Cosplay A to Z: References, References, References

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You’ve decided on your costume, you’re full of excitement to start your costume, when all of a sudden you go “where do I start?”

Believe it or not, you probably have already started. The first thing any costumer does, whether designing a costume from scratch or starting from an existing character, is gather references.

What is a reference? Simply put, its any visual representation of the costume. It can be cartoon, comic, tv, movie, line drawing, painting, anything. I find that the best way to start my work on a costume is to gather as many references of the specific costume that I can.

What makes a good reference? No single image is likely to be the be and end all of references (unless you happen across a cosplay-friendly designer who creates a reference for you like this, this, or this.) For good reference, you need to be gathering a number of images to work from.

For a costumer, what we’d ideally like is to see that costume from a number of different directions, in good lighting, with high quality to the image. What we’d like to be able to find is:

  • A full length front shot
  • A full length back shots
  • Side shots
  • Close up shots of any finicky details
Peggy Collage

Example of references I collected for just one costume for Agent Carter from Season 2.

Full length front shots are one of the most key pieces to have in your reference pile. Typically, this will show you the most recognisable parts of a costume and how it all sits. Fortunately, these are often easy enough to find. Full length back shots are often more difficult to find, but like the front shot will explain how the whole costume fits together.

If you can’t find a full length front or back shot? Well, that’s ok. It may make you work for it a bit harder, but if you can see the costume in pieces, you can cobble together a good idea as long as you can get enough pieces to show the back in a number of ways.

Side shots may be necessary, especially if there happens to be interesting details along the side like funky sleeves or detailing or just showing that what you thought was a flat front piece is actually a voluminous bloused top. Side shoes show you the fit that you cannot necessarily tell by looking straight on. Fortunately, these are often some of the most common shots to find.

Lastly, you should be looking for close up shots of any finicky details.

Where do you find these images? To start with, Google is your friend. This is going to be a common refrain in this series, but it continues to be the case. Slap the character name into the Google search and see what it comes up with. But wait!! Before you scroll down, click the Images link right below the box.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 14.16.52

Voila! Google will handily show you all the images it can find on the topic you’re looking for.

Google will help you get some good basics, but if you really want to get the finicky details or if you choose to do a costume that isn’t a character’s most commonly worn outfit or they have multiple costume changes in a single episode that aren’t shown in official imagery (looking at you Agent Carter), then you may have difficulty with this approach. There are sites that will provide screenshots but if your source material isn’t there, then you need to

This is where you need to learn how to screenshot. If you want to get the best screenshots, you will need to pause any video or game so that movement doesn’t occur as you take the screenshot, but if that’s not possible, I recommend just pausing each second as you go along.
Learning to screenshot will become your best friend. Depending on whether you are working on Mac, PC, tablet, or phone, how you screenshot will be different, so I’m leaving you to figure that part out yourself. BUT you do want to give it a whirl.

Sadly, it is not always possible to get every possible detail documented in reference photos and you can spend endless hours procrastinating the actual making/putting together of your costume by looking for that last little detail somewhere that may not exist. Don’t get too sucked into the reference hold as you can usually cobble together enough usually to make anything work. With a little bit of creativity you can fill in any gaps you might have in your reference collection by just winging it yourself.

This is where you may need to start having the question of how accurate do you want this costume to be to the original design? But that is a topic for another week.

Happy screenshotting!
~ eliste

One thought on “Cosplay A to Z: References, References, References

  1. Pingback: Photographing Costumes for Reference | Craft Hackers

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