Friday, 17 June 2016

Feature Friday #12 - Isa Shaw-Abulafia

Hey Isa, how are you?
Pretty good thanks! Busy, which is always what you want as a freelancer. Got lots of different projects on the go.


What made you first get into cosplaying and what was your first costume?
My first convention cosplay was probably something horribly embarrassing, like a Naruto character. But before that, me and my brother used to dress up as superheroes and Jedi and stuff like that all the time when we were kids. Doomed to be nerds from the start really.

As for why I started cosplaying, it was as simple as going to my first convention and seeing other people doing it who looked like they were having the best time. I was always an arty, creative kid as well as a massive nerd, so when I was just discovering the world of conventions and fandom, it was a revelation to discover how those interests could come together in a way that would also enable me to meet other people with my interests.

Any pointers for people thinking of cosplaying but are too scared to?
Just do it! Seriously, if you think you’ll have fun and wanna show your love for a character, go for it. If you have no idea how to even hand sew but want to learn, it’s a great motivation to learn a new skill.

On a practical level, think about what you know you’re good at or can already do, and try to start there if you’re worried about feeling overwhelmed. I never really enjoyed sewing, which is why I threw myself into Transformers cosplay over more traditional costumes when I decided to get back into cosplay. I find constructing armour pieces a lot more approachable and enjoyable than making a pattern.

Also, look at what you have access to and see if it can be advantageous to your goals or help you cut down how much money you’re spending. I made my first full robot Transformers cosplay while I was at uni studying Theatre Design. I was able to use a lot of the skills I’d learned studying there, as well as equipment and workspace I had access to there to get started.

Do you have any future cosplays in the works right now?
This year my usual cosplay plans have changed. Instead of making a Transformers cosplay, I’m gonna be involved in running a cosplay contest at a Transformers convention. It’ll be at TFNation this summer. I’m extremely excited to be part of the team establishing this new convention, and being involved in the cosplay aspects of the convention especially will be a great chance to give back to the awesome TF cosplay community.

As far as non-TF cosplay goes, Aloy from the upcoming game Horizon Zero Dawn has caught my eye recently. I even bought some bits and pieces to play around with for her jewellery and weapons. I’ve put it on hold temporarily, probably til after the summer as I have so much going on with TFNation, various plays and other projects, but I really hope I can go back to it later on. It’d be nice to make something I can wear to a convention for a whole day without dying or needing assistance to walk around!

The only cosplays I’ve done since I went to uni are Transformers (and a hastily thrown together Furiosa last Halloween, if that even counts), so it would be nice to cosplay some other costumes again in the future as well as more Transformers.

Any advise for if your costume goes wrong on the day or handy things to pack in case of such events?
It’s a really good idea to pack a repair kit. When I take my Transformers costumes to conventions, I always bring paint, my glue gun, and even some spare pieces of foam, just in case. For regular garments, a pocket sewing kit will do. They’re usually small enough to carry with you on the convention floor, which is really handy. Conventions are crowded places and you never know whether someone might accidentally jostle and break a bit of your costume, so it’s best to be prepared.

Speaking of being prepared, I can’t stress enough how important it is to properly prime your foam and to apply a good finish after you’ve painted your armour pieces. When I made Sparkeater, I used a pretty lacklustre primer and coating, and that meant I had to do a lot of touch ups as the paint and even the primer itself rubbed off. But when I made Nautica, I applied at least three layers of a really good medium called Mod Podge over the top of the paint, and her paintjob held together with pretty much no damage. I also used the Mod Podge as a primer, as well as white gesso over the top of that. It means more repetitive work painting on lots of layers, but it’s definitely worth it to protect your work. I recently made costumes for a film using these same techniques, and they survived all sorts during filming – like stunts, rain and so on.

You've also made costumes and masks for various theater performances, how did they come about?
I studied theatre design, graduated in 2014 and have been working as a theatre designer and scenic artist since then. Costume is only one part of what I do. As a theatre designer, my job usually encompasses designing the set, props and costumes for a production. And as a scenic artist, I make and paint sets, backdrops, floors, props and so on for other people’s productions.

