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Cosplay Interview with Sunset Dragon

Kit of SunsetDragon is a powerhouse of talent – in addition to cosplay, she works as a concept artist by day…already the dream job of many ‘geek-culture’ fans! Having a lifelong love for art, fantasy, and fiction, it only made sense that Kit would eventually be drawn into the world of cosplay and crafting. And we couldn’t be happier that she was, because her costumes are an aesthetic feast for the eyes.

You work as a concept artist by day. In what ways do you feel that your professional training contributes to your cosplay?

Sunset Dragon: I really feel like cosplay and art, for me, influence each other constantly. It’s pretty back and forth. I use my character design sense to influence the characters I cosplay and add my own touches, ideas, fabrics. My working with fabric helps influence my knowledge of drawing characters. I am all about beautiful color, so that is probably what I am strictest about in my costumes – do the colors all blend together to create a visually pleasing effect? Also shape balance – more often than not your character is not proportional to you in the real world – how can you tweak certain elements to make sure your outfit looks amazing on you? Do you make those humongous shoulder pauldrons a little bit smaller so your head can be a focal point as well? Do you flare out your waist a bit more because you don’t have humongous hips? Are you legs shorter or longer, so you can adjust accordingly? I think my design and color sense most certainly helps me with these overall visual “compositions” of a cosplay. Maybe I’m getting a bit ambiguous here, but that’s my feeling! I also love to use my painting skills for props and armor, even touches on fabric, to help me. Like with my Tinkerbell costume-hand airbrushing and accenting that to resemble leaves was so much fun.

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As an artist yourself, do you frequently take creative liberties with your cosplay costumes or do you strive to make costumes as accurate as possible to the reference material? What are you thoughts on the growing trend of making original designs inspired by iconic characters and costumes?

Sunset Dragon: I almost always take creative liberties with my costumes. Much like above, I love adding my own touches and flares to things to enhance the overall effect. I’m making a gown right now inspired by a classical fairytale illustration by Arthur Rackham – the possibilities are endless! As a character designer myself, I’ve done several original characters by now, and even designed some for others. I did a line of My Little Pony-Grand Galloping Gala inspired gown designs and a lot of cosplayers really want to bring them to life! As a designer and cosplayer, nothing makes me happier than people wanting to cosplay my art, so I’m super happy to see the growing trend of “original” costumes! I think it’s wonderful and collaborative to boot.

Before taking up cosplay as a hobby, did you have any experience with sewing or costume/prop-making? And, to ask you a difficult question, what would be five items that you would recommend to cosplay newbies who want to start learning how to make their own costumes?

Sunset Dragon: Unless you count making my own monarch butterfly wings out of posterboard for a butterfly costume when I was in second grade, not really. I’d dabbled in some crafts and things, but cosplay was pretty much my first experience with sewing. I started out altering bought outfits – like Mimiru from .Hack//sign. She has a one-strapped burgundy top that I couldn’t find anywhere! So I bought one with two straps and altered it, which now would be a breeze but back then was such a hassle! Her armor was pretty much heavy posterboard and her sword was paper mache-you learn as you go.

Five things that I would recommend newbie cosplayers do:

- Start out with a simpler costume, see if you can modify clothing.

- Get a basic sewing machine and look up sewing tutorials – even take a sewing class or two if you want. You’ll never stop learning ;)

-Ask other cosplayers you admire how they got to where they are, or if you need help on a very specific thing. Most will respond or send you a link to someone/something that can help you. Make sure you check that there isn’t already a tutorial out there for what you need – the internet is amazing!

- Browse and ask for help on cosplay forums as well, odds are your question has already been answered there!

- Use a wig! More often than not, even if your hair is the same color as your characters, you can’t count on having a gorgeous hairday – wigs really pull your whole effect together. Along the same lines-study makeup; you may feel like a clown, but once the wig goes on, it all clicks!

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You recently completed an amazing Blood Elf costume from World of Warcraft. Was this your first time building a costume with complex armor? What materials did you use and did you learn any tips or tricks during the process?

Sunset Dragon: This was my first time trying to replicate plate armor, yes! I’d worked with leather armor before for my Merrill costume from Dragon Age 2, but this was completely different. I used a material called Worbla -a heatable thermo plastic that forms when warm and cools to whatever shape. That stuff is amazing, I can’t recommend it more. It’s a bit expensive but totally worth it. I have to give props to the amazing cosplayer Kamui for all her tutorials and tricks online – honestly just go watch her videos, I learned everything studying and watching her progress! I will say that worbla can be a bit tricky at first, but you can always reheat and retry, so really there is no downside. I loved painting my armor the most, though! Keep in mind with armor cosplays that you have to walk around and move-so you might have to take some creative liberties with pieces for optimal movement. I know I kind of have to wobble in that costume because the thigh pieces stick out on the inner side, ha!

