As the quality of cosplays from creators all across the world gets ever more impressive, many artists are exploring new ways to make their work stand out. From perfecting their battle cry to recreating their gait as they walk the convention floor, today’s cosplayers fully commit to bringing their favourite characters to life in every way possible. Stuntman Ben Schamma¸ better known to his fans as Maul Cosplay, takes this dedication to a whole new level. Between his martial arts skills and his stunt experience, Ben brings the dangerous attitude of the hardest fighters and renegades from popular culture to the real world.
A staple of German TV and movies, where his fights and stunts have become a part of the action-packed fabric of German entertainment, Ben still takes the time to showcase his cosplay work at conventions all over the world. From the fiercely competitive scene of his native Germany to the emerging community in Ireland, his stony-face, musclebound characters are hard to ignore.
We caught up with Ben to find out how he gets inside the head of pop culture’s roughest, toughest characters.
PC or Mac?
I have a Mac. But I don’t like iPhones. But yeah, Mac.
What is your favourite series?
I think it’s still Star Trek. We’re watching Sherlock right now and I love Monk. Let’s say Monk.
What is your favourite curse word?
I don’t have an English word for it, but in German my favourite is hurensohn. That means ‘son of a bitch’. But I say it as a joke. Me and my friends always say it – aw, well done, you hurensohn. Haha. It’s just for fun. I don’t say it very often.
If you could live in the world of any video game, which would you pick?
Red Dead Redemption. It’s obvious, right? Haha.
Which character from comics, TV, movies or video games have you secretly crushed on?
Um. Do you know the movie Condorman? It’s a Disney movie, a funny movie from the ‘80s. There was a Russian girl, her name was Natalia and I think that was my first ever love. Er, crush. I’d go for her. There are others. For example, Rose from Titanic. Let’s say those, but there are a lot of other girls, of course.
If Gozer the Gozerian from Ghostbusters asked you to choose the form of your destructor, what would you pick?
Hmm. That’s a good question. I don’t have a good answer for that. But it would be some very cute thing as well, I think. Maybe Lucky Bears. What – what’s it called in English? Care Bears. Because they are somehow creepy and cute at the same time.
What got you into cosplay?
It was basically my sister. Basically a few years ago she was going to go to a convention with friends and the friend cancelled so she asked me to come with her. That was my first convention experience. She had a pretty new Queen Amidala costume and she wanted to participate in the costume contest, but not alone. I said, “Okay you have a new costume so you should go on stage.” She didn’t want to, so I said “I’ll come with you”.
I asked somebody – just a random person – with a Jedi outfit if I could borrow it and that was the first time I wore a costume. And I liked it. Especially on stage, performing. That was the moment.
That was the convention where I met Ray Park. We had a stage fight just for fun and we talked for a little bit. He told me that he is only a stuntman and then I wanted to become a stuntman as well. So I did that. A year later there was a big stunt show that I did – I was the organiser of the whole stunt show. I had to build all the costumes for all the stuntmen. That was the first time that I actually built a costume.
So through these two events – my sister brought me to the convention and then I built my first cosplay for the stunt show.
What was it about stunts that made you want to get involved?
It’s the same story really, it was the moment I met Ray Park. He told me that he is a stuntman, I wanted to become a stuntman as well. In Germany we had – not any more – but we had a big stunt school. It wasn’t easy to become a student because there were so many people who wanted to go there, but they chose only a few out of all of Germany. Yeah, then I became a stuntman because of Ray Park, because of that little chat with him after the stage fight.
Do you have to specifically tailor your training for different characters’ stunts?
I’m a specialist in fighting and sword-fighting, stage fighting. I did martial arts, of course – kung fu and ju jitsu. But for performance on stage or for the camera, of course it’s different. So I trained for that very hard and very long. Not as much any more, because now I can do it, I just do my workout to stay fit and strong. But that’s it. Because of the stunt stuff, I know how to fight. I basically do only fights for TV or movies. Movies it’s always fighting. Sometimes it’s falling from houses, stuff like that. But basically all the gaming characters or cosplay characters are fighters, so it’s easy for me. I don’t have to learn a special thing because basically every fighter has the same attitude and body language.
How do you decide which characters you’d like to cosplay?
Usually when I – when we, it’s usually Maja my wife and I – decide which characters to do next, we just go for the face. This character looks a bit like me, let’s do this. For example, I’m a huge Superman fan and I’ve always wanted to wear the Superman suit, but I don’t have the face for Superman. So I’ll never do Superman. It’s all about the face. Sometimes, of course, the character is somehow interesting, but we like to do characters that suit my face.
