Cosplay Family Spotlight: Downen Creative Studios

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Candid taken after the Family Cosplay panel at RCCC 2016.

Cosplay is becoming more and more popular around the world and at conventions. I’ve personally found a lot of joy and personal confidence doing cosplay at conventions, and the number one reason I started was as an activity with my son. After seeing a great panel about Cosplay Families at Rose City Comic Con a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk to parents and families who cosplay and spotlight them here on GeekDad!

Cosplay Family Spotlight is a new recurring segment where I interview and spotlight a cosplay family. This week, I interview Beverly, Brett, Zoe, and Zack Downen of Downen Creative Studios. Interested in participating? Leave a comment here or reach out to me on twitter @billythebrick.

How many members of your family are involved in cosplay?
The whole family is involved in cosplay! Beverly (41) makes most of the costumes, but lately Zoe (14) has been making her own costumes! Brett (45) is the family photographer, but he has also been Thor, Professor X, and Briareos. Zack (9) is our official prop tester and has worn more wigs and face makeup for his costumes than most of the family!
How did you and your family get into cosplay and prop/armor making? Did one particular member start it or did you all jump in together? What was your first cosplay?
It’s all Zoe’s fault! After we attended Rose City Comic Con–our first convention experience ever–she asked Beverly to help her make a Tauriel costume for the next year. Little did we know how much our lives would change from that moment!
Do you have a favorite cosplay of yours? A favorite group cosplay you’ve done as a family?

Beverly as Queen Ravenna from ‘The Hunstman: Winter’s War.’ Costume by Beverly, Photo by Brett. Brett as Briareos from ‘Appleseed.’ Costume by Beverly, Photo by Cosplay Boom. Zoe as Arno Dorian from ‘Assassin’s Creed.’ Costume by Zoe, Photo by Brett. Zack as Immortan Joe (Junior) from ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ Costume by Beverly, Photo by Brett.
Beverly: Ravenna from The Huntsman
Brett: Briareos from Appleseed
Zoe: Arno Dorian from Assassin’s Creed Unity
Zack: Immortan Joe from Mad Max Fury Road
‘Appleseed’ family. Athena and Briareos costumes and props by Beverly. Deunan costume by Beverly and Zoe. Photo by David Ngo.

Favorite group cosplay: Characters from the Japanese Manga Appleseed. Zoe best identifies with strong female lead characters and Appleseed is all about Deunan Knute, a badass soldier in the human rebellion against the humanoids. Brett was the only one big enough to wear Briareos, the war-damaged android repaired protector of Deunan (yes, Dad didn’t mind the symbolism one bit). Beverly was Athena, another important political figure and lead character, and Zack was Hades, a soldier with great disdain for humanoids like Briareos. Dad wasn’t so sure he liked that symbolism as much!

Speaking of group cosplay, do you always try to cosplay together? Or do you all do your own thing?
Heck no, we don’t always try to cosplay together! That’d greatly limit our own directions and goals regarding upcoming con costumes. Besides, finding common themes everyone can really get into is more challenging than it might sound! Appleseed was our greatest group cosplay to date because it was firstly one of Beverly’s favorite animated movies of all time. Once we watched it with the kids, Zoe was hooked on the main character and from there it was easy to cast the parts and have fun with the group theme.
Do you have a favorite piece that challenged you?
Lady Sif, Thor, Balin, and Tauriel (Costume by Zoe and Beverly). Sif, Thor and Balin Costumes by Beverly, Photo by Cosplay Boom.

Beverly: Briareos. This was the first resin cast I ever attempted. In hindsight, the helmet has complicated shapes and is a beautifully rendered CG object. It was probably a greater challenge than originally anticipated. This required weeks of sanding the mold to perfect the shapes and smooth, metallic texture. It became a brutal test of wills at times. In the end, now, it is a beautifully shaped resin cast that is always a huge hit at cons, especially for those who know Appleseed. It’s like the Briareos costume calls out to them from across the hall, and they come running from wherever they are to get a picture with the near-screen replica.

Brett: Briareos. The helmet is the heaviest, thickest helmet so far and at one time lacked proper ventilation. It was like wearing a helmet sized sauna all day long. Beverly is an amazing designer, though, and not only installed useful and stealthy ventilation slats, there are now two electric fans installed that actually circulate and vent out the hot air. The first times I wore it, though, it was maybe ten minutes at a time before the heat and sweat were too overwhelming.

Zoe: Arno Dorian from Assassin’s Creed. Arno was her first 99.9% self-made costume, and just like anything you attempt the first time, there were many opportunities for learning along the way. Still, with the stumbling blocks and minor setbacks, Arno is a beautifully made costume that fits Zoe perfectly, and she made it all by herself. OK, Beverly was a fantastic coach along the way too and masterfully guided Zoe as needed.

Zack: Balin from The Hobbit. While the costume itself fit great and was super comfortable (Balin wears soft, cotton clothing and a long coat), Balin is also the oldest dwarf in the book. This translates into long white hair and an equally long beard. Zack did NOT like the itchy beard and hair for more than a few minutes at a time. He was a heck of a trooper at the con and wore it as long as he could, but we could tell he was done after an hour or so and the hair and beard had to disappear. It was a great lesson for us, though–young people have their own schedules when it comes to cosplay, and when they are done, respect that they are done and move on.

