Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 - From Cosplayer to Hollywood Costume Maker

Rollercoaster of a year

2017 is coming to a close and even though I generally don't lump my experiences, memories and moments per year, 2017 has actually been a pretty wild one.

Rewind really quick to around 2009 when my friend Jp had gotten me to go to San Diego Comic Con with him while I was in college down there. I got my first glimpse at not only screen used costumes like Iron Man suits, but my first look at cosplayers making their own costumes. The summary of my life after that moment is I tried out making my own costumes, eventually joined Shawn Thorsson at Thorsson and Associates, helping him build some pretty expert talent level builds and kept going to conventions, teaching people what I had learned over my experiences and urging people to make cool shit of their own.
I still like to be on panels about costume making to urge people to give it a try

Moving to Los Angeles

In January of this year, I was beginning to pack all of my belongings. My family had moved out of my hometown area and I had been on my own for a bit and my long coming plan of moving to Los Angeles was finally coming to fruition. My buddy Phil who was moving out of his place in Santa Monica had found a spot in Culver City that would be the groundwork for Jp and I to move down there to do the really cliche 'chase your dreams' moment. Jp was aspiring to do some acting work which seems increasingly likely as by the end of 2017 I'm sure every actor and actress will have been accused of some kind of harassment, leaving only Jp available to work in the industry! Well, except Tom Hanks, I'm sure that dude is still as noble as we think.

I had put in notice to my graphic design job. A job which was fine by most standards, that paid well, was steady, fun and surrounded by good people but was overall a model of complacency. I wasn't really learning anything new, my art had stalled out or lacked in terms of skill progression and availability to try to learn new methods and have challenging projects. It eventually became very routine.

I got to paint things like this which was nice, but not what I loved

Ironically, I had always thought to myself I would be okay with routine. I figured as long as I was making a good living, was capable of my job and it was steady, that I would be fine. I found out pretty early on that in my head, I think I was capable of more, and it was bugging me that I wasn't trying to make more of myself.

For a long time, I really wanted to try to make costumes, props, things - whatever I could - for movies, film and anything else related to entertainment. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure which aspects of creation appealed to me most and frankly I'm still not sure I strictly find myself wanting to do just one part of the creative process.

Getting started in a new city

February rolled around and Jp and I moved to Los Angeles, with hopes of at least moving in the right direction towards our goals. After a few months of settling in, some odd jobs and a nearly daily worry of 'holy shit did I just ruin my life!?' we finally got a little footing. I had started working at a studio in Monterey Park that was being run by a former Legacy FX employee. I only spent 3 months there but learned a great deal in that time. Whether it was airbrushing tricks, latex mask making procedures and combinations or just general creative process information, I tried to absorb everything that came my way in my short time there. In between all of this, I managed to appear on a dating show, Love Connection, which is probably the most LA thing I've ever done. It was really embarrassing, go figure.

It was fun, but it's sure embarrassing to watch
First break

In August, a friend I had met on the set of Con Man awhile back, hit me up with a lead on a studio, Global Effects Inc. I immediately inquired within, and after a week or two of not hearing back, I got a call saying they'd like me to interview. When I first entered the studio, it was the first glimpse I had really had into a bigger production studio. Not only had they been around for decades, but they had the space, the tools and the crew I sort of imagined I would be working with if I had ever had enough talent to be there.

It blew my mind how many man hours went into each helmet
The studio primarily was known for working on space movies. Space suits were just kind of their thing. It tends to be a going trend. Ironhead Studios is one of the studios that is just the bees knees of design and talent. They've done work like the Tron Legacy helmets, Loki's horned helmet, Falcon's suit, Black Panther's suit, the list is incredibly impressive. Jose Fernandez, the owner of the company, is known as 'The Superhero guy'. Legacy FX does a lot of the Marvel costumes as well, but it's one of those things where it's just kind of what they're known to do, and they do it really fucking well.