I think a big part of my cosplay, I always want to look as close as I can to the original character. That is why I would never do a character that wouldn’t suit my face. So it’s all about that. All about the face. Maybe the body, sometimes, but usually the face.
What is your favourite character to cosplay?
Of course it’s Geralt. It’s Geralt and Darth Maul. It’s Geralt because he’s a badass. He’s a very good guy and he’s a good looking guy and everybody loves him. I mean everybody. I think that’s a reason why my Geralt cosplay is so well known and successful, because everyone knows Geralt and loves Geralt. I like his attitude. I like to look in the mirror and look like Geralt. The whole character because of the story. He’s a very interesting guy. It’s not just – for example, as Darth Maul, I like him very much, but he’s almost only a badass and nothing else. Geralt is more interesting.
But as Darth Maul, I look in the mirror and I don’t see Ben any more. That’s Darth Maul. I can’t see any of my face when I wear the Darth Maul make up. And because of the history of Darth Maul and Ray Park and our Darth Maul: Apprentice movie on YouTube. We have some history Darth Maul and me. So, yeah, those two characters.
How did you get involved with making Darth Maul: Apprentice?
Both of the directors are friends of mine. There’s the action director, Vi-Dan, he’s a really good action director and he also does drama and stuff. I met him, I think, maybe ten years ago and we trained together. Then we did a short movie. Then Shawn, the main director, I met him while I was working with Vi-Dan.
I think, three years later, Maja had to do a short movie for university. She decided to do a Darth Maul movie – I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it’s on YouTube – Mr and Mrs Sith. Shawn was the camera operator and he always wanted to do a Star Wars movie. And he loved Darth Maul as well.
But he didn’t know about my Darth Maul and how good it is. He always says that in this moment when he was helping direct our little movie, he immediately thought, “okay I have to do a Darth Maul movie with Ben”. So we decided to do it. I think two weeks later, he planned everything, was developing the story and stuff like that.
Yeah that’s how it began, just friends. The good thing about it is that they’re all very, very talented and I’m so happy that I know them, because they’re very good people, here in Germany. They’re all from this area where I live. Okay, Shawn moved away, and Vi-Dan as well, but only 80km so not that far away. But we met here in this area. It’s pretty funny because now they’re pretty successful in Germany and we somehow started our careers together.
Was it quite daunting making a film in the Star Wars universe, with all the pressure of making your own mark on a series that has so many passionate fans?
No. The good thing about it is that I know that I can fight. I know that Vi-Dan and Shawn are very good directors. I knew that the outcome would be pretty good. For me, it’s not hard to play a badass character. A lot of people say that when you play a character that doesn’t speak, it’s very, very difficult. I think that it’s not difficult because it’s all about looking angry and badass. I think that that’s easy. I knew that there wouldn’t be much for people to complain about.
I think that’s the right attitude when I do stuff like that because every time I play, when I have a role on German TV, I always play the bad guy. So I know I can do that. The attitude of Darth Maul is a little bit like a very evil, angry Bruce Lee. I think, for me, it’s pretty easy to do that. So I wasn’t too worried about the reaction from the community. I think when you don’t do much wrong, they are happy about the fandom. They can be picky.
But I think when other Star Wars fans have done fan films, the fighting isn’t as good as it was in our movie. I was pretty sure that people would love the fighting. Even if they found something to complain about – like, I don’t know, my gloves weren’t exactly the same as the ones Darth Maul had – so even if they recognised that, they would be okay with the fighting. I was pretty sure the reaction would be like that. And it was like that.
There were, I think, very few dislikes on the movie. I didn’t expect the big success of the movie.
Would you ever consider branching out into good characters or would you prefer to stick with bad guys?
I think I can play the bad characters very well. I don’t know. One time I play a monk and he wasn’t a bad character at all. But he didn’t say anything so I don’t know. Geralt is a good character as well. I think the interesting characters are the characters who are good guys but somehow badasses. I think people like those characters a lot more than only the good guys.
Just like Batman. Batman has more fans than Superman because he’s still a badass. Not that he’s only a good guy. That’s why people like Batman more. So I could play a good guy with a badass attitude, I think.
What is the convention scene like in Germany?
I don’t know how it is in the UK – I know what it’s like in Ireland, that’s sort of the same area. But in Germany, I would say, it’s too much about the competition. All the countries I’ve been to where the quality of the costumes are very high, it’s more about the competition than about passion and fun. It’s the same in Germany. I know there are other people complaining about the situation right now – how it was, it was better and it’s got worse. I always try to stop that development.
