Translating ideas from plans on a page into real life isn't always the easiest process, but cosplay makers build their passion doing exactly that over and over again. At its core, cosplay often constitutes taking a 2D design and figuring out how to make it a 3D reality or defying physics to turn an impossible design into something structurally sound yet comfortable enough to wear all day. How do makers achieve such success with so many vastly different costumes?
With a lot of practice (and plenty of mistakes along the way), most cosplay makers develop a tested process for bringing their favorite characters to life. While every maker's process is unique, the majority of cosplayers follow a similar series of steps in their creative process over the course of weeks, months, or even years. In this post, we'll break down the main stages of cosplay design and creation that go into every impressive final result.
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Creating Cosplay in 4 Major Steps
From our research and conversations with today's cosplay makers, we've found that most cosplayers follow a similar path from idea to finished costume. However, while the major creative steps might be a common thread among cosplayers, the techniques each maker uses within each step can vary widely. Additionally, it's important to keep in mind that cosplay makers love to experiment with new techniques and tools, so while their overarching process is largely static, their methods are constantly changing and improving with experience.
Here are the major steps along the way to creating a brand new cosplay from scratch:
- Planning: The planning stage is perhaps one of the longest stages of the cosplay process. For one thing, deciding which character to create next can be tough for cosplay makers. Factoring in themes of upcoming events, popular inspirations, new interpretations of favorite characters, the media they love most, and the financial and time investments a certain costume will require, the maker will settle on the costume or group of costumes they'll start working on.
Next, they'll collect tons of reference material, often printing out or saving images of the character from all angles, looking up other fan costumes, and sketching original designs. While gathering visual inspiration, many cosplayers will also research what kind of work the costume will entail by reading and watching tutorials online. This is also the stage when a cosplayer will research all the products and supplies they'll need for the project. Which parts of the costume will be made of fabric? Which parts will be wood or foam? What colors will they need? What types of glue, fasteners, accessories, etc. will they need? All of this research is done preliminarily to set up the project for success (Some cosplays turn out to be too expensive to risk a costly mistake!)
- Prep: The prep stage of cosplay making starts with collecting all the supplies and products needed for the project. Cosplay makers buy their supplies both online and in-store, depending on prices, availability, and time restraints. Some cosplay makers also use household objects in their costumes. Then, cosplay makers prep for the project by readying all of their basic costume pieces for assembly. This might include patterning, cutting out pieces, casting body parts for fitting, and testing materials to ensure the final assembly will look correct.
- Assembly: Once all planning and prep is complete, cosplay makers begin assembling all of the costume pieces using their crafting tools — sewing machines, bandsaws, heat guns, adhesives, paints, etc. Depending on the complexity of the costume, final assembly can take a significant amount of time, especially if any errors or challenges occur along the way. This step also includes all strapping and fitting required to tailor the costume for size and fasten it onto the body.
- Sharing: Once the costume is finished, the final step for cosplay makers is showing off their creation within their chosen fan communities. Attending conventions or other events in costume is a popular way to share cosplay with others. Many cosplayers also shoot photos and videos of their costumes to share on social media. Whether showing off their costumes online or in-person, however, cosplay makers receive a lot of feedback at this stage and engage in conversations with their fellow makers that can influence their creative process down the road.
While the process of creating a unique and detailed cosplay is much more complex than just these four simple steps, this general roadmap should give you an idea of how dedicated cosplay makers are to crafting amazing costumes. Furthermore, understanding where your products factor into the cosplay process can help you form genuine connections with today's cosplay makers at just the right time.