Friday, June 21, 2013

Creating a Cosplay Calendar - the Process and Long Road

It started as a simple charity project, round up 12 female cosplayers and make a calendar to help raise money for Harbour Confusion, one of my regional conventions in need of a fundraising boost. In my head I thought by starting in September of 2012 we could easily have everyone shot, edited and the calendar ready to print. However life and weather do not always mesh up, so the project shifted focus to a 2014 model instead of 2013. I officially wrapped shooting in May of 2013. In this blog I want to talk about the experience, what I learned along the way and give thanks to those involved.

First thing I needed was people to pose for these shots, I started running done a list of people I knew and had met at conventions that may or may not be interested. I had come up with a list of subjects to explore with the Harbour Confusion staff, so that initially helped me break down my contact list.

The first model I got in contact with was Melanie Hansen in Moncton. I knew she had a great Lara Croft from Tomb Raider cosplay, so it was a no brainer to try and include her. The shoot went awesome, we took lots of shots in a beautiful park in Moncton. The shot I went with ended up being one of the first and one were the lighting actually failed. It's funny how that works, but here's a tip for the photographers, always shoot RAW, you can save yourself from accidents like that. Here's a little view of the beginning and the end result.

As with all my photos the process begins in Lightroom and ends with Photoshop. I was pretty happy that I could save this image, and it's one of my all time favourites.

After this shoot I went to a photographer friend, Michelle Davis of ChoraChroma PhotoGraphic, I knew she had connections with a lot of local models and she delivered in a big way. So big thanks to her.

My next model was Jodie Dickinson and it was a smooth shoot. She was cosplaying Selene from the  Underworld movies. She's a wonderful talent and the shoot went well. I knew exactly the place I wanted to shoot and exactly what lighting I wanted. I ended up using one of the last images from the shoot.

Next up was Darcie Scott cosplaying one of the demon Nurses from the Silent Hill video game series and the movies of the same title. We shot Darcie at a couple of locations and the second was best out of the two. Again I knew the location would be good and the lighting would work. We actually shot this in the mid afternoon, you can a sliver of light from the sun by her foot. Again no issues except my main flash overheated from firing so much.

Up next we come to Brandi Gray. Brandi had an interesting idea, she had a pair of crossplay outfits for some twins from the series Gundam Double 0, Lockon Stratos. We had this fun idea that we could shoot her in both costumes and then combine then and it worked perfectly. At this point in time it was starting to get cold out, really cold, so many thanks to Brandi for enduring that temperature for the photo. Again I can't stress the importance of RAW, as some photos had minor exposer issues due to the flashes performance in the cold.

The next shoot featured two lovely ladies, Mandy Fraser and Sara Wilkinson. These two ladies went to the same college as me, NBCCD, and have graduated from the Fashion Design program. Sara designed these Blood Elf costumes from World of Warcraft, I saw them in a picture from Halloween and messaged them the next day to see if they would be interested in being in the calendar. Luckily everything fell in place. We shot in a local park in Fredericton (also the city location of the last 3 images), once again I have to commend the ladies for barring the cold weather. It was pretty awful and I have great respect for that. The location was great, it's a pretty heavily used spot and I always wanted to try to capture a different look to it. I think this was a very successful shoot. I added in some fire effects in post, the flames are actually colourized black and white photos I had in my back catalog of images. 

We suddenly had a warm break for the next shoot so the model didn't freeze as bad, to which I was very happy to not have to put her through. This one featured Breanne Thomas in Raven cosplay from the DC Universe show Teen Titans. Breanne had impressed me with this cosplay at Animaritme that year, so I had to ask her. The shoot went off with no issues and it was very hard to nail down one image, but I think the one I picked really captures a great look for her. The only major edit to this image was removing the light stand behind her. We shot this in a square in the middle of the downtown of Fredericton which turned out to be a good location.

During this somewhat warmer period, I travelled to Bathurst to photograph miss Mandie. I also met her at Animaritime and she brings a lot of character out in her cosplays. I'm so glad she decided to help on this project. In this shoot she is playing Rouge from the X-men cartoon series and she does a fantastic job. We shot this behind Gamezilla in Bathurst, I didn't know the city at all so I had to rely on her knowledge and it worked out super for the character. I could not have succeeded without the help she gave me. This shoot went off without any issues, it was a little cold, but we worked through it. I had a ton of wonderful images to work with, but I think this one best pick in the end. Not much editing required at all, didn't get much better then this. 

