Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cosplay Runway 103

Another "How-To" post!

I've been asked by several people across my social media for tips covering cosplay runway. This is a competition aspect of cosplay and can be a make or break moment for many people. You get to show off your costume for the rest of the convention, and potentially win a prize from the panel of judges for all of your hard work.

Here's the thing: a lot of people don't understand or don't know how important the runway portion of a cosplay contest is. It's more then walking across the stage and letting other people see your costume. It's about taking that final step into transforming yourself into the character for those 30-60 seconds. Cosplay is Costume Play - Playing the part and turning into that character for those moments you are out in front of the crowd. That's what really defines a cosplayer from costumers.

And it hurts me every time when I go to a cosplay contest and I see people take the stage and immediately rush off. No performance. No standing for photos. Just a blur across the raised floor.

A bit about my history - the only thing I haven't done in terms of cosplay contests is MC one. I have been in many contests as a contestant, as a judge, as a staffer, as an audience member, as a journalist, and as a manager. I've also been teaching a panel on Cosplay Runway over the past few years, so I hope my knowledge will help those who are interested in joining contests in the future, as well as the veterans (because everyone could learn something new, or could benefit from a refresher course).

1 - Practice. Practice. Practice.

And just when you think you have practiced enough, practice some more. And then a little bit more after that. You want to rehearse what you are doing on stage for a few reasons: To help you get into character. To help you with stage freight. And to easily transform into the character.

Practicing will give you a better idea about who your character is. How he or she moves. What they think. How they pose. How they react. It's a lot like acting, even as you walk across a stage. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. Think of it like learning to play the piano for the first time. You probably sucked at it, right? But as you continued to play over time you got better. Walking and posing on a stage is the same principle. So practice, practice, practice.

As far as the stage fright goes, I understand where you're coming from. It can be nerve wracking going up on a stage with hundreds, if not thousands, of people watching you. You might be afraid that you'll forget how to act like the character and quickly rush across the stage. This is where practicing comes in handy. The more you practice, the more you remember. You'll get to a point where you can do the moves from muscle memory without having to think about it - which is ideal if you have stage fright or any type of nerves. Your body will follow the routine that you've been practicing.

2 - Practice in your cosplay.

Just when you think you're ready to go and get up on that stage, you take your first few steps in the runway walk you've been practicing, and then CRACK. Your prop breaks. Or your shoe heel falls off. Or your seam rips. Or a button pops, just as you're moving to turn into your first pose.

But it seemed so great! The walk was perfect at home, so why is my costume not working now?

Testing your walk in your costumes will help you determine your limitations. Are you able to stand this way - move this way - lift your arms - squat - sit - etc? You may have full range of motion with your normal every day clothes, but throw your cosplay armor on it and you'll find that most of your actions are now limited.

So be sure to practice your runway while in your costume. And if you find any problems, you can fix them at home well before you get to the convention.

3 - The 3-10 rule.

Three poses. Ten seconds each. Most conventions have a 30-45 second rule for stage time when it comes to walk ons, and request that you provide 2-3 different poses so that people have time to look at your costume while you're standing still. And it's always better to provide one more pose, then one less.

So 30 seconds. You break that down, that's roughly 10 seconds for each pose.

You might be thinking "but wait. What about the time it takes to walk across the stage? Wouldn't that eat into posing time." You are correct! But there's a funny thing that everyone does when they are on stage. We all get some form of nerves, even those who have been doing this for years. We always seem to count faster in our heads then the real time. Ten seconds can become two in our heads.

And 30 seconds is a LONG TIME. No really. It is. Pull up a timer on your phone and start walking for 30 seconds. See how far you get and be amazed at time! Science!

This is what I tell people: When you pose, count to 10 in your head using the One-Mississippi method. Phonetically say Mississippi. By the time you get through Mississippi, a second has passed (versus saying One by itself). As you practice this, it'll start to feel more natural as you move and pose. You'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 30 seconds of stage time.

4 - Take it slow.

Whether it's posing, stage fighting, or walking, keep it slow. The audience can not see you or your wonderful costume if your arms are flying all over the place.

A good rule of thumb is to think of the audience like a photographer. What is the best way for a photographer to capture an image of you? When you're standing still. What is not an ideal image? When you're moving around because the camera can't capture a steady image of you.

What a photo camera sees is exactly what the audience and judges see when you walk and pose across the stage. If you walk too fast, move your body too much, or don't stay in one place for long, you become a blur and no one will have seen your costume.

So breathe. Use that One-Mississippi counting method before you move. And let people SEE your costume! That's why you're there, right? Show it off!

5 - Walk like you mean it.

I would argue that this step is what takes an average competitor to the next level. It's one thing to pose like the character. It's another to completely immerse yourself in and walk like the character.

There's a big difference in how you walk normally versus how your character would walk. Let's take Zangeiff from Street Fighter for example. He doesn't walk with his hands by his sides, head down, and shuffling his feet. He holds his head up high! His arms move with his body, shoulders pressing forward with each step, and he lurches his whole body as he walks with one heavy foot at a time. There's power behind his walk to match his muscled body, and you should do the same with your cosplay. Watch how your character moves and how their swagger affects their body's behavior.

For those who have lighthearted characters that twirl/spin, do this while you walk! It's distracting when you're trying to pose and all you're doing is spinning (not to mention it makes it impossible to see your costume). But walking? Totally fine. It gives charm to your character this way.

6 - Be a Muppet.

I usually title this rule "Go Big or Go Home" but my friends Alpacosplay and Yummy Gamorah helped inspire me to rename this.

When you're on a stage, you have to entertain the audience, not just the judges sitting 20 feet in front of you. You'll be in a room full of people. Maybe it's 500 or maybe it's 5,000. No matter what the size, there will always be people sitting in the back who will have a difficult time seeing you. Because of this, you have to make your gestures grand. You want to have everyone in that room watching you - seeing you. And they can't if you make small movements with your hands or feet. You have to go Big and Bold.

This includes your facial expressions as well. A sigh is fine, but you can't be reserved with those moments. You need to make it very obvious that your are sighing. Let out a huge puff of air, slouch, and cross your arms over your chest. Be as exasperated as possible!

Look to musical theater and stage as examples. These are actors that have to perform to a live audience, not to a camera. Subtle movements will not be noticed by the audience. As such, they have to emphasize their bodies motions to ensure everyone can see them. It may look silly on your end, but when you're sitting in the audience, it looks quite natural.


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