Friday, January 23, 2015

Electronically-Enhanced Cosplay

Last semester, for my final project for my Introduction to Digital Arts and Humanities class, I decided to combine e-textiles, Maker technologies, and cosplay all in a single artifact. As a fan of many different media properties, cosplay--making a costume and dressing up as a character from a story--is something that I'd been interested in for a long time but that I'd never taken the plunge to actually try before. And with so much media starring characters with special powers and technologies, it makes sense to use electronics to enhance a cosplay.

If we think of the broader implications, technologically-enhanced cosplay is another possible way for technology to reach a wider audience than it normally would. We talk a lot on this blog about how women tend to feel shut out from techie fields. Well, what if female fans got a chance to add techie enhancements to their cosplays? (I would love to help run a workshop like this one day!) This would allow them to build on a preexisting deep interest in a fandom. Adding technology to that equation might help spark a lifelong interest in tech to go alongside the interest in fandom, in a way that may have a stronger long-term impact than one-time workshops typically do.

The cosplay item I decided to make was the brooch and bow of Sailor Moon. When I was a kid, the Sailor Moon anime inspired me with its tale of an ordinary teenager who, with the power of this brooch, could transform into the super-heroine Sailor Moon and save the world from evil. She was joined by several other female friends who also could transform into Sailor Scouts. It felt really empowering to watch a show in which, unlike most other superhero stories, all the heroes with the strongest powers were female.

Sailor Moon's transformation brooch
Just like Sailor Moon's brooch allows her to transform into a magical girl, cosplay allows fans to transform into their favorite characters. Here's how I accomplished my own "transformation."

To make the bow, Gail Hale from Discardia helped me to tie a red ribbon into an elaborate bow.

For the main part of the brooch, I used 3D modeling software Rhino and a 3D printer. Dr. Nicole Jacquard, a professor of Fine Arts at IU and an expert at using computer modeling and Maker technologies to enhance her art, helped me to model the brooch on Rhino.

Then she was kind enough to let me use her department's 3D printer to print the brooch in PLA plastic. A 3D printer extrudes layers of plastic to form a 3-dimensional shape that has been modeled on a computer. This was my first time using a 3D printer, even though it's the quintessential Maker technology. It was very exciting!

This particular shape required a support structure in order to print properly.

Here's what the brooch looked like once I broke off and filed down the supports.

I also used a laser cutter (another common Maker technology that I'd never used before!) to cut small circles out of plexiglass to go over the circles on the brooch.

I then spray-painted the brooch gold.

Then I sewed it onto the bow, along with four LilyPad LEDs and a LilyTiny microcontroller to make the LEDs sparkle and flash.

Here's the final product:

And here's my complete cosplay!

There are still a lot of things missing from my cosplay, including the skirt, gloves, and tiara. I hope one day to be able to finish it, and perhaps add some more techie embellishments!

Fans may wish they could have the magic that their favorite characters have. In the real world, one form of "magic" is technology. Learning how to harness it can be very empowering. Technology-enhanced cosplay is one possible way to get fans--especially female ones--to experience this empowerment. Cosplay really can be transformative and magical! If I ever do get a chance to do an e-cosplay workshop, this blog will be the first to get the full report!