Cosplay has always been a curiosity for me, which seems fitting as I also love gaming, and sci-fi/fantasy. I secretly envy those that have been involved in making fantasy come to life. I’ve always enjoyed crafts, growing up we often made our own toys, clothes, etc. Having a stay at home seamstress as a mother definitely made the creativity in our household skyrocket. Our basement had our own version of Mr. Dressup’s Tickle Trunk, full of old clothes my mother turned into costumes, or her own creations that she made for us to play dress up with.
Recently I have spent some time looking in to cosplay, as my husband and I plan on attending King Richard’s Faire, and costumes do seem to be a requirement for these festivities. As such, what better time is there to explore this, with the possibility I may be able to put some of their techniques to use making our own costumes.
One of the most incredible parts of cosplay designers is the ability to duplicate crafted armour, weapons, horns, or extra limbs, without being a blacksmith (I’m sure that would have limited the people that have gotten involved in it) The way that these looks are achieved are amazing, and have developed over the years as more plastics have been designed and created.
Often times in order to produce authentic replicas of the character in question, cosplay designers will go to the lengths of learning to be woodworkers, sculptors, they learn about fashion design and how to do stage makeup. In order to create some of those costumes, Cosplay designers have looked towards new technologies in plastics, foams, and even electronics to design their works of art. Here I take a look at some of the most popular and widely accepted tools and materials they use to craft gear.
Craft Foam/ Eva Foam
This material is the cheapest of the available options, a single piece sized 92cm x 152cm (36″ wide x 60″ long) can be acquired for $13.68 USD , and is usually what people start with when they are first getting their feet wet with Cosplay.
It is a thin, easily flexible foam, and is often used when you need an item to be able to move with your body, and not hold a specific hardened shape. It can be drawn on, cut with scissors as well as painted in order to achieve the look you’re aiming for. Craft foam is used in a lot of different crafts, not limited to Cosplay. Many picture frames, earrings, and children’s crafts are made out of craft foam. I myself had experience with this when I was little. It’s easy to use, and not going to kill your budget. Craft foam is frequently used in conjunction with Worbla or Wonderflex in order to create a sturdy final product with both flexible and firm components.
Worbla is the name of a type of Thermoplastic Modelling Material that is often used in conjunction with Craft Foam in order to create armour for Cosplay. Worbla is more on the higher end of the pricing scale when it comes to Cosplay tech. A single piece sized 100cm x 150cm (39.25″ wide x 59″ long) will run you around $80 USD. It is the thinner option of the thermoplastics, and therefore it is generally suggested that it be used for delicate pieces, such as the chest plates or small details as it needs to be reinforced for anything larger.
In order to work with Worbla it must be heated. Most often a heat gun is used for this, however if you are not yet at the stage where a heat gun is in your sights, hot water or a blow-dryer can be used as well. This unique plastic is heat activated, and once you do so, you can easily mould it into the shape you would like. Many Cosplay designers use other items to hold a shape, or create a design in the Worbla itself before it cools. Once you have gotten the basic design you want and allow it to cool, it hardens into the shape you’ve chosen, becoming a solid piece that can easily be painted. Worbla has a rough finish to it, and therefore must be primed before it can be painted.
Wonderflex is another type of Thermoplastic Modelling Material which has been used for quite some time. The price of Wonderflex comes in lower than Worbla. A single piece sized 101 cm by 139 cm ( 40″ wide x 55″ long) is $67 USD. It is thicker than other thermoplastics, and the scraps can be heated and melded into a clay-like object, which also cuts down on waste.
As can be seen in the two images above, the raw form can be painted with great detail to become an incredible work of art. Similar to Worbla, it is activated by using a heat gun to soften it in order to mould it into the desired shape. Wonderflex is thicker than other thermoplastics, and once heated can be ‘glued’ to itself without the use of any glue. This makes it easy to create a single final product out of multiple pieces. Wonderflex offers a smooth finish, meaning that priming the surface is not required prior to painting it, which can save on the time needed to complete a project.
A Heat Gun is one of the tools used to aide in working with the above and other materials required to make costumes for Cosply. Generally used in chemistry, materials science, engineering, physics, and other laboratory settings, they have been known for working with thermoplastics, which is why Cosplay artists have taken a liking to them.
Heat guns have an elongated top which points at the item to be heated, with an L shaped body and trigger similar to a handgun, thus the name. These do not shoot bullets, however they do emit hot air, usually between 100º C and 500º C (200º F to 1000º F) This is generally achieved by an electrically heated element at the end of the tool, with a fan that blows the hot air out of the end of the tube. Heat guns are available at a wide variety of hardware stores, and can range in price from only $19 USD all the way up to $750 USD.
These materials are definitely not limited to Cosplay. They have been used successfully in Las Vegas Venues, Halloween and Haunted Houses, special events and even for car repair. It is used by a multitude of different artists, set designers and costume makers, for animatronics, puppetry, taxidermy, mascot heads, and displays, etc. The list goes on and on. So whether you simply have a creative flair, and are hoping to beat our the competition for a costume contest among friends, or are looking to compete in an actual Cosplay event to win prizes, as you can see the sky is the limit. The only thing stopping you from creating a rocking suit of armour is the limits of your own imagination.