Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The three tenets of prop making for cosplayers

Props with your cosplay are the icing on the cake. It helps to elevate the entire costume to the next level by bringing items associated with your character into the act. I personally find it easier to create photo posses when I have a prop and seldom cosplay without one. My prop becomes my security blanket.

Like a cosplay, a prop project can easily become a burden which is why I start all projects with three questions.

Can I make it light?

There are two things a con day is not: short and inactive. Once I arrive at con, I'm excited to see all the costumes, visit all the exhibit booths, and see most of the panels. I don't want to leave and I don't want a large, heavy prop literally weighing me down. So the first part of any prop I tackle is the materials. How light can I make it? How do I make that even lighter?
To make a light and cheap mage staff, I used expanding foam.

There are plenty of options available for light prop making: worbla, paper mache, a million types of foam, and lightweight paper clay to name a few. When creating my initial blueprints, I keep these materials in mind for how to make the prop light. The size of the prop tends to help me determine which materials is best.

Can I make it cost-effective?

Yes, there are plenty of material options for making props light, but can I afford it? Budget is a part of cosplay. Fail to plan a good budget and you can plan to fail to complete the project. After creating a short list of ideal materials, I start to plan the costs. I may want to cover my project in Worbla, but at $45 a sheet it's not cost-effective. 

I start a prop project outlining three materials and budget plans: unlimited, economical, and blue-light special. The final selection is often a mix of all these plans as you balance material cost. 

Can I make it with my current skills and tools?

I think this is the hardest question for cosplayers to face. Yes, you should expand your horizons and learn new skills, but not at the expense of picking projects that will cause non-calculable measures of frustration. The challenge is looking for projects that are a step or two above your current skills, not a leap of faith 10 stories up.

Equally important is having the right tools. Making gems requires the tools to make custom molds and then use those molds to create the gem. Foam requires a lot of sharp blades to shape pieces and tarp to pick up your mess. Worbal needs to be heated, molded, primed, and then painted. My mom always said the right tools make the job. Part of your prop research needs to include the tools required and the cost for those tools.

To learn more about how I made the mage staff in this post, read my series about Expanding Foam and You.

Kamui Cosplay literally wrote the book on prop making. Be sure to check her out!

I hope my rules of prop making help inspire you to greatness on your next project!

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