Humanised characters? Cosplay ponderings

So what are your thoughts on humanised cosplay? Seen frequently within fandoms such as Pokémon, My Little Pony and – recently – Five Nights at Freddies, this is the phenomenon of creating a human – or at least humanish – version of a non-human character. In the anime scene I believe this often called Gijinka (擬人化), the Japanese term for “humanoid”, “personification”, or“anthropomorphic.”  I have mixed feelings about it. Just my personal opinion, and call me a prude if you will, but I’ll admit I’m not much of a fan of the kind of humanised cosplay that is just a thinly veiled excuse to be wear a swimsuit or parade around in lingerie. I’ve no problem with sexy cosplay where the character themselves is sexy or skimpily dressed in the original designs. But let’s face it, we’re not exactly lacking in choice of characters who fit those criteria, so I’ve never quite understood the need for a furry bikini Chewbacca, or a swimsuit Ivysaur either. But where the point is to re-imagine a character and try to capture their essence rather than just recreate the whole look, I think humanised costumes can be a really interesting and creative form of cosplay.

I am planning to do another reasonably bulky “full rig” Transformer costume for 2016, hopefully building on what I learned while making Slipstream and coming up with something even better. I also recently obtained some Worbla for the first time, so it’ll be interesting to have a go at using this (expect lumpen disaster photos in the not-too distant future). I’ll talk more about the character I’ve chosen and start chronicling my progress here another time. But alongside the big project, I’ve also been pondering having a go at some more “humanised” cosplay. Why? Various reasons really…

I've been sketching and scheming! See below for the results...

I’ve been sketching and scheming! See below for the results…

This post is going to be a bit of a thought dump as well as the chance to share some sketches and plans.

Practicality 

Most of the events I’ve attended in the last 12 months I’ve done so as Slipstream or, before that, Arcee. Dressing up as a robot is one of my favourite things in the world, but I have to admit how refreshing it was to go to DEVCON in my Borderlands Tannis costume and actually be able to manoeuvre, to see properly (well, properlyish, I still wasn’t wearing my glasses but at least I didn’t have a helmet and red visor) and – hallelujah – to sit down! When I go as a Transformer I always make an effort to browse the stalls and chat to fellow attendees and guests but it’s much easier to do these things in a less bulky costume. Of course, like the Borderlands crew, there are a tonne of human characters out there who I’d probably enjoy portraying (and B and I have at least one more outing for Tannis and Salvador tentatively pencilled in for 2016) but more than anything robots are my thing and Transformers are my passion. If I could make one TF-inspired costume that’s a little more practical it would be nice to have that as an option.

Portability

All packed and ready to go: you can travel light or you can dress as a robot. You cannot do both.

My Slipstream costume & luggage for AA. I could not have managed this on a train!

Many of the humanised costumes I’ve seen at events look like they’ve taken months of work sewing, embroidering and concepting, so in this respect a humanised costume is often no less work than a large foam build, but one way in which humanised cosplays are vastly easier is in terms of transportation. Getting my big costumes to events is always a bit of a challenge, especially since neither B or I drive. For Auto Assembly this year we were incredibly lucky to get a lift from a good friend, but it was a hell of trek for her just to drop us off and that’s not a favour we would ask again. But I don’t see how I could manage a costume the size of Slipstream on a train or bus, especially along with our other luggage (and space for the robots we’d inevitably buy at the event) and the new big rig I want to build is likely to be a little larger than Slipstream. I can’t imagine not cosplaying when we go the new Transformers convention TFNation (wahoo!) next summer, but equally at this stage I can’t count on being able to transport a big costume up there.  So alongside the Big Build I’ve been thinking about designing humanised Transformer costumes for B and I. There were some fantastic humanised bots at the last AA and these kinds of costumes would have the advantage that we could keep them on during the day and still enjoy the panels and events. Knowing how much less shy I am in costume than the rest of the time it would be a good way to break the ice and talk to people too (because it’s almost shameful how many more friends Slipstream made at AA than AddAltMode R did.)

Creativity

Any cosplay creation is a creative process, of course it is. But doing a humanised costume allows for a greater degree of creative freedom in the design phase. For previous costumes I’ve mostly just worked from screenshots, trying to get my costume to look at much like the cartoon version as possible. The sort of questions I asked mostly began with “how”: how can I replicate that look, how can I build that piece? Where changes were made it’s mostly due to practicality: because I lacked the skills or materials to make a more realistic version, because real physics is worlds apart from what you see in cartoons, or because – sadly – I’m just not an awesome transforming robot IRL *sobs.* A humanised project poses different questions, mostly of the “what / which” variety: Autobot X doesn’t wear a jacket (because he’s a freaking Autobot) but if he did, what style of jacket would he wear? In other words, humanised cosplay is a great prompt for in-depth character engagement. It’s probably no surprise, then, that my ponderings along these themes have focused on characters from the IDW Transformers comic, More Than Meets The Eye, which is basically just the best thing ever a superbly character-driven series.

