This thing that I do: Cosplay with Laura Sindall

[“This thing that I do”, a new feature on Destructoid, is where I interview people who work in the industry or people who have achieved something worth taking note of to give us a little insight into how it all works.]

Cosplay plays an integral part in the gaming fandom, as a hobby both respected and ridiculed. From those skinny girls with the tight asses and the huge boobs who continue to wear very little, to the girls who simply are not wearing enough, cosplay has its elite who are worshipped and the kids in the Naruto headbands who are mocked. I will admit that yes, back in the day even I dabbled in cosplaying. And while attending anime conventions in the UK I met the very talented Laura Sindall.

In turn that meeting led me to last week, where I found myself tagging along with Laura Sindall, professional actor Stephan Pucci and talented free-run photographer Claudiu Voicu at St Paul’s Cathedral in central London. There we began scouting the outside area for locations for an Assassin’s Creed shoot where we hoped we wouldn’t get caught and arrested.

That is when it really started to sink in. Laura Sindall managed to do what many cosplayers hope to do; that is to take the passion for cosplaying and in a sense, become a professional.

So Laura, let’s start with the basics. How did you get into cosplaying?

Well, its a little embarrassing really. A few years ago I heard about the launch for Final Fantasy XII in London and that people would be going in cosplay. Having a passion for costumes and Final Fantasy, this seemed like a perfect scenario. I arrived at the event, felt stupid and decided to head home. However, I got struck with a wave of confidence, so costume in hand I got changed in a McDonalds toilet and re-emerged — somewhat similar to a Superman style transformation — and strutted off to the launch. I’ve never looked back.

You have a big list of cosplays from video games. What was your favourite one?

It has to be Hideyoshi Toyotomi from Samurai Warriors. I get to wear a full moustache and goatee; if thats not a selling point I don’t know what is!

Eventually your skill led you to do a lot of work for TecmoKoei. How did you end up going from someone who cosplays for fun to working for a company as big as TecmoKoei and what did you do while working with them?

This all started by me making the previously mentioned costume for a competition, and being spotted by TecmoKoei at one of the London Expo, who have taken me under their wing ever since. They’ve taken me to Japan Expo, the Video Games festival in Paris and Cartoomics in Milan to be a promotional model and general TecmoKoei representative. Honestly, those events have been so much fun and meeting members of the community from all over the world is a real privilege.

I then went on to making VLOGS for them. I documented all our travels and adventures at each event we attended, as all the fans were showing such an interest in what we were doing. Most of these were just silly videos of us all messing about and getting a few interviews with fans and staff. This has now led to TecmoKoei running their own VODcasts, which I’ve been hosting and doing interviews for. It’s been received really well so far and we’re hoping to do more in the future.

Its been a fantastic experience creating costumes for them, being a ‘booth babe’ and becoming a video games host. I always try my best to make them proud and to represent the community spirit of TecmoKoei as they’ve been so good to me. And all the fans are an amazing bunch, we’re like one big family.

And thanks to some old friends at TecmoKoei I’ve now got some commission work with 2K Games as well for this Christmas. My boys there take good care of me.

But you haven’t just done costume work for videogames company, have you? Recently you flew to Los Angeles for three months, tell us about that?

Thats correct. I’m not just a cosplayer who got lucky, I actually study Technical Effects for Performance — 5G if you know what that means! — at the London College of Fashion. In short: I make monsters! Over the summer I was fortunate enough to work at the very prestigious Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. who are famous for their creature costumes on the Alien vs. Predator movies. I got to work on X-Men: First Class and various Predator-based projects. I’ll also be working with a similar company, called Artem, over here in the UK next year. This is the industry I’m actually involved in, getting covered in latex, resin and clay all day; video games and costumes are a great creative side project for me in my spare time.

Upon your return from LA, you were commissioned by Ubisoft to make an exact replica of the costume worn by Ezio from the upcoming game Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Firstly, what was it like to make a costume from a game you adore and secondly, what was it like do it for someone as big as Ubisoft with tens of thousands of fans seeing your work first-hand?

