Remember when we were kids and we’d tie a towel around our neck and pretend we were superheros? Or when we’d sit in a cardboard box and pretend we were in a spaceship or a race car or a submarine? Or when we’d grab a water pistol or a cap gun (what were our parents thinking?!) and pretend we were cops?
Well, we’re not children anymore; we’re adults. But that doesn’t mean we should stop playing, stop pretending. Quite the contrary! It means we should be better at it!
What we need are better toys and better costumes. Helping us do that is Bill “Chinbeard” Doran, prop and costume maker extraordinaire at Punished Props.
We caught up with Bill at his workshop near Seattle, Washington and asked him about his props and the world of cosplay.
RN: Bill, when did you start making props and how did you get into it?
Bill: I think the first one I did was in 2009. A couple of friends of mine are into anime cosplay and the anime convention scene. I had never been into that before. They moved out here to Seattle and we went with them to Pax Prime. They said, “We dress up for things. You guys want to try that too?” So we did. We did Team Fortress costumes. It was awesome! So every year we kept making new costumes and before you know it we were doing multiple costumes a year, doing multiple conventions a year. It just snowballed.
RN: What did you do before you started building props?
Bill: I’m actually trained as a 3D modeler, like animation and video games and all that. But my day job before all this was a super boring corporate job, just publishing video. I worked for this little company, you’ve probably heard of them, they’re called Microsoft.
RN: For many cosplayers, making costumes and props is a hobby. You seem to approach this from a real business perspective.
Bill: I told myself, I’m going to quit my day job to do this creative thing. But if I found myself doing stuff that I didn’t want to do then I might as well go back to the day job. So I honed in on my core competencies: making props, shooting and editing video. And I have to keep telling myself, it’s not a hobby, I can’t dabble, I can’t just try something out just for fun. I need to focus on the things that I’m good at and get better at them. And I need to focus on the business side of it too because I have to put just as much effort into getting good at that as I do at making stuff. In fact I was at the New Media Expo in Las Vegas last weekend, learning how people run their business on the internet. So I’m bound and determined and stubborn to make this work long term as a business.
RN: What would you say was your most challenging project?
Bill: I did the sniper rifle from StarCraft and I made molds of the whole thing. It was the biggest piece, biggest model I’ve ever made. And it didn’t go to plan. It was kind of an emotional roller coaster trying to make that work out.
RN: Who’s your typical customer?
Bill: I do a lot of stuff for cosplayers. For example, I made a Mass Effect gun. And I’ll make a mold of one of those, pop out copies, and usually just sell a blank kit that people can buy and paint themselves. Which is great; it’s quicker for me, cheaper for them, and they get to customize it the way they want and it’s an accessory to the costume that they made for themselves. So, a lot of my work has been for that. Also, I make so many things from video games. People who started playing video games in the 80s now have this deep nostalgia for them. They’re also in their 30s and 40s so they have money. Those are also the kind of people who are collectors. There are people who want to take something from their digital on-line video game experience and pull it into the real world to have something that they can keep to remind them of the fun, awesome time that they had playing Skyrim or Mass Effect.
RN: Have you ever done any commissioned pieces for movies or television? Is that something you would like to do?
Bill: I know a handful of people in Hollywood who work on props and that’s cool. And I understand the allure of that. I just watched the behind the scenes of the Hobbit. I was like, “Aw, man I could have worked on that. That was so cool.” But right now I work for myself and I always have work. I don’t have to answer to anyone except my clients. There’s a lot of power in that. So at least for now I’m really happy just doing my own thing, sort of paving my own way, really figuring out where this is going to take me as opposed to jumping into an industry that’s already pretty determined.
RN: What would you recommend for somebody who wants to get into cosplay?
Bill: If you’re just doing it as a hobby, pick a character that you love. For me, one of my favorite characters is Wolverine, so I’ve done a Wolverine costume before, and I’ll probably do five more again in the future. Pick a character that you’re emotionally attached to. Because you’ll get to a time when you’re making that costume and you’ll want to quit. If you don’t have that emotional tie to it you won’t have anything to bring you back when you don’t want to finish it. And then give yourself a lot more time than you think you need to finish it because things come up, things go bad, things take a lot longer than they usually do. And then when you’re done, wear it in public, go to a convention, have fun with it. And be proud of yourself. This is your first project, and then you’ll do another one or you’ll redo the same one, improve and get better.
RN: How difficult is this for someone just doing it as a hobby?
Bill: With the videos I do, the build write-ups and everything, I try and make sure that people know that the barrier to entry is a lot lower than they might think. If you’re just looking at props and costume making as a hobby, you really don’t need as many tools as you might think. You don’t need expensive materials. When people try, when they do their first project, their first costume, they make something, they get that bug. And it snowballs. You want to do more because it’s a lot of fun. You can go to conventions and meet a lot of cool people and have a good time. Make something and wear it. Show yourself off. Try it. If you haven’t done it yet, give it a go.
Want to know more about prop building? Check out Bill’s amazing work, including detailed write-ups at Punished Props: www.punishedprops.com. You can also follow Bill on Twitter (@chinbeard) and watch his videos on YouTube (youtube.com/punishedprops).