Humanised Transformer options

Holomatter Avatars:

Anyone contemplating humanised versions of the crew of The Lost Light, can enjoy a massive hint, in the presence of holomatter avatars, the solid-light projections that Autobots use to interact with other species at times when their mechanical forms and usual vehicle disguises would be inappropriate. This sometimes means taking on a human form and MTMTE allows us to see most of the main characters in human form. This is a source of much humour in the comic, but it’s also a great tool for character development. The holomatter forms sometimes replicate the primary colours of their Cybertronian originator, but it isn’t a neat translation. Male characters often have female avatars and the changes manage to be at once unexpected and totally right in character terms, such as Tailgate coming out as a baby. This reflects his history (despite being born six million years ago Tailgate he has spent most of this time unconsious and so does not have an adult level of experience or memories to draw upon) but also his character: his naivety and joy in the simplest of pleasures and experiences. Cyclonus, meanwhile, (Tailgate’s… uh, it’s complicated) projects as a Victorian style schoolmarm, which is hilarious but also perfect for this aloof, history-loving, Decepticon-looking character.

Holomatter avatars in MTMTE: baby Tailgate from issue?? and Cyclonus cover from issue 43.

Holomatter avatars in MTMTE: baby Tailgate from issue 13 and Cyclonus in avatar and robot form on the cover of issue 43.

Plenty of people have taken cosplay inspiration from these holomatter avatars: there was a near perfect schoolmarm Cyclonus at AA, as well as a a good few Whirls (he projects as an anime styled blue-haired, pig-tailed, gun-toting girl). At non TF-specific events these would be a fun form of “stealth cosplay” not necessarily immediately obvious as a TF thing but fans of the comics would know and appreciate the costumes instantly.

Freestyle humanised:

Not all the IDW Transformers maintain the same holomatter form each time they project, and one thing this shows is that there are multiple ways to capture the essence of any particular character in human form. Plenty of people make up their own humanised versions of characters too, and the beauty of these is that each interpretation is going to be unique but – if done well – also entirely recognisable. There are so many ways to approach this, replicating colour schemes, thinking of styles (a rebellious character might wear a biker jacket, a more formal one a suit jacket), deciding which details and shapes from a robot form absolutely must be maintained and which can be sacrificed in a more simplified costume without losing the effect. Here’s a picture of me as Slipstream with a humanised Starscream I met at AA.

Humanised Starscream with Slipstream at Auto Assembly 2015

Humanised Starscream with Slipstream at Auto Assembly 2015

I’m afraid I don’t have the cosplayer’s name to give credit, but I love the stylistic choices they’ve made here: a screen accurate crown and bulky Seeker shoulders but then creating merely an impression of the cockpit just through the shape of the waistcoat detailing. And of course the whole kingly ensemble is perfect Screamer wish-fulfillment, or at least the best kind of “bad comedy.”

So as well as working on a new big rig for me, I think it would be rather fun to make humanised costumes based on MTMTE characters for B and I. The holomatter avatars are good inspiration but I’d like ours to draw on just a few more details from the robot forms, without sacrificing movement and portability entirely, so we’re probably going to go more down the freestyle route.

Plans and Ideas

Having changed our minds about B’s costume and character choice several times already, we haven’t got as far with the design on that one yet. So more on his one another time, once we have some sketches to share. However, if you’d like to speculate on the character he’s chosen please do so in the comments here or on our social media: (Facebook, Twitter). We’d love to know who you think he’d pick? (Hint: it may not be the totally obvious choice!)

As for me, well you might expect me to pick Nautica or Velocity, knowing my enthusiasm for female characters. While I do prefer to fly the flag for female Transformers in my big costumes; with humanised costumes there’s actually a lot of freedom – as highlighted by the recurrence of male characters with (awesome) female holomatter avatars, and gender is a funny and somewhat nebulous thing in the TF milieu to start with. So while my costume is clearly going to be worn by a female this seems like a good opportunity to have fun with some of the male characters in the canon. Given that I cosplay because it’s fun, because yes I enjoy the attention, and because I relish the massive boost to my confidence that costuming gives me, and given that he is hands down my favourite character on The Lost Light, there could be only one choice for me. If you’re going to use costume to fake confidence and charisma, might as well fake it TO THE MAX, right?

(Image © IDW & Hasbro, obv.)

