Conversations in Cosplay: Project Nautilus Cosplay on the Journey from Concept to Costume, His Love of Japanese Monster Movies and the Power of Real Life Monsters
For all that some characters are practically eponymous with nerd culture, there are many big names that are not found all that often on the cosplay scene. The aliens and monsters whose details are so intricate on screen that it would be a truly mammoth task to replicated them in reality. While many cosplayers are prepared to take on huge challenges, the added component of lugging around a costume that covers your entire body tends to put many off attempting to create and carry cosplays of, say, Godzilla, for example.
Puerto Rican cosplayer, artist and Kaiju enthusiast, Sean Sumagaysay – best known to his fans as Project Nautilus Cosplay – decided to tackle just that legendary beast when it came to his art. Multiple movie-accurate Godzillas, a Jar Jar Binks and a handful of other choice cosplays later, his work is catching attention all around the world.
We spoke to Sean to find out more about what the challenges and rewards of taking on such huge projects.
PC or Mac?
What is your favourite cereal?
Honey Bunches of Oats.
What is your favourite curse word?
That’s easy, @%^#@! 😀
If you could pick a world from any video game, where would you live?
I seriously love the Dead Space universe, but that would be asking for a death sentence by mutated corpses.
What fictional character from movies, comics, TV or video games have you secretly crushed on?
Daina Scully from the X-Files.
If Gozer the Gozerian from Ghostbusters asked you to choose the form of your destructor, what would you think of?
What got you into cosplaying?
I’ve always been a creative person since infancy, from drawing to sculpting I would always test my limits and was never afraid to try something new that I felt was achievable. Being a Godzilla fan throughout my childhood; I’ve always been fond of the idea of playing the role as the title character, and who didn’t love dinosaurs as a kid? Haha
At the age of 5-8 I would make claws, masks and dorsal fins out of construction paper; along with tying a rope around my belt and pretend it was a tail, as I rampaged through the yard to impersonate my childhood hero.
I recall being 13 when I first stepped into a cosplay convention in 2007 and at the time I didn’t even know what cosplaying was; I was so amazed to see how people could express their love for a character this way and not feel embarrassed about it, so I had to go and experience it for myself. I had previously made a stormtrooper costume for Halloween out of cardboard and duct tape and decided to wear it for the convention, without surprise I felt so unimpressive beside these Master Chief and Pyramid Head cosplayers that were competing against each other.
What was the first character you ever cosplayed?
Cut to 3-4 years later, I had just finished playing my very first horror game, Dead Space and by then there was already an announcement for a sequel. As soon as concept art and official trailers came around I quickly rushed to start on what I considered to be my first official cosplay; Isaac Clarke’s Advanced Suit to be specific. I quickly learned to craft cardboard and even read a few tutorials on installing LEDs to the suit. The cosplay was near perfect and it was ready to hit the convention floor.
How did it feel going out in cosplay for the first time?
I felt pretty satisfied with the results, and to really sell it I kinda fell into the role and imitated all of his gestures and movements. It was received pretty well at the end and I got to meet plenty of interesting people along the way, and even some that overtime have become great friends.
How does it compare to how you feel showing off new cosplays now?
I think with the Godzilla suits, I was finally able to achieve what I’ve always dreamed of doing; testing the limits of my talent and getting to build a friggin Godzilla suit! And seeing the look of amazement on people’s faces or the awe expression in a kid’s eyes really brings a sense of nostalgia, and I find it really satisfying.
When did you realise you were first getting noticed as a cosplayer? How did it make you feel?
It started well around the time I published a Facebook page dedicated to my first Godzilla suit project, just 7-8 months prior to Legendary’s GODZILLA in 2014 which the suit was based on. I knew that by fabricating it along with the hype of the film it would get some form of attention. I was surprised to see that by the time the suit was half-completed a crowd of people started visiting the page to check out my progress and ask all sorts of questions. I’ve always made time to answer each one.
What makes a character jump out at you as something you have to cosplay?
Between my first and current cosplay projects, I have done a fair amount along these past 5 years, starting in 2012 after meeting my girlfriend, who by the way is an awesome cosplay seamtress and even taught me a good amount on how to sew fabric. A lot of the cosplay’s we’ve done together have been mostly for aestetic and characteristic reasons. I LOVE impersonating our favorite characters; a memorable one being Hughes from the Full Metal Alchemist anime, where I went all the way to get his haircut, colored contact lenses and even printing out pictures of his wife and daughter to show off at the convention. I even got the judges crying while re-enacting his (SPOILER) death scene (End of SPOILER), winning a best actor award afterwards. So I love going all-out with characters that look awesome and that I enjoy getting myself into the role.
What inspired you to make such complex full-body monster cosplays?
I’ve always loved the DaiKaiju Eiga (Japanese Giant Monster Films) and Godzilla is no exception. As I saw how the films evolved overtime as I bought each one, so did my appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into making them. So by the time my first Godzilla suit came into play, I finally found what would truly identify myself as a cosplayer and a Kaiju enthusiast. I then went on to learn through hundreds of tutorials and other monster suit fabricators a good amount of studio-grade techniques that go into building these creatures. Not only that, I even took notes from the legendary suit actors as well.
Do the bigger pieces get heavy to lug around conventions?
The suits are fairly light, but it does get exhausting to stay at one place if you can’t move around much, especially when holding your position as hundreds of convention guests get around you for pictures.
Do you have any advice for cosplays who like big, bulky costumes about how to manoeuvre them around conventions?
1) Always be on the move, staying in one place can leave your body aching for a whole week; if you have to stop for pictures, have a helper give a time limit before it gets too crowded and you have to move to another destination. 2) Never hesitate to take a break and get out of the suit every once in awhile, always bring a helper or two. & 3) Keep yourself hydrated!