As cosplay becomes more popular, people often state that it is becoming increasingly competitive. You mentioned that cosplay is a hobby that you enjoy with many of your friends. Do you feel that there is ever a competitive edge in your relationships with cosplay friends or is it a mutually-supportive group?

Sunset Dragon: A long time ago, when I first started cosplay, I made costumes with my best friend. We were both girls around the same age – it really felt like a competition. I think the relationship was just toxic, I’ve since branched out and found new cosplay buddies and I can say it’s not a competition at all with them! We encourage each other, help each other out and really have the best time in costume together without jealousy or anger. I think it’s all about who you cosplay with and associate yourself with. If someone tries to start something with me that I don’t approve of, I just try to distance myself from that person and stay out of it. Cosplay is about fun – not numbers, page views and who is “better” than someone else. Spread the love, I’m a cosplay hippie! 

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When it comes to the inspiration behind selecting new costumes, some cosplayers only want to cosplay characters that they feel a personal connection to, while others are inspired by beautiful artwork and costume designs and don’t place a strong emphasis on a character’s personality. For you, how do you select characters and where does the inspiration to make a costume come from?

Sunset Dragon: I think I do both. I have characters that I LOVE the design for, and I also adore the character’s personality. Two characters that I will cosplay over and over again, making all their outfits, are Tink and Merida. I think they have similar spunky attitudes that I can aspire to, I just feel a connection to those girls. Other costumes I pick because, being an artist, I admire great design! I usually try to find out my characters background and everything, but I don’t go out of my way to be completely versed in everything I cosplay. I’ve had people come up and say something extremely specific to me when I’m in a costume, and half the time I don’t know what they are talking about. It can be awkward, but I”m doing this for me, not for them. This is rarer though, I usually try to choose characters that I both love their personality/story and their design.

Similarly, there sometimes seems to be an expectation that a cosplayer should know a great deal about the character they are cosplaying or else risk being accused of cosplaying for attention rather than a genuine love of the source material. However, the world of fandom is quite large – spanning movies, videogames, comics, anime and much more. It seems unrealistic to expect individuals to be experts in all of these areas. You yourself have cosplayed characters from a wide range of genres. Have you ever felt like someone has questioned you ‘right’ to cosplay as a certain character?

Sunset Dragon: Like I said above, certainly, but it’s never really bothered me. If you have an issue with me not knowing my entire characters backstory, present story and future story, that seems to be more your problem than mine. I’m having fun doing my thing, I’m not in this costume to be your picture of a perfect ‘nerd girl’ or anything like that. Similarly, if I want to cosplay for attention, I”m going to cosplay for attention. I feel like people who ask you these questions or feel slighted in any way if you don’t conform to what they want also want attention. Otherwise why go and whine about it to the internet? If you are comfortable with yourself-does it really matter if girls are ‘invading your fandom’? I’m used to being the gender minority – in my line of work – it’s almost all males with a few female artists sprinkled in, so maybe the con scene isn’t as jarring to me. When I say con scene I mean the online aspect – because now at conventions there are tons of butt-kicking girls and I love it! We’re seeing a shift and I”m really excited to see where it goes.

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While conventions are largely positive, fun environments, it’s easy for the internet to attract more negativity and snarking. How active are you in the online cosplay community? Do you have any tips on avoiding negativity and staying positive?

Sunset Dragon: I fear I might repeat myself again, but yes! For the most part I think I’ve managed to stay out of the drama and negativity that some people in the community seem to get embroiled in. When I first started out, I had a group of friends that I never really branched out from, and there was tons of drama. I’ve since learned that this is not positive on your life at all, and you need to escape it once you realize how negative an impact it has on your life. If you’re still acting like you’re in high school – the drama, name calling and chatting behind your “friends” back, then that is a negative situation that you need to remove yourself from. I generally don’t associate myself anymore with people I don’t like, nor with people who won’t spend the time on me that I will spend on them. Nothing is black and white of course, so you’ll have to take each day as it comes, but in general just be confident in yourself, listen to others and don’t say things that are offensive or can get you in trouble. I believe having a positive, confident (but not over confident!) attitude can really influence others around you that you are an awesome person. And if you have a few haters, ignore them and keep being yo’ badass self!

Finally, what are your 2013 convention plans? Do you have any upcoming costumes you can tell us about?

Sunset Dragon: Right now it’s looking like Fanime, Otakon, BronyCon and AnimeUSA-with a few local events in between. Right now I”m working on the fairy tale dress I mentioned, as well as remaking parts of my Mari plugsuit from Evangelion. Journey cosplay is also in my future :)
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