Monday, June 9, 2014

Rocksteady’s Journey: Inside a cosplayer’s head while making and remaking a costume. by John Garcia

(That's it for Rocksteady 2.0 for now.  Rocksteady 3.0 will hopefully come out soon)
Looking back, I’ve been wearing my Rocksteady costume for a while, around 2 years, but I have never really stopped working on it.  I went through two versions of the Rhinoceros head so far, and I’m still working on it.  

Usually, I start an elaborate costume in time for Fall conventions like Comikaze, Pacific Media Expo, or Long Beach Comic Con.  I sometimes start another one for Spring conventions like Wondercon, the Long Beach Expo, or the Renaissance Faire, then continue improving both when summer begins, so I can have at least two tested and improved costumes by the time San Diego Comic Con rolls around - and sometimes even for Anime Expo before that.

Don’t get me wrong, I am, by no means, an expert.  By “elaborate,” I mean big and cumbersome, the type of costume that bumps into more than two to three people in a crowded convention hallway.  I do like to make costumes that are a bit unusual, and one that I feel can be an interesting challenge both in making and donning it.  

(Which one?  It's interesting that the boar has abs while the rhino has a belly, a belly?  Decision made!)
Around February (a month before  Wondercon 2012, the first year it was in Anaheim), I started watching old episodes of TMNT, especially since there was news about the upcoming new TMNT series on Nickelodeon.  I thought about being the Shredder, but I wanted something more interesting to make, so I decided to go with either Bebop or Rocksteady.  

I eventually settled on Rocksteady, as I was thinking I can always recycle the Rhinoceros head for a Judoon Doctor Who costume or a Kung-Fu Panda Guard costume.  It would also make making the other costumes (Judoon and Kung-Fu Panda) a bit easier since I would have one of the most difficult elements already made.  Since the rest of the costume was basically just normal clothes, Rocksteady would be a great place to start.
(Rocksteady could be him.)

(Rocksteady could be one of them too!)

For Rocskteady 1.0’s debut at Wondercon 2012, I bought a motorcycle helmet from Goodwill for $12.  Goodwill also carried some of those Light Strike guns - $10 for the rifles (from $20 retail) and $6 for the pistols (from $15 retail) - that went to Goodwill after they did not sell during clearance sales.  The Light Strike laser tag guns are fun toys, but their extra lights and awesome sounds make them great for cosplay, as well.

Cost for Rocksteady 1.0 so far:
Helmet $12
Light Strike Rifle $10
Total so far: $22 (plus, I get to use the Light Strike as fun toys anyway) 

I started building over the helmet to create that longer face of a rhinoceros.  I used some PVC pipes and a couple of fittings for the frame  of the headpiece.  I also went through my garage for some older Tupperware to fill the gaps in between.  

(Yup, a motorcycle helmet, PVC tubes, and a piece of Tupperware.)

Cost for Rocksteady 1.0 so far: $22

½ inch PVC Pipe that is 10 feet long (that’s a LOT of piping) $1.66

Various PVC fittings: $6

Old Tupperware: $0

Total so far: $29.66

After the bones and muscles of the headpiece,  I needed to fill the gaps in between, cartilages, if you will, and I used the car-repair “goop” (yes, that’s a technical term) Bondo.  It dries up strong, and  a bit flexible (instead of brittle).  I then sprayed a layer of gray primer over it, so I can paint another layer of grays and black for shadowing. 

(Don't worry. Thats not blood and that rhino isn't really screaming. I hope.)

Cost for Rocksteady 1.0 so far: $29.66

Gray Primer: $4

Total so far: $39.66

(Rockseady, primed and ready.... or I suppose that's it for now!)

By this point, however, there was no more time to add the extra layer of gray and black, so it was never applied to Rocksteady 1.0.  I also needed to look at his clothing. 

Cost for Rocksteady 1.0 so far: $39.66

Black Tanktop: $6 from Walmart

Gray cotton long-sleeved shirt: I already had this, so $0 for the rhino skin. 