Rodimus from More Than Meets The Eye #44

Here are some sketches I’ve done for a human Rodimus:

Humanised MTMTE Rodimus, by AddAltModeR

Humanised MTMTE Rodimus, by AddAltModeR

I’m no great artist, so please forgive the sketchiness! Hopefully it captures the ideas I have though. I want my Rodimus to be garish, a little bit anime, and a little bit biker and a whole lot of 80s. I’m maintaining the spoiler because it’s such an iconic part of his design, but a shrunk design: I just want it to be visible over my shoulders, not a whole huge pair of almost wings! The robot elements I want to maintain are the overall shape of the headpiece (although simplified to a headband rather than a full helmet. A tiara is perfect for Rodimus because he’s such a princess), some kind of impression of pipes on the arms and legs and the knee spikes (but again greatly shrunk).

Here’s an annotated version:

rodimus 001 labelled

  1. Red spiky-ish wig – e.g. Coscraft‘s Jack wig in red.
  2. Tiara / headband with the main spike details of Rodimus’ helmet. This will probably be foam or possibly worbla if I can learn how to use it.
  3. The most 80s tastic blue-lensed shades I can find!*

    *OK, I might already have bought these.

    *OK, I might already have bought these. Now we just need to hope my forthcoming contact lens trial is successful so I can actually see through them!

  4. Red neckerchief tied as a triangle. I actually already own this (it was bought for a quick and dirty pirate headscarf last time I went to see Alestorm!)
  5. Spoiler alert! Just visible over the back of the shoulders. This needs to be light and rigid so I’m thinking corrugated plastic (the kind estate agent signs are made from) attached with heavy duty velcro and/or straps.
  6. Red fake leather biker jacket. The plan is to buy the jacket then modify it by adding patches and details.
  7. Yellow vest top (easily and cheaply bought) with red Autobrand appliquéd on as a patch (probably red PVC or leatherette) using a similar technique to that I employed on my Decepticon handbag.
  8. Pipe details probably an elasticated separate piece to fix over the jacket sleeves, the pipes could be lightweight plumbers tubing from a DIY store but I have to figure out the exact details here!
  9. Yellow fingerless gloves – probably homemade.
  10. Rodimus Star belt buckle. I could shape this in foam, in the same way I did the skull belt buckle for B’s Salvador, but a number of Shapeways designers have already designed 3D printable versions of this most self-indulgent of motivational aids, and plastic would be more durable, so I’ll probably order one of these and then make it into a belt buckle.
  11. Red shorts: cut off jeans with added patch detailing. I’ll sew these myself from red fabric or home dye and modify some cheap white jeans from a charity shop.
  12. Orange tights. To buy.
  13. Knee pads. The plan is to buy some skater-type round knee pads with elasticated grips and then modify the plastic front by adding the spike detail, which will probably be foam so it has some flexibility.
  14. Pipes! Again this may be DIY shop tubing probably fixed to the back of the kneepads and to straps on my ankles. Still gotta figure out the finer points here but this is the general look I want to achieve.
  15. Red ankle boots. Got these covered! I’d actually been coveting a pair of Fly ankle boots for some time. Starting to plan this project gave me the perfect excuse to buy some and obviously hugely influenced my choice of colour. But I often wear red anyway. Another benefit of humanised cosplay is that sometimes costume components can worn for everyday wear too!
  16. Back of spoiler (see 5) additional details to be painted on.
  17. What’s a biker jacket without a back patch? I’m hoping the “HERO (self-appointed)” legend captures the tone of simultaneous affection and mockery with which Rodimus is presented in MTMTE. The overall shape of the patch is meant to reference the shape of Rodimus’ chest design. This will be done in leatherette (yellow patch, red detailing) and appliquéd on.

What do you think? Good plan? Terrible plan? Rodimus is the master of terrible plans so maybe that shouldn’t stop me anyway? Either way, I think it will be fun to work on, definitely fun to wear, and a nice contrast to the more focused, Big Build I also want to attempt for 2016. Stay tuned for all the progress and disasters as I work on both these projects, and for more news on the humanised TF costume we’re thinking of for B. Wild speculation encouraged below.

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2 thoughts on “Humanised characters? Cosplay ponderings

  1. I don’t mind humanized cosplay. It’s not like someone who wants to be a human Pikachu is obliged to dress in underwear instead of something sensible. People who are not familiar with Transformers could accuse you of dressing like a sexy version of a humanized jet 😉

    Like

    • Ha I never thought of it like that before (but then I never think of myself as “sexy” anything!) You are right, though, to anyone unfamiliar with Transformers the whole look of “humanised vehicle” would seem frankly insane!

      Liked by 1 person

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