Monday, June 13, 2016

Cosplay and the Maker Movement

Here at the Creativity Labs, we're deeply invested in the educational potential of hands-on making and makerspaces. Though, of course, people have made stuff for as long as we've existed, the recent maker movement has been re-valuing personal fabrication over mass production, and has popularized high-tech tools like 3D printers and laser cutters. At the same time, we're seeing the founding of more and more makerspaces, where people gather to use these tools and make/ repair stuff together, both in and out of schools, and for both adults and youth.

Though the maker movement is supposedly about all forms of making, both high- and low-tech, it's the high-tech stuff, like 3D printers, robots, and projects made with microcontrollers like Arduinos that get the most press. Things that light up really grab people's attention!

For a long time, it seemed as if the maker movement and the cosplay community were totally separate, even though cosplay is obviously all about making stuff--whether that's sewing costumes, sculpting props, or styling wigs. I've seen some recent trends, though, that are starting to bring these two communities together, in a way that, I think, is of great benefit to both.

First, cosplayers are gradually starting to open makerspaces of their own. A few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure to visit Studio Cosplay in the DC area. Initially founded thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, this "cosmakerspace," as they call it, contains all the tools you might need in order to make costumes. It has sewing stations, a fabrication area for cutting and sculpting props, a photography corner so folks can get good pictures of their costumes, a well-ventilated room for spray-painting and sanding, and even a room with 3D printers! Studio Cosplay hosts many popular events, such as a pet cosplay contest, a cosplay swap/sell event, and panels and repair booths at conventions. In addition, it offers lessons to those wanting to learn how to improve their skills. Here are some pictures I took while at Studio Cosplay:

The 3D printing room

Fabrication station and the door to the ventilated painting/sanding room

Studio Cosplay is lucky to get a lot of donations, such as these old sewing machines, used cosplay parts and materials, and sewing patterns
Cosplay Kitchen in Pittsburgh, PA is also in the process of opening up its own studio space. The great thing about this trend toward communal spaces for cosplay is that, from the cosplayers I've talked to, cosplay creation tends to be a very solitary affair (though wearing them at conventions is of course very social). A centralized location allows cosplayers to get to know each other, help each other out, learn new skills they never would have attempted on their own, and share special tools that otherwise would be prohibitively expensive. At the same time, it's also beneficial for the maker movement to have new makerspaces where sewing machines play a prominent role, re-valuing the traditionally feminine and dismissed craft of sewing in a way that most consider "cool" and impressive. Cosplay is still a majority-female hobby, too, so this is also a way to acknowledge more women as makers.

A second trend I've noticed is an increasing use of "maker" tech in cosplay. More and more cosplayers are using 3D printers, laser cutters, and other digital fabrication devices to enhance their cosplays. Ohayocon, which I attended in January, had a 3D printing lab in progress throughout the con. A week ago at Colossalcon in Sandusky, OH, there was a 3D modeling class, I spoke with a few cosplayers who use a 3D printer and laser cutter, and I saw more examples of light-up cosplays than I've ever seen before! This burgeoning interest in lighting up costumes is reflected in the increasing number of instructional resources on the matter, such as Kamui Cosplay's Book of Cosplay Lights. Not only does this increase the cosplays' "wow" factor, but it is also sometimes more accurate to the character, and it gives cosplayers a chance to practice using electronics and circuitry skills.

Of course this Glow Cloud from the podcast Welcome to Night Vale should be glowing!

The above were examples of cosplayers taking up ideas from the maker movement. Is the reverse happening too? Is the maker movement starting to acknowledge cosplayers as makers? Fortunately, the answer is yes! A few months ago I saw that the Milwaukee Maker Faire was seeking cosplayers as exhibitors and workshop hosts. Maker tech retailer Adafruit regularly posts about cosplay on its blog. Cosplayers can make some really impressive stuff, so I think it's only fair that they're applauded as the makers they truly are. As for me, I couldn't be happier with this convergence of two of my research interests!

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