuning part of the creative process. At some point a work must be considered “finished,” but until that point, filmmakers must maintain a critical eye and keep looking for ways to enhance the film.
Cosplayers keep a keen eye on their competition. At a given fan convention or cosplay event, there may be dozens of people attempting to portray the same characters, each one striving to stand out. When one cosplayer enhances a costume or develops a newly choreographed fan interaction, other cosplayers take notice. By constantly looking for the next development and responding with their own innovations, these artists are always striving for excellence.
As they work on film projects, digital filmmakers should take notice of what is being done by their competitors. Sometimes these competitors are external, which makes it much easier to critically assess their work. However, sometimes on large projects, the “competition” may be colleagues working on the same film project. Top-notch filmmakers identify behaviors and techniques that help these persons’ work stand out. They emulate those behaviors and use them as a basis for new innovations. The best film artists are unafraid to recognize the strengths in other artists and strive to master their techniques.
Cosplayers are joyous. They engage in their craft because they love it. If they get bored with playing a character, they adapt and choose another that inspires them. They don’t accept limitations, and many cosplayers represent characters across a wide spectrum of genders and age groups. They find joy in the creative process, just as filmmakers and other artists do. By never losing sight of the fun that lies at the heart of creative work, cosplayers and filmmakers alike can continue to dive into the details, ever improve their work, and be inspired by the other artists around them.