Gray thermal cotton long-sleeved shirt: I also already had this, so $0.  This was my contingency rhino skin in case it would be a cold day, and it WAS.  It was raining very hard and very cold those days.

Olive Cargo pants: I already had this for other costumes, so $0

Black tactical boots: I already have this for other costumes, o $0

Total Cost for Rocksteady 1.0: $45.66 

In the end of the day, only Guinan knows how I felt after wearing something this heavy.
Then I wore Rocksteady 1.0 for Wondercon 2012, and it looked great, but was VERY VERY VERY HEAVY.  It also tended to tip over the front, so I had to anchor the back of the motorcycle helmet to my backpack, just to keep it upright.  I didn't practice walking around in the helmet long enough before the con, so I wasn't ready for carrying around something that heavy for that long.  Rocksteady 1.0 was good, but it needed a serious revamp if I was going to use it again.  

Rocksteady 2.0

For the summer conventions of 2012, Anime Expo and San Diego Comic Con, I needed to change my Rocksteady drastically.  Fortunately, by then I had discovered a new, lighter, and more flexible material for the bones, muscles, and cartilage of the headpiece, the Anti-fatigue foam floor mat.  Yes, these are exercise mats.  At Harbor Freight, these are $10 for a 4 foot by 4 foot piece, which are 4 smaller interlocking 2 foot by 2 foot pieces.  These also bond to the surface of the motorcycle helmet, which I stripped from Rocksteady 1.0 to reuse for this project.   I also used a screen faceguard underneath the face, which shows the eyes.  This allows me to paint on the eyes, but be able to see out.    

(Starting over.  Kinda.  Now, 50% lighter material!)
Rocksteady 2.0 cost:

Motorcycle helmet from Rocksteady 1.0: $0

Screen faceguard $8

A lot of gluesticks for my gluegun: $5 for a pack at Walmarts and Targets.

A small cup of spackling: $5  
 Total so far: $23

I also used a thin layer of craft foam and draped it over  the layers of foam to simulate skin clumping and curving over muscles.  For this phase of the project, I was going to use what was leftover of the Bondo for the in-between parts, but even thin layers of Bondo are very heavy.  Also, using a craft foam skin increases the amount of surface area that doesn't need something as strong as Bondo, so I used basic paint spackling, which also worked well with the porous surface of the foam. 

Rocksteady 2.0 cost so far:

A Pack of 11”x18” craft foam: $7

A small cup of spackling: $5 

Total so far: $35

For painting, I used a new can of gray primer.  For the actual paint, however, I thought I could accomplish better shading if I hand-painted it with acrylic paint.  

Rocksteady 2.0 cost so far: $35

Gray Primer $4

Tube of Dark Gray Acrylic Paint $2

Tube of Gray Acrlic Paint  $2

Tube of Black acrylic paint: $2

Total so far: $45

I also did not have a proper “throat” for Rocksteady1.0, so the bar that acts as a handle and rests on my chest to keep the face upright was exposed.  Luckily, I found this football collar, which worked so well.  I also got a small medium-quality battery-operated fan attached to the back of the helmet, to keep the back of my neck cool.  

(That's that collar thing, worn in reverse to act as his throat.)

Rocksteady 2.0 cost so far:

Collar Thing: $20

Miniature Fan $10

Total so far: $75

As for the rest, I got a new yellow tank top t to resemble the 80s cartoon version instead of the toy (Rocksteady 1.0 had a black tank top to copy the toy). I got a power drill holster from 99 Cents to place my Light Strike gun on, and I got a bullet bandolier for $5.  I also found some toy grenades that make explosion sounds after you press the handle.   The turtle shell accessories were knee guards that I had and some green-painted shell segments from the leftover foam.  

Rocksteady 2.0 cost so far: $75

Yellow Tank Top: $7

Drill Holster: $1

Bullet bandolier $5

Toy Grenades $2

Knee Guards: $0 (already had them)

Total for Rocksteady 2.0: $90

There were a couple more changes for Rocksteady, mostly on the arms, hands,  and gauntlets, but none so far worked.  

