Preparing for Cosplay Contests
You have decided you want to get your butt together and have an amazing competition piece to enter into a contest. You might have been cosplaying for a year, maybe 12. But you've decided it is time to show off your skill in front of an audience and you are pumped! Where do you start? How complicated do you want the costume to be? What is Journeyman versus Beginner? Do you have enough time before the con to crank out this idea? What do you need to be able to do to win? Hopefully I answer your questions and even some you might not have thought about.
First, you need to decide if you have enough time for the contest. If you only go to one or two conventions a year, and you plan on competing at one or both, plan accordingly. If the con is in 6 months, and you want to try to pull out a full Dark Souls armor, you may be able to do that just fine. But if you only have 3 weeks, and you want to try to pull out Borderlands cosplays, you need to be prepared to not sleep. I would obviously not suggest the latter, because that is almost exactly what I did for Anime St Louis this past weekend, and boy howdy, am I still in pain from that. Keep in mind your timeline for completion and give yourself realistic goals. If you've never done foamwork before, give yourself extra time to get it done so that it isn't falling apart when you put it on or just get to the con.
Pictured above: Duskull Gijinka from Cowslip, Won Honorable mention for Wig work and Best in Journeyman at Kawakon 2016
Once you've decided if you have enough time, choose your cosplay. I always try to incorporate different elements into the builds I choose because I am a Master Class competitor. You can always go with more sewing and less armor in the lower classes since foam is such a difficult material to work with at first. Do something that not only will you enjoy, but it challenges you to try and be better than you were the last competition or cosplay you've made. If you are more of a foam smith, or more of a seamstress, it's okay to buy and modify certain pieces of your costumes, but make sure you check the rules of the competition before deciding what you can buy versus what you can make.
Pictured above: Azurewave Maya with Veteran Vault Hunter Head, Won Runner up in Master Class at Akaicon 2017
Most competitions have a rule stating a specific percentage of your cosplay must be made by yourself. Of the ones I have experienced, it's about 70% across the board, but there is an unspoken rule about the higher up classes. Beginner/Novice is 70%, Journeyman is 80%, and Master Class should be 90-100%. You also need to figure out where you place in the lining. If you've never entered into a cosplay competition, or this is one of your first cosplays, you'll enter into the Novice category. Journeyman is having won at least one major award for your cosplays, whether it is a "Best in Class" or "Honorable Mention" for anything you've made. Master Class is meant for people who are professional costume designers or have won multiple awards. I skipped beginner class when I first started because I was just starting out my business and I had been cosplaying for a few years. I very quickly moved up to Master class, because I felt it should be fairly judging me against the other people in the competition. I didn't want to sandbag to make myself feel better.
Pictured Above: Sailor Uranus, Won best in Journeyman at Natsucon 2017
Sandbagging is where you put yourself in a class lower that what you should actually be in. You also can do this by entering a cosplay that has already won into a competition at the same level that you won at before. This isn't fair to other cosplayers and can get your banned from competing in that Convention. Don't be this person. I have seen it happen and that person is actually banned from competing in the Saint Louis area. My rule of thumb, is that even if that cosplay doesn't win, I won't put it into any cosplay competitions. That's not to say that you have to follow what I do, it's just what I do.
Pictured above: Power Girl, won at Gateway Comic Con 2018
Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, how do we win? Make sure you take a ton of pictures while you are building your competition piece. I unfortunately was crunching so hard on my Borderlands builds that I only took 100 photos for the two of them when I normally take 200 per outfit. You don't necessarily have to take that many, but you'll want to properly document how you made these pieces. Put them in a document and write out a short description of what the photos contain so that the judges can look back on it after your pre-judging and not be confused. Try to be concise, and talk about the best parts of your cosplay so that the judges know how you went through the process. You won't have all day to talk about your amazing creation, so breathe and calm down. Your worst enemy is yourself. Everything will be great, but don't get too cocky. Staying humble is better to the judges, in my opinion. Never admit you crunched, if you had to.
Pictured above: Bittersweet Ninja Maya with Alkaline Mistress head. Won Crowd Favorite with Zer0 at Anime StL 2019
If you have any questions, please message me or comment below. I'd love to help you out in determining what builds might be better suited for what competitions, or pointing you in the direction of some good literature to help you learn a new skill!