There was a bit of a weather break in shooting after this point, but once I could travel, I was off to Saint John. This next shoot I grappled with a location to work in. I had come into contact through a Harbour Confusion staff member with Jess Larsen, the model for this image. She had a Slave Leia cosplay and I felt I needed to have this iconic outfit represented in the calendar without a doubt. But where to shoot? Luckily another staff member, Becki Graves, lent out her apartment and we transformed a room into the set you see. Jess was a great model as well and luckily didn't have to freeze at all for this. I had a list of poses to try in my head and this one seemed to feel the best in the end. It's a brave cosplay to do, so big thanks to Jess for taking her time and allowing my to shoot this. Most of the major edit was a crop, it worked out very well.

That very same night, tired as both of us were, Alex Saunders and I slaved through a second shoot. Alex is probably one of the most dedicated and talented cosplayers in this region and we had planned to have her be part of this from the start. We might not have been shooting under the best conditions that evening physically, but we did have a good time making the photos. We used her father's newly purchased bar as the location. I thought it would be a nice contrast for her Harley Quinn cosplay from Batman. Alex plays the character really well and we had fun doing tons of serious and funny poses. I think the one I picked really plays well to the character. The only major edit I did was to darken and re colour the wood panels slightly in the background.  

After this point winter hit in full force and shoots kept getting delayed and pushed to no limit. At this point the calendar changed from 2013 to 2014 and I resumed shooting early in the next year. My next model again came courtesy of Michelle Davis. I had deeply wanted to do a female Doctor Who from the beginning and it came in the form of Mel Alward. She was a big fan so she jumped right on board. The nice thing about the Doctor is that he, or she in this case, can be in any location and it works. Michelle was doing a full day for shooting and had rented a hotel room in Fredericton, she allowed me to use it in-between her shoots that day, so much thanks Michelle again. It was a fairly straight forward shoot, I tired out some different lighting and had trouble getting some to work at first, but once it was going it went perfectly. In the end I had several great images, but this one just stood out for some reason, there's a lot of character in it. So thank you Mel for making this image possible. 

Next up an opportunity rose that I could not pass over. Mandie also has this beautiful Rarity cosplay from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. In the show she is a fashion designer and I just happened to be shooting a fashion gallery show at NBCCD that week. She was in Fredericton the same week I was shooting this show and there was a full fashion studio setup on display, we had to do this. What else can I say, you dream about perfect setups like this and it went smoothly and looks great. I'm extremely happy with this selection. Thanks again to Mandie. 

The final image was a long time coming. The last model was Margaret Cornfield, once again she was a top pick from the beginning. We had a few shoots that didn't pan out, unfortunately, but of course I'm always willing to take the models concerns first. At East Coast Comic Expo in Moncton we finally hit the goal with the help of another young cosplayer, Dresdon Acacin, we did a scene in her crossplay Han Solo cosplay from Star Wars. I need to point out, that Dresdon is not Boba Fett, rather he is an original Mandalorian character. This was a get opportunity for me to continue to explore some background replacement techniques I had been using on some other shoots at the time. I'm going to go into detail on the editing process for this one. 

Firstly here is the original as shot

Not exactly the most Star Wars looking location, but there's room to work. Firstly there's the colour correction and lighting corrections in Lightroom.

Then I proceeded to cut out and remove elements that I did not want to keep In Photoshop.

Then I created some Star Wars-y elements recreating the lighting from the shoot on stone walls and Star Wars ship models. I arranged them in layers to blend into the image.

And finally the composite is put together and completed.

All and all it was a fun experiment and I'm very happy with the result.

So that was the calendar journey in short. It was a long road and I learned a lot which means it was worth every minute, hopefully others will take notice of this work and we can raise some funds to help Harbour Confusion continue. I love supporting the convention community and the cosplayers, so I'm hoping this work clearly illustrates the services I wish to produce for the community. It's been fun and I look forward to more. 

One last display, here are the completed pages as they appear in the calendar, I added in some graphic touches and cut the image in a circular frame.

- Larry M. Holder

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