Before I flew out to LA, Ubisoft contacted me asking if I could create 4 costumes for them for the release of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Sadly I had to turn down 3 of the costumes due to time constraints, but I managed to keep my claws into doing Ezio (being a huge fan of the man himself!). This was a first for me: actually making a costume for someone else to wear, let alone a 6ft actor trained in stage fighting! It came as a huge challenge trying to create a costume that was completely accurate to the game design whilst also making it durable and moveable for my actor, Stephen Pucci, who was great fun to work with and put up with a lot from me! Though I never want to hear the term ‘flying scissor kick’ ever again…

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this, but it was all worth it once I saw Stephen put on the costume and play the role in front of thousands of people who were all spellbound by him. Plus working with Ubisoft was brilliant, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of people!

Obviously alot of people see cosplaying as a hobby and something that isn’t taken seriously. How do you feel about that as its helped you take big steps towards what you call ‘your dream job’?

People cosplay for all sorts of different reasons and for most it’s just a fun, creative hobby. I found that cosplay was a great way for me to practise my costuming skills whilst actually meeting some really interesting people along the way. I’ve always been very ambitious and I know how to publicise myself well, which is what led me onto working with so many different game companies. I’m now in the fortunate position of being approached by companies, studios and events to work with them. And to think just two years ago I was getting changed in public toilets in a thrown together outfit!
 
Finally, what kind of advice would you give those who do cosplay but eventually want to look towards pursuing a career in costume or prop making?

Go for it! Cosplay is an amazing source of information. You’ll learn a lot from it and all the people involved. It’s a very supportive community, and if you want to break into the ‘movie bizz’ you’ve just got to knock on a lot of doors and be prepared for most to slam in your face before someone says yes!

However, Laura’s job is more than just making the costume: she needs to make the character. To help her do that, professional actor Stephen Pucci was on hand to ‘play the role of Ezio’ and bring Laura’s creation to life. Of course, I couldn’t miss the chance to ask him some questions as well!

What was it like being one of the currently most recognisable characters in the games industry and wearing the costume that Laura created for you?

It was a hugely fun, challenging and rewarding experience! When I was first approached about the project — to promote the launch of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood at the MCM Expo 2010 — I was fairly unaware of the popularity and excitement surrounding the game and the character of Ezio. However, after talking to a couple of my gaming friends, I sensed that it was something a little special.

The actual process of ‘getting into’ Ezio was one of constant negotiation. I had regular fittings and meetings with the costume designer, the fantastic Laura Sindall, and independently looked for ways to approach how Ezio walked, moved, and killed, as well as how he was in terms of his attitude and manner. I sampled the game at Ubisoft in the early stages, and asked lots of questions leading up to the event…

Alongside the fittings, we (as a team made up of actors playing characters from the multi-player game) choreographed a number of fight sequences that we had planned to perform on stage at ExCel. However, it quickly became apparent that what we had choreographed was not hugely compatible with the costumes. We wanted our audiences to be excited by the fights, so we worked with our fight director on choreography that was dynamic, explosive and visually impressive. However, as the fittings went on, and the costume started to take shape, it was clear that much of what we had planned would have to be edited and softened.

The costume (as I think those who saw it will agree) is beautifully designed and made by Laura, but the materials necessary to represent and form certain elements of it — notably the metallic-looking parts — were not durable enough for me to perform flying scissor-kicks or to roll around dying on the floor in. Still, it was worth it to see Laura frowning as I detailed what we were getting up to in the rehearsal room. I should say, too, that after the event, Laura found a huge rip inside the costume, so I got my own back… She hasn’t forgiven me yet.

What was the fans’ reaction when they saw you walking around as Ezio? Was it what you expected?

It was great! Ezio is, by nature, a very charismatic and imperious character, so it was a lot of fun walking around and hearing whispered (and often shouted) calls of “Ezio!”. I stayed in character for the whole event though, so I made a point of not stopping to give out ‘free hugs’ to fans of the game (or maybe they were just fans of hugs?). The act of hugging strangers was not something I thought Ezio would have done… not unless the hug was quickly followed by a short, sharp stab to the nape of the neck. But I think we were well-received by the fans; I have certainly never had my photograph taken so many times!

I think, too, that the way in which we ‘presented’ our staged fights worked in a surprising way. Due to the size of the stage at the event, we resorted to a kind of performance that was more like flash-mob theatre. It was all done on the floor, often just around the corner from Ubisoft’s stand, and was performed on-the-spot according to the space around us. We attracted a crowd, performed our sequences, stayed for a few photographs, then disappeared.

Another small element of the event which we enjoyed as actors was to follow a single person, or sometimes a couple, for as long as we could. It got a bit strange when they started looking at bags and going to the toilet, but it was fun nonetheless!

Hollie Bennett