I’ve been lucky enough to work on some amazing plays and with some even more amazing people and have been doing work I genuinely love. I’ve been doing fringe theatre here in London at venues like Above the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square and the Brockley Jack Theatre, and even did a play called Trust Byron out in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve managed to do my fair share of sci-fi theatre as well, like Soulless (A sci-fi reimagining of Goethe’s Faust) and Pomona (a dystopian drama involving Dungeons & Dragons and Cthulhu)

All these opportunities come about in many different ways. The drama school I went to provided us with a lot of opportunities to create theatre within the safety net of the school. That gives you a good sense for how to navigate the theatre as a workplace when you get out there, and helps you build contacts before you even graduate – Pomona was originally written to be produced and performed at my uni. I’m also fortunate enough to have parents who used to work in theatre themselves. I’ve had directors contact me directly after seeing my website or a play I’ve done.

Ultimately, it comes down to working hard and meeting contacts. If you do a good job and are a positive person to work with, people will want to work with you again, or they’ll recommend you to a friend or peer. The play I’m designing at the moment, I can probably trace how I ended up working on it back through about four different people. And one director I’m going to be collaborating with soon I actually met via Twitter, so really there are no limits to ways you can meet people who you can make theatre with.

Favourite costume? Out of all the ones I've seen at events I love the humanised Transformers, especially the Jazz.
I made that Jazz ages ago, back when I only did humanised Transformers costumes, but I do still quite like it. It was simple, but fun to make and wear.

My favourite cosplay is definitely my Sparkeater costume, which I wore at Auto Assembly 2014. I deliberately set myself a huge challenge to make a costume from that complex character design - which doesn’t even appear in the comic for that long, so has limited references. It was my first full robot costume, I worked incredibly hard on it, and I was so happy with how it came out.

I also learned an incredible amount from making it, not only in relevance to cosplay, but in terms of the rest of my work as well. I constantly use skills I learned from making Sparkeater and my other Transformers costume, Nautica, in my professional work. I recently made tree monster costumes for a film, which I don’t think I would have been able to make look so effective in such a short timeframe with a limited budget if I didn’t have the experience and knowledge from those Transformers costumes.

As well as everything I learned from making them, Sparkeater and Nautica are such unique creations to have in my portfolio, and directors usually respond with a lot of enthusiasm to them. Having something which makes your creative voice stand out and shows you have other interests and pursuits that weave into your professional work, is always hugely beneficial.

In terms of my professional work, I will always love the Cthulhu mask I designed and made for Pomona. That mask has been on such a huge journey, from the first play I designed at uni to being featured in a new production of the play at the National Theatre and Royal Exchange. I also really love the costume I made for the titular character in Trust Byron, because it’s one of the few garments I’ve designed that I had to make myself for a production. It may not have been my best handiwork (I mentioned earlier that I really hate sewing right?) but I loved the concept and was proud of the execution nonetheless.


So what got you into the series?
I know I watched bit of Beast Wars when I was very young, but the series that I remember most vividly was Armada, which I watched every morning before school when I was about 10. Just before the first Bay movie came out when I was around 15, me and some friends started watching G1 and it all kind of snowballed from there.

Favourite Transformer and why?
At the moment, Rodimus, Nautica and Whirl in MTMTE, all for the same reasons: I find them more relatable than I should, they make me laugh outloud while reading the comics on public transport, and I adore their character designs.

We all know the Bayformer films are bullcrap, but what do you hope to see in the new combined universe?
I hope to not see it, and to watch lots of better movies instead.
Okay, that was mean, I’m sorry. Honestly, I hope that these movies can improve things, but I think it’s unlikely. The formula has been making a ton of money so far, so why would anything be changed?

But imagine if we Transformers fans got the level of quality cinematic universe that Marvel had going on? Where they’re fun and hugely entertaining and very silly, but still written and executed well so that they’re well crafted films with a deeper layer of meaning for the adult fans. That would be so nice. But they are what they are and what they are isn’t for me, so I’ll just enjoy my IDW comics for now.