I actually interviewed at Ironhead before I even moved to LA. I was green. Too green to know any better. After a 45 minute talk with Jose himself, he stopped me in my tracks to tell me he likes the projects I've worked on, but that I'm really lacking in real experience and talent in the industry to join his crew. It wasn't heartbreaking or news to me. I was actually expecting it. Hell, I was thrilled to even get some face to face time with Jose to plead my case on why I'd maybe eventually be helpful to his studio. I look back now and realize just how much I didn't know back then when I presented my portfolio of projects and creations. Even now, I'm barely scratching the tip of the iceberg.

Global Effects gave me a shot at helping make some very nice, accurate and shiny space suits for two different movies. I was a little more in my element for awhile as I did some familiar work like fiberglassing, molding and casting and some light painting work. I eventually started crossing into new territory, things like casting in rubber, painting molds and casting into the paint and all sorts of stuff I honestly had never really touched on in my experiences.

Beginning to Notice the Differences

There is not too much that separates shop/studio workers and cosplayers. We all are making things, designing things, painting things, etc. I didn't quite grasp the biggest differences until working at Global. As you may expect, it's really just the magnitude that is different. With big movie budgets, come large crews, with the proper tools and deadlines keeping everyone on track. Honestly the best part of it though is having such a big crew that all knows a lot of talents, skills and tricks. Bring all those minds together, and you'll have more knowledge than you need to make something as perfect as it needs to be. It just, you know, costs a lot. For instance one of the space suits we made for a movie recently (Legally I don't think I can disclose the movie) ran about $100,000. The access to more specific vendors helps as well. We don't have to just go down to Joann's and hope they have what we need. Stuff like that.

I still have maintained my own projects while working at this studio. I've been able to implement everything I've learned so far into my projects and can already see the difference it's made. There's always room for improvements, but I'm just glad to be closer to being able to produce the kind of objects I think I'm capable of making.

I still throw on my Emile suit often, too. Sometimes for short films like the one being filmed here!

2017 in a nutshell

In less than a year, I had gone from amateur costume maker, to volunteer at a shop, to LA resident, to another small shop and eventually to Global Effects and even moonlighting at the studio that is responsible for a lot of Deadpool 2 costumes and props as well as the Teen Titans tv costumes. My end goal remains the same to be a permanent mainstay at either Legacy or Ironhead one day.

I am constantly reminded of how much I have to learn, my limitations, my areas I can improve on, and it can be really damning. I have more bad days than good lately. I second guess myself a lot. I fail a lot more. Work is less steady than my previous graphic design job. No day is the same and there is the constant fear of just not being good enough to make it to the real big times. I'm surrounded by people infinitely more experienced than me which is intimidating. My capabilities haven't caught up to my ambitions yet, and there is no clear path on how to get there. I never really know what I'm doing. I just show up, do the best I can, hope for the best and through some luck, some talent and no lack of effort, I'll hopefully get to where I want to go.

I do wish I could show more pictures of the stuff I've worked on, but as you may expect, Hollywood projects are blanketed my NDAs and tight lipped security.

Self reflection, looking to the future and why I even bother sharing all of this

I don't care about being impressive. It's kind of like trying to be the strongest guy at the gym - there is always someone stronger. Like most of art, everyone has their style, and I love to follow all sorts of prop makers that make an incredible range of perfect, finished projects. We're all different and there's no point in comparing yourself to others. We can all learn from each other. Even the elite in this industry benefit from sitting around a table of people and collaborating as opposed to thinking they know best.

I'm no longer bothered by failure. I've already slipped up, messed up and misjudged a multitude of projects and pieces. It's okay so long as I learn from it. In the end of this journey, all I want is to keep making stuff I'm proud of and take solace in knowing that even if it doesn't work out, I at least tried. Although I'm probably too stubborn to quit now or even later for that matter.

If I can inspire some people to give their ambitions a shot at becoming a reality, that would be pretty nice. There are a lot of people out there that think they don't have what it takes to do (insert anything here). Most people are terrified of trying. Most people don't know where to start. Even more people give up after their first try. Nothing happens overnight.

In short, keep doing what you love, and please, be silly and have fun while you're doing it.

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