Approximately how long does it take to make one of the full-body foam cosplays?
It really depends on the size and complexity of the design. Though my 2 Godzilla suits; each using different foam fabricating techniques, took about 7-8 months to build.
Are all your pieces tailored to fit you?
Yep! Both were designed around my body type. It helps translate my movements to the suit.
What do you do with your cosplays when you move onto creating a new piece?
Depends on the size really, plenty of my smaller cosplays are put in a box or my closet, my previous Godzilla cosplay was broken apart to recycle foam for the current one, especially for the tail. If another large cosplay comes around I’ll have to find ways to make room.
Your cosplays are really convincing and are the kind of thing that have been used to create monsters in classic movies. Do you feel like art like yours is getting rarer with the rise of CGI technology? Why?
I personally wouldn’t call it a dying art, while I do understand that a lot of recent films have relied on CGI cause of its low-cost and time efficiency. The art of practical effects still remains alive in many forms. In example; both the ever growing cosplay community and the Stan Winston School of Character Arts really encourage hand-crafted projects, even what’s known as suitmation in Godzilla and tokusatsu films, has survived as a traditional artform in Japanese media and pop-culture, but has also learned to adapt and co-exist with CGI.
Do you feel like your cosplays have more of an impact in real life due to the assumption that everything is CGI?
Definitely, one of the only problems with CGI is that no matter how good the effects are, there’s always this inner feeling that it’s not truly alive; it’s just an the illusion of something that can or can’t exist. And what’s so amazing about cosplay in general is the fact that artists are able to be re-created these characters physically, letting fans and other con-goers get the chance to finally see them up close and personal.
What’s your most memorable con experience?
I think it was during my first run with the 2014 Godzilla suit, I got to interact with hundreds of people in comic-con, adults were amazed, kids were either mesmerized or terrified. Being up on stage with the crowd cheering loudly gave me goosebumps. It was also a stressful experience, ending up with body aches for almost two weeks. But it was a hell of an experience that I hope to repeat with my most recent suit.
What’s your favourite character to cosplay?
No doubt, Godzilla himself.
What’s the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever done?
My current Godzilla suit is currently the most difficult, and it’s also an ongoing project to further make it much more accurate. Went through plenty of trial and error as I built it. Various techniques were used other than the usual foam carving and latex painting, the claws, teeth and eyes are casted resin.
Have you ever given up on a cosplay idea because it was too difficult?
None that I’m aware of really. A lot of the cosplays I haven’t done is because I’ve been putting it on hold until I master new techniques, or I’ve been too preoccupied with other projects.
Are you working on anything new now?
I’m currently still adding new elements to my 2nd Godzilla suit as it’s still an ongoing project. However, I do have two cosplays that I would love to do this upcoming year that I don’t want to reveal just yet, here’s a hint though: Both are extraterrestial in nature, non-kaiju.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
Definitely grew a love for polyurathane foam and liquid latex.
You go into enormous detail in your cosplays. Do you have anything in particular you like to use to create detail?
For details in foam, I use a combination of small scissors and tweezers. A technique I adopted from other Godzilla suit fabricators.
What is the longest it has taken you to make a cosplay?
With Godzilla, 9 months, two of those are for planning and conceptualizing, the rest goes to buying materials and fabricating the suit.
Are there any characters you’re looking forward to cosplaying in the future?
I can say that I’m already in plans of resurrecting the 2014 Godzilla design, using more advanced studio techniques to fabricate a much LARGER and more accurate suit, just in time for the film’s sequels in 2019 and 2020. Also I’m REALLY tempted in doing the recent 2016 design, though that’s a tough choice.
Who are your favourite cosplayers working right now?
Without a doubt, Adam Savage from Tested.com and Mythbusters, who’s always making these creative incognito cosplays for SanDiego and NewYork Comic Con, has been a huge idol & motivating figure to me. I really hope to meet him someday.
What’s your favourite thing about the cosplaying community?
My favorite thing about the community is the ability to get to be whoever you want no matter your age, shape, race or gender, and being able to share that passion with everyone else not just other cosplayers.
How do you think the cosplaying community could be improved?
Well, one thing that does come to mind; While a lot of members of the community are very supportive, there’s a good (bad) bunch that love to pick on cosplayers who dress up as characters of a different body type and race. There has been numerous cases of fans and other cosplayers that harass others for either not being accurate enough or being too slim, or overweight, or too attractive even, and they all seem to forget the point of what Cosplaying is all about in the first place. Sure, they’re a small minority compared to the positive side of the community, but it definitely hits hard on people.
Outside of cosplaying, what do you like to do with your time?
Aside from cosplaying I’m currently in the works of an animated fan film, a two year-long collaboration with a fellow member of the Godzilla community. Which you can check out the trailer below. Besides all that, I love dedicating my spare time hanging around with my best friends, among them being my cosplay partner and girlfriend.
Do you think you’ll still be cosplaying in ten years’ time? Do you have any goals, in cosplaying terms or otherwise?
I’m definitely sticking to cosplay as a hobby for a very long time, I’m looking forward to fabricating a lot of my favorite characters. As a career I’m hoping to work as a special effects artist, to further improve my abilities and just simply for the love of creating things.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers?
Don’t hesitate to start a big project; though if you just want to warm up first, go ahead and work on smaller parts. If you’re aiming for accuracy, the best pieces of reference you can find are from authentic behind-the-scenes pictures, maquettes and concept art. And always be ready for trial and error, no matter how confident you are with your project there’s always a chance of messing up big time, so make small-scale tests before proceeding with a technique.