For example, there’s my favourite convention in Germany and we asked the organiser if I can say something on stage because I want to talk about the situation, how it’s all about competition. We should stop that. Because when you look at other countries, for example Sicily or Ireland where the cosplay scene is smaller and the quality is not as high as it is here in Germany, they have a lot of fun onstage and just at the convention.
They just have fun. It’s not about winning or being the best. That’s one of the reasons I don’t ever participate in costume contests. I was in costume contests many years ago, but that was only for fun. I always did some funny stuff on stage, it was never about the costume. It was for the funny performance. I don’t do that any more.
I don’t want to do that any more, because I don’t want to win against others when it’s a hobby. There’s maybe a 15-year-old girl in a Cinderella outfit, and there’s me in my Geralt outfit with my glowing sword. And I win, and I don’t like that. There’s no advantage to winning the competition. Except maybe a big prize.
I think we should all go back to having more fun and just enjoy the stage moment, not the moment of winning.
What is your favourite place you’ve visited for a convention?
Ireland. First of all, as I’ve said, the whole cosplay community is very small, very thankful, very nice, very cool, a bit shy. But only when it comes to asking for a picture. Not on stage. On stage they freak out. It’s the whole thing, it’s not only the cosplay community. Everybody is like, I’d say, like the Americans, but … real. The Americans, when they ask “hey how are you?”, they don’t want to know, it’s just to be polite. But I like Americans a lot. But Irish people, it comes from the heart. When they ask “how are you?”, they mean it.
It’s the whole thing. For example, I think, the fastest costume contest I’ve ever been to was twenty or twenty-five minutes, for forty people, with the awards. We were giving them the awards, very fast. They were having a lot of fun. The audience there was very interactive – they talked to people on onstage and the people onstage talked back. It was so different to all the other countries. Everybody had so much fun. Everybody was smiling. The audience was laughing. I liked it a lot.
As I said, I think this is because the cosplay community there is still pretty small, the quality isn’t as high as other countries. And I told them, I hope it will stay like that because that’s what it’s all about.
I went to a German convention and the whole costume contest was cancelled. Months before, they said there won’t be a costume contest. And at the convention, some people, some visitors, decided to organise a costume contests, just somewhere, in a corner. Then there were almost forty people who wanted to be part of the contest. And everybody had so much fun! It was amazing! Everybody was smiling.
I think it was because nobody was like, “I have to win”, or “I have to build a costume for this contest to win”. They were there, they were in a good mood. They put on a contest and thought, “yeah, let’s do it, let’s have some fun”. It was best costume contest ever in Germany because they didn’t have so much pressure.
Are there are conventions you’d like to go to?
Yeah, of course. DragonCon. I just want to see how it is. Everybody has told me that it’s like a big party for several days, everybody’s in a good mood, everybody has fun. I want to be there. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll go there one day. But I don’t know.
I’d like to go to a Japanese convention. Japanese culture is such a new world. It’s so different. That’s why I want to go to Japan. We could go to Japan anyway, for a job.
What is the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever made?
Every costume is somehow difficult when you want to have the highest quality, with very detailed things. The thing is, you always get better, because you always want to be at least as good as you have been. You want your new costume to be as good as your last costume. So it always gets more and more difficult.
The Soldier 76 cosplay, because of the mask, to solve the problem of the lights being so close to the eyes, that was pretty difficult to make it look good. Masks should fit to your face very well.
Geralt was, I think, the most detailed costume I’ve done. There are so many details – for example, the sword with the runes. Which is actually pretty sad because I can’t take it with me to other countries because they won’t let me take it on the plane. I only use it in Germany. But that was quite difficult to create. So I’d say maybe that costume. It wasn’t very difficult, but all the little parts took a lot of time.
There’s one that wasn’t a costume of mine, but it was a job I did. We made a costume for Naoki Yoshida, the big boss on Final Fantasy XIV. We made it for him to wear to the Final Fantasy festival in Germany to announce the new class in the game, the samurai. So we as a German company built a traditional Japanese samurai costume for a Japanese VIP.
That was difficult because he knows what samurai outfits looks like. We also made a huge katana, a huge sword. And we knew it had to be perfect because when you make a costume for somebody else, he can look at it from all sides. For example, my Geralt outfit on the inside looks like shit, but I don’t care because nobody will see it, except for me. But in this case, it has to be perfect on the inside and outside. And he’s Japanese – and the Japanese are very accurate, they want everything to be perfect. So there was a lot of pressure.