If you had free reign to make any Transformer film, would what the story be, and art style? (cgi, live action, cartoon, certain artist)
I know people talk about a More Than Meets the Eye animated movie a lot. I would definitely love to see it get a screen treatment too, though I think it would be better suited to an animated series than a movie.

Alex Milne’s art would perhaps be too complex for animation, but a more simplified version of his style, meshed with a little influence of Nick Roche or Kei Zama’s styles could definitely work and look extremely dynamic.


Favourite Gen?
Gen 2, man. Crystal was my JAM when I was a kid. Everything about GSC was great, but Crystal especially. It was everything I loved about RBY improved even more. It was the first time I could play as a girl, and damn her character design was badass. I still want those leggings! Kris is still my favourite Pokemon trainer design, a close second being Hilda from Black and White, who I even cosplayed once. (Maybe I should cosplay Kris too, so I can finally own those sick leggings)

Gen 2 also has loads of my favourite Pokemon in it; Umbreon, Espeon, Scizor, Cyndaquil and its evolutions, Ampharos, Tyranitar, Chinchou, Houndoom and Suicune to name a few.

I still love the sprite artwork in Gen 2 more than any other Pokemon game. There was something so beautiful about the earthy colour palettes that captured the watercolour artwork of Sugimori so well and makes the Gen 2 games look totally unique.

The leap in new gameplay ideas was so huge from Gen 1 to Gen 2. It blew my mind as a kid. They introduced choosing the gender of your trainer, Dark and Steel types, the day and night cycle, the phone, shinies, breeding, hold items, special Pokeballs; so many things that are staples of the series now. Being able to go back to Kanto after defeating the Elite Four and essentially having a whole second game which tied into RBY was amazing. I could honestly talk about how much I love Pokemon Crystal forever so I’ll stop here. But not before I mention that Heart Gold and Soul Silver were AMAZING remakes and that they need to bring back having your Pokemon following you around again for a future game or I might cry.

Of the newer games that aren’t remakes, I love both Black and White and X and Y. Black and White was bold and exciting. X and Y introduced something I’d wanted for forever; character customisation and though the game was a little too easy, even for Pokemon, it was a joy to play. I’m so excited to see Sun and Moon potentially continue having customisation for your trainer. I’m choosing Litten by the way.

Favourite Starter?
Probably Cyndaquil. It’s just so adorable. I usually go for the Fire type starters. I also love Charmander and Fennekin.

If you could pick any 6, who would your team be?
I’m just going to list some of my favourite teams I had from certain games recently because this question is too difficult and you’re a monster.

Red: Arcanine, Gengar, Alakazam, Aerodactyl, Dewgong, Scyther.

Soul Silver: Typhlosion, Umbreon, Suicune, Scizor, Gengar, Ampharos.

White: Samurott, Zekrom, Cobalion, Braviary, Galvantula, Victini (Really loved the legendaries in

Gen 5. This team was way too OP)

X: Delphox, Gengar, Heliolisk, Xerneas, Mienshao, Dragalge

Omega Ruby: Blaziken, Milotic, Manectric, Mawile, Altaria, Solrock

Name and describe a new Pokemon
I’m a bit of an Eevee fangirl and I’m still holding out for more Eeveelutions to be honest. A Ghost Eevee would be so awesome. Maybe it could be called Geisteon, or Bansheon.

I’m tentatively predicting/hoping for Mega Evolutions for Solrock and Lunatone in Pokemon Sun and Moon as well. It would also be cool if Umbreon and Espeon got Megas as well, but I can’t seem them giving two of the Eeveelutions Mega Evolutions and not the others.

I’ve also always loved the idea of a Pokemon region based on South America because it’d be a source for great Pokemon, trainer and location designs. Obviously, the Elite Four’s home would be based on Machu Picchu.

Quickfire Round

Light or Dark side?
Light Side, so I could buddy up with Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8. The evil Force lightning powers sure are tempting though.

Captain America or Iron Man?
After seeing Civil War, I’m going to Wakanda to join Team Black Panther.

Truck or Monkey?
Frumbrenzy is purple

And finally, what superpower would you choose?
Hm, telekinesis for versatility, but Firebending for cool factor. Or just, you know, being the Avatar.

Thanks for your time Isa!

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