(Rocksteady would rather hang out with April O'Neil than Bebop.  Who knew?)

After the year that I’ve been wearing this costume, I decided it still needed some more improvements.  The aforementioned hand problem is one, but I’m just trying to find the right gray glove.  The other thing is a new gun.  I need to MAKE a new gun, not just keep using the same old Light Strike guns.  When I originally bought those light trike guns, I was going to peel off the outside cardboard/plastic skin, and attach some Plexiglas and stuff over the lights and add more surface things, but I never got around to it.

As cheap and super-clearance Light Strike things are these days, I m now having trouble finding them, and I still really liked these toys, so I decided to start from scratch. I visited the local swap meet.  I was thinking I can find a nerf gun or a super-soaker to disassemble and repaint.  Futuristic-looking ones would be better to get it approved by weapons policies.  I found one, for a bargain, at a mere $5, I found a WORKING NERF VULCAN!!!  The machinery worked perfectly, but it did not come with the ammo and ammo belt.  That made it easier to keep using it for cosplay instead of keeping it as a toy for myself.  

 Yup, that was an awesome toy, but it needed to be sacrificed for the sake of cosplay.

The Vulcan was amazing, and initially, I was going to keep the machinery or repurpose it, but it was just too heavy.  I already have a slightly cumbersome and heavy headpiece as Rocksteady.  The innards of that Vulcan had to come out.  After I took the motor and batteries out, I found that there were all sorts of holes and room inside the gun.  I decided to put inside a string of blue electroluminescent tubes from my semi-retired Raiden costume.  I also took out the barrel of the gun both to make it appear less “Realistic” and to showcase the “electric” effect that the electroluminescent tubes seem to be doing. 

(I will be borrowing those shiny things on your arms.)
For the finishing touches, I found out that the opening of the battery compartment (which was big enough for 6 D batteries) can work as a small storage compartment that is easier to access than my  backpack when I’m wearing a costume. So, I designed the battery compartment to snap open and close instead of locking in.  I then used the strap off an old messenger bag and used the Vulcan’s own sling attachment point.  

It was still missing something.  The “electric” effect and the barrel-less look of the gun makes it a bit more sci-fi than a normal gun, even though I decided to paint it black.  I thought to myself, maybe it needs a bayonet, and at this point, I did not want to spend a lot more, so I tried to find something I already have.  I found a clear frosted Plexiglas spearhead from my Cid Highwind costume.  That spear has a modular tip, so I can switch the spearhead for Cid’s joke mop head spearhead.  This costume, however, is still in use.  Thank goodness for that initial modular design.  I just took the same screw-in PVC fittiing that I used for Cid’s spear and put a similar one on the bottom of Rocksteady’s gun.  This way, I can switch and use that frosted blade for when I’m either Cid or Rocksteady 

(I will be borrowing that frosty thing you're pointing at me.)
Cost for upgrading Rocksteady 2.0's weaponry
Nerf Vulcan from Swap Meet: $5

Black Spray paint: $2

Blue Electroluminescent Tubing: $0 (it’s really   $7 when I first bought it and had it shipped, but it’s zero here because it did not cost me extra for this costume)

PVC fitting: $0.45

Frosted Blade $0 (it cost around $20 for the Plexiglas, clear epoxy, and PVC fittings when I originally made it for Cid, but again, since I’mr recycling it, it costs $0) 

Total: $7.45 (0r if you want to include the cost of the things I already have, $34.45)

That’s it for now, for Rocksteady.  I think I’m going to redo it again, and start on Rocksteady 3.0 with newer things I’ve learned like using spandex as the creature’s skin instead of painting it, since the paint cracks after every convention, and I have to retouch it. 

And here's the finished product.

John Garcia is a Professor of English, specializing in popular culture, comparative literature, and postcolonial studies. He is also an artist and character designer for Smorgasbord Productions.

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