But that was a good moment because he was very happy with it. There were other things at the festival that he wasn’t happy about, but not at all with the costume. He loved it. He wore it for the whole day. The plan was that he would wear it only for the opening show, for ninety minutes, but he wore it for the whole day. I think thirteen hours because he loved it, he wanted to wear it to take pictures.
But that was difficult because, as I said, there was a lot of pressure making something like that.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
I love to sculpt, cast and mould. I love to sandpaper the surface, to make it very smooth. I like to paint. For example, I built a new arm for Big Boss from Metal Gear. It was so much better than the first one because I had time. For, I think, a week I sanded it. It’s so smooth, I loved the outcome. It’s made of resin and I like that material because I know how to use it.
I don’t like stuff like Worbla. It sounds a little bit cocky, but I don’t like the hobby materials because they are not professional. They have limits. The other materials are more expensive, but you can do a lot more with them. With Worbla, I think I would never say “yes, now it’s perfect”. But if you mould and sculpt and cast, there’s a moment where you say, “now it’s perfect, it can’t be better than it is”. That’s what I love about those materials.
But I can’t say just one material. It’s the process I like – sculpting, moulding, casting, sanding and painting.
What characters are you looking forward to cosplaying in the future?
John Marston, my all time favourite video game character. We’re working on it right now. I started with the hat. The problem with the hat is that you can’t buy a John Marston hat because we’re vegan so we don’t use animal materials, and the hat is made of the leather. So I’ve sculpted it and I’ll have to mould it. I’ve bought a revolver and I’m training to do this cowboy stuff, spinning it around. I’m looking for it very much.
We’re working on Joel from The Last of Us as well. We’ll have a very cool photoshoot in the area where it happened. There are so many cool places that we’ll fly to for the shoot, which is pretty cool.
Right now we’re working Noctis from Final Fantasy XV. That’s a pretty different thing for me because he’s not a very manly character. He’s got quite a feminine face but with a beard, and that’s pretty new for me. But we did the make up test for that and we were very happy with the results. That’s a completely new thing because I’ve never done a Japanese character before. But it’s got so many likes on Facebook already, just from the make up test, so I think the people will love the whole costume. And it’s a pretty cool costume because it’s very accurate. He’s a prince and it’s well made.
But my favourite is John Marston and always will be.
Who are your favourite cosplayers working at the moment?
There’s Rick Boer from the Netherlands. He’s not so well known because he’s not a social media guy. But the costumes he does are very, very good and we’ve always looked up to his creations. He’s very skilled at make up, as well. Not all, but most of the male cosplayers, they don’t know how important make up is but he knows. I think that’s the only one who I’d say I always wanted to be as good as him. And now we’re about at an equal level.
Of course there are other cosplayers who make very good stuff. I like Angela Bermúdez, she’s from Costa Rica. And Alyson Tabbitha, she does very good make up. She does all the Johnny Depp characters, she’s very skilled.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers?
Yeah, first of all, just do it. I get a lot of questions like “what can I do to get into cosplay?” and I always say just do it, you learn by doing. Of course there are tutorials and stuff like that, but you never know how good you are or what you can do unless you start doing it. So everybody should start and shouldn’t think too much about it.
Also, weathering. Always do good weathering, because that can make a shitty costume look very good. For example, for our stunt show, we bought very crappy French soldier costumes. But Maja did her magic on those costumes and weathered them and on the stage they looked awesome. They looked very, very good. Even when the character wears clothes that are clean, you can still weather it with highlights and shadows. Especially for the gaming characters because, even if their game is very realistic, when you see the 3D model and you look close up to the details, you can see that the designer did the same. They highlight areas and put shadows where they should be. For example, the Soldier 76 costume, he’s a very clean character, but he has so much weathering on the jacket. It took Maja a few days, for a very clean character.
And, of course, good wigs. That’s what people get wrong a lot of the time, they don’t buy good wigs. They don’t have to be expensive. There are crappy wigs and good wigs and expensive wigs. A good wig is maybe 50 euro or more and it can make your character look so much more realistic. You get a lot of people with very good costumes, but you look at them and say “what happened to your wig?” You can destroy your whole costume if you don’t get a good wig.
That’s what people should think about – weathering and a good wig.
I think the most important advice is don’t forget the fun. It’s a hobby. Everybody should have fun and be nice.