What’s your favorite “medium” to work in (sewing, EVA foam, resin casting, etc.)?
Beverly: There’s no single favorite medium, per se. Beverly loves to experiment a lot and loves to use materials in methods not commonly applied in cosplay. For instance, most cosplay designers utilize worbla as a finer detail accent piece on top of a greater supporting structure like EVA. Instead, Beverly has begun to apply worbla as the supporting structure, which lends far better options for detailed curves and grooves to the base which ultimately leads to more ergonomic, flexible, and realistic costume pieces.

Brett: Digital imaging! Brett is the photographer nerd of the group and spends as much time photographing cosplay as participating. Otherwise, resin casting is pretty fun and familiar due to his need to repair his own surfboards in similar fashion!

Zoe: Sewing. Right now sewing is the skill she’s focusing on but is also an excellent finish applicator and enjoys a good brushing of wood glue over armor from time to time.

Zack: Zack mostly works in sketching out ideas and loves to brainstorm with Beverly when it comes to creating the Goodwill shopping list of oddities and costume parts.

It’s been a while, but I used to do quite a bit of scale model building and I see a lot of similarities in techniques between small-scale building and prop and armor building. Have you ever done any scale modeling or smaller scale builds?
Nope, but each member of the family has a duct tape dummy, though, that we use to brainstorm, sketch, design, and occasionally punch.
Most of our readers are parents and, like me, want to share their geeky interests with their kids. I’ve been doing father and son cosplay with my son since he was born. Do you have any suggestions on how parents can get their kids interested and involved with cosplay and fabrication?
Beverly: Oh wow. I have so many suggestions, but I think the biggest one would be to talk to your kids about what they like. Are they into a certain character? Or a movie? A book? Join them as a character from the same universe and watch how excited they get! It’s better than Halloween! Also be sure to involve them in picking out or making elements of the costume, the props, and definitely play together as those characters. Play with different poses while in costume together before the con to get them excited. Works every time for us!
As someone who is somewhat local to you, I’d love to come and hang out in your shop and learn from some pros, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Have you ever thought about opening up your shop and doing any sort of classes or workshops to do some hands-on teaching?
Beverly: I have had many, many dreams of having a studio. Right now I do all of my work on the dining room table and the counter, and I have a corner of the garage for sanding and dusty projects. I do love teaching, though, so right now I’m sticking to online tutorials and costume build write-ups.
A lot of us geeks would love to do something we love as a full-time job. Do you have another job besides cosplay and prop making? If so, what is it? And do you have any tips for our readers on how to work towards a passion becoming a full-time career?
Beverly: A long time ago I was a freelance designer, and I kept crazy, crazy hours. At first, I loved what I was doing, but I worked all the time and took pretty much any project I could get. After a few years, I began to dislike designing, and it really had a big effect on me. Creating is at my core, and to dislike what I was creating felt like I was slowly poisoning that part of me. My biggest piece of advice to someone who wants to turn any hobby into a career is to make sure you enjoy yourself. If you aren’t enjoying what you love, what’s the point?

I would greatly love to make a living making really cool stuff, but because of that freelance experience I am not currently willing to be without a steady paycheck. However, I will make changes wherever I can to make small steps toward that goal. I am an MRI technologist by day, and I’ve recently arranged my schedule to be more flexible to allow for weekend conventions, which is working out really well so far! It’s always a challenge to balance work, family, and other interests, but I’m incredibly lucky to have support from my family. They tolerate me!

Something along the lines of “Being a geek isn’t about what you love but how you love it,” is sort of the new geek mantra. Do you have anything, besides cosplay, that you consider yourself a geek about (each person can give an answer)?
Beverly: Cosplay is THE lifestyle. She spends most free time designing, building, and teaching cosplay. If she’s not waist deep in a build, she’s likely editing a cosplay video tutorial or helping friends with their builds.

Brett: Studio and convention photography. Photography is Brett’s first creative outlet, and he really enjoys the wonderful photographic opportunities cosplay provides both at the cons and in his home studio.

Zoe: The most avid reader of the family, she never stops reading. She mostly reads fantasy series and, not surprisingly, is drawn to strong lead female characters. She is also writing a book of her very own. Maybe one day she will let us read it!

Zack: The gamer of the crew. He’s known to work on his Minecraft universe for hours, has created beautiful glass houses with cascading water falls, and even built a ten story high volleyball game with two teams, a ref, a net, and a volleyball in flight.

What upcoming conventions do you have on your schedule that people could see you at?
Geek Girl Con, October 8-9, 2016 (that’s tomorrow!), Seattle, WA.
RenCon (The entire family will be guest cosplayers, plus Brett is hosting an individual panel this year), October 28-20, 2016, Renton, WA.
Jet City Comic Con (Beverly will be a contest judge), November 5-6, 2016, Tacoma, WA.
Wizard World Portland (The family never misses a local con!), February 17-19, 2017, Portland, OR.
Emerald City Comic Con, March 2-5, 2017, Seattle, WA.
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