I recently went to Dragon*Con 2012 and participated in the Friday Night Costume Contest (hereby referred to as FNCC). I did Lydia from Skyrim in her default steel armor. I started on it in May and worked extremely hard to make it as accurate and realistic as possible. I only decided to do the contest a few weeks before the con because I was so impressed with the way it was turning out. I even entered as a Journeyman instead of Novice. I’m technically a Novice since this was only the second costume contest I’ve been in, and I’ve only made a few “convention worthy” costumes. Also I’d never made armor before, or any costumes of this extreme magnitude. I’ve technically been making costumes for a long time now, however, and I felt that qualified me as Journeyman worthy, yanno trying to be honest and all. Unfortunately that decision practically nixed my chances of winning, since almost everyone was in Journeyman (20-30 people I think?) and there were maybe 10 in Novice. Oh well! Its ok, I had a great time anyway!
I’d like to state though why I did this contest and will keep doing contests in the future. While winning would have been be nice, it wasn’t my goal. In fact I’m pretty hard on myself and never expect to win. I did it mainly for these reasons:
A) Get to be up close to amazing costumes and hear how they did it and get tips for my own.
B) Get a ton of people to see my hard work by walking on the stage.
C) Have professional pictures taken of me, as well as from the people watching.
I worked so dang hard, I wanted people to see it and appreciate my work! I’d only been in one contest before, but in that one and this one I expected not to win, therefore I didn’t get too disappointed when I didn’t. Tried not to get my hopes up, etc etc. It really would be nice though, because if I were to win something it would be like “verification” that I’ve done well. That leads me to the heart of this post. Due to my experience in the FNCC, things have changed in my head a bit, and my goal for next year is to create something that I can truly be proud of and feel is comparable with the other amazing masterpieces there. Instead of feeling like, “Aw I suck”, I should feel like “Yeah, I have a chance!”
I will explain why. I went to the Meet the Winners panel the next day on a whim and got to hear the judges talk about why they picked who they did. Their costumes were pretty much immaculate, really difficult (relative to their category), and time-consuming. The judges then spoke about things they looked for to pick the winners since everyone was so close. Apparently the top costumes were less than a point apart, wow! I’ve now learned that there are many factors that can determine a winner, and its not all just “I am the best, I am winner! Hoo hah!” I also know to never doubt the people that win, and that I should just be happy for them. Its nothing personal, and there are so many other opportunities to compete. I mean, its obvious you shouldn’t be a sore loser, but its nice to actually be able to truly understand, let it go, and not have those feelings.
Anyway enough with the moosh, here are the things the judges said that stuck with me:
1) You must have perfect execution. (Or if you’re a novice, execute better than everyone else in the group, obviously). People tend to make mistakes in execution that are very common. I have noticed myself that many people don’t even iron their hems and seams, which is such a simple thing to do to up the quality of the costume (but I gotta admit, at Dragon*Con the costumes are so high quality, I don’t see this problem as much). The judges said if they see one ripple in your seam, it throws them off. If you don’t do finishing touches like hem something without good reason (aka for costume accuracy it wasn’t hemmed in the source) then it looks like you don’t care enough.
2) EVERY aspect of your costume should be at the same level of execution (basically, perfect). Don’t spend all of your time on a gorgeous costume, only to add a 2 minute sloppy bag or duct tape weapon.These judges count everything you have with you as part of the costume. They even mentioned that if you do a historical costume, they will look at the quality of your undergarments. Also don’t wear crappy shoes just because they are hidden. One guy said he always looks at shoes no matter what. If you don’t do these things, it makes it look like you don’t care enough.
3) If you do a character, you must be that character HEAD to TOE. That means even if you have a flawless costume, you have to have the right hair and makeup (within reason), the right shoes, the right time-period specific jewelry, etc. Otherwise it breaks character and throws the judges off and makes it look like you don’t care enough.
4) Use quality materials in everything you do. Don’t use crappy cloth without good reason, it can make an impressive costume look cheap. Try to do research on materials before starting. For non-cloth things, same rule. Awesome Skyrim winner (Volpin) used real rust and steel powder (I think it was steel?) on his armor and weapon. Can’t beat that dedication to the craft!
5) No matter how difficult, your costume must hold up. It needs to look hardy and not like pieces are falling off. Even if its bulky and crazy, you need to look somewhat comfortable and confident in it, like if you take a few steps it won’t fall to pieces. Remember its got to last at least the journey from your hotel room or car, over to the judging room, and while you’re waiting to be judged. Also it looking the same by the time you go on stage later is preferable. If the judges feel like it won’t last, there go some points.
6) Make sure you tell them in judging about your ridiculous and creative efforts! If you don’t tell them you hand stitched the entire outfit because your sewing machine broke, they probably won’t know. They may assume you used pre-made bias tape when you actually spent hours making it! Etc.
So basically, the golden rule is don’t make any mistakes that give the impression you don’t care enough! :-P
The judges loved my costume and complimented me a lot. I could tell they were impressed, which was a great feeling! One judge was amazed with my wire mesh inserts and kept repeating how awesome it was. However in the end I’m convinced what really got me was my sloppy last minute pouch and terrible spray painted sword. The sword especially, I thought “Its just a prop for posing, they won’t care.” I was wrong. I also had my burdens bag for comedic effect, which was just a modern laundry bag with crap thrown in. Should have just left it in my chair. I also didn’t tell them my machine broke and I hand stitched everything! >_< I was really bad about putting myself down and pointing out mistakes, something you should NEVER do! Also my foam armor didn't hold up well. This was something I knew was a drawback from choosing it. Still though, despite my careful paint work, the wrinkles and crinkles that appeared everywhere made it look cheapo.
So basically, these comments from the judges were what lit the fire under me. My goal for Dragon*Con 2013 is to make the most exquisitely crafted costume I can possibly do, and follow every rule I've written in this post. I want to be amazing this time! Not to win and get a plaque or whatever, but to impress these judges enough that they may consider me a winner, which in my mind "validates" my hard work. I know there is a chance I won't win, and I admit it will be disappointing due to my crazy hard work, but I also know no matter how hard I try, life isn't fair. I may execute my costume perfectly, but someone else may also execute perfectly and pick a costume that has a bit more "pizazz" and difficulty to it that breaks the tie. This is why I'm researching early for that perfect costume. Man this will be a crazy year! @_@