Cosplay, Art, & Online Adventures

Cosplay Feature: Gabrielle Belmont

Cosplay Feature: Gabrielle Belmont

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was my first, breathtaking step into the dark and dangerous world inhabited by the Belmont clan. I’d always been drawn to the series, much due to the haunting character art by Ayami Kojima. As a completionist, though, I’d struggled with a point of entry to the franchise. I wanted to start from the very beginning, and in a way Lords of Shadow afforded me this opportunity.

MercurySteam made one of the most beautiful games of this generation in Lords of Shadow, appealing immediately to the designer in me. That, coupled with the compelling array of weapons and accessories Gabriele wields, had me itching to recreate his ensemble. Easy enough – add an “LE” and enter Gabrielle Belmont.

This costume is the most ambitious and demanding design I’ve ever tackled, challenging me to combine many of the skills I’ve learned over the past eight years – leather working, armor fabrication, molding and casting, and more. As such, you’re in for a long read should you be interested in the entirety of how it came together. If you’re here for insight on a specific part of this build, however, I’ve made subheads to help you skip around to whatever piques your interest!

The Gauntlets  (Worbla)

I started with what I considered the least stressful part of the costume – the gauntlets. Having polished off a pair of Witchblade costumes in the past, as well as a gauntlet for my Princess of Persia ensemble, I wasn’t too intimidated by the thought of making a few more stabby hand accessories.

Gabrielle’s standard gauntlet was pretty easy – comprised of tiered plates of armor and simple articulated fingers. I patterned out everything in paper, transferred the pieces to Worbla, and then shaped them around various sized bottles for a slightly tapered look. I then attached the pieces to a long gardening glove with a leather hole punch and brads. Brads are great for temporarily holding items in place, although I recommend switching to rivets for extra security when you’re sure everything is where desired.

The fingertips were the most complicated, and resulted in a few burns due to the admittedly unsafe way I went about it. I started by cutting out square pieces of Worbla, sized to cover up to the first joint on each finger. I then heated it and folded the excess towards the pad of the finger, leaving the most visible area nice and clean looking. Next I heated the fingertips while on my hand and rolled the excess material against a clean, hard surface to smooth it out. After repeating this step several times, it was very difficult to see where the Worbla originally overlapped, resulting in smooth, round tips.

The Dark Gauntlet was much, much more complicated and took several weekends to polish off.  As before, I started by patterning on paper before moving to Worbla. I mostly used single sheets of Worbla on this gauntlet, although I did layer craft foam between the three outermost tiers to space them out a bit.

I created a support structure out of Worbla for the claws, layering Magic Sculpt over the top. The two-part epoxy clay is quite heavy, but resulted in a much sturdier and full looking shape than I would have gotten with Worbla alone.

The Dark Gauntlet is very ornate, and I used a combination of puff paint, rolled Worbla, and small stenciled Worbla pieces to replicate the patterns. With these touches finished off the gauntlets were complete, save for distressing and painting, which I would do in bulk at a later date.

At this point I’d spent several weekends working at Keith and Abby’s place (known as Keabtium collectively), taking advantage of their generous offer to make a massive mess in their garage. Keith regularly casts items for their costumed capers, and inspired me to give it a try again – something I hadn’t attempted in years.

Skull & Daggers (Resin Casts)

I decided to cast the skull on Gabrielle’s chest so I could pour it in a lighter and more malleable material. Under Keith’s supervision I started by replicating the original in Sculpey. Once done and baked, Keith showed me how to make a box mold out of foam core and hot glue a very efficient and quick process.

We’d picked up a slew of materials from Douglas and Sturgess earlier in the day, and Keith recommended Smooth-On’s OOMOO 25 for the mold due to its easy mix properties and cheaper initial investment.

He next had me use a thin layer of warm clay along the bottom of the skull to create a tight seal between it and the box floor before pouring the silicone. Next, Keith had me pour a “vanity layer” of silicone over the original – a very, very thin coat drizzled from 8-10 inches high, lessening the chance of bubbles forming in the mold. Because the coat was so thin, I was able to pop any remaining bubbles with an air can before they cured. After the vanity coat dried a bit, the remainder was poured in, resulting in a nearly flawless negative.

Next up I prepared the resin for the first cast. Keith recommended Smooth-Cast 325 resin to ensure the final skull had a little bit of flexibility and so that I could color tint it easier. He had me grab some metal powder to mix in with the resin – a process called cold casting – making the final object look like real metal through and through. I was really happy with the first pull from the mold, and the success empowered me to try casting on a larger scale.

I decided to cast copies of Gabrielle’s daggers, guaranteeing all four would match perfectly. I started by sculpting the hilt of the dagger around a wooden dowel, switching to Magic Sculpt over Sculpey as it’s my preferred medium now. Bits and bobs from my scrapbook collection were added as accent pieces to make the dagger more ornate. I used Worbla for the blade to give it a crisper edge.

With the original dagger done, I went about repeating the process above, this time using Mold Star 15, which we chose for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was on a time crunch to get the mold done and cast the daggers, and secondly, because Mold Star silicones are more durable and are great for repeated casting without the risk of tearing the mold.

Once the mold was made, casting the daggers only took a single night, each curing in about 30 minutes. Working over at Abby and Keith’s place again, I used a power sander to smooth out the blades and a Dremel tool to clean up the accent areas. This was a pretty lengthy process, but I’m elated with how they turned out. They are light and durable, too.

Combat Cross (PVC, Magic Sculpt, & Worbla)

At this point, I was doing everything in my power to avoid starting Gabrielle’s coat/jacket thingy, being totally terrified of sewing something so extravagant. I distracted myself with Gabrielle’s Combat Cross next.

I determined fairly quickly that the best way to make the base of the Combat Cross would be with PVC plumping pieces. I cut up a long PVC pipe and attached the pieces to each end of a slip cross to form the structure. I purchased a length of plastic chain from the hardware store to keep the final prop as light as possible, and attached it to the inside of cap that fit snugly on the bottom. I actually had to scrap my first attempt – which was built using 1” PVC pipe – because it wasn’t wide enough to house more than a foot of chain. I upgraded to 1.5” tube, which accommodated enough length for epic action shots.

After building up the base of the cross, I began to flesh out the shape and style. I used Magic Sculpt for the stake at the bottom of the cross, as well as the slightly less-intimidating spikes on each side. The accent pieces at the top and center are built out of pieces of Worbla with craft foam sandwiched between them.

Not going to lie – this prop was a massive pain in the butt to make. It took me two full weekends to finish, and I had several false starts trying out patterns and techniques that didn’t work early on. I’m super happy with the result, though, especially since I was able to hide nearly four feet of chain inside.

Coat (Leather & Marine Vinyl)

Unable to delay any longer, I had to start making progress on Gabrielle’s garments. I was appropriately petrified of the coat, having only sewn very simple garments in the past. While I felt more comfortable working with leather than with other materials, patterning is something I’d never tried before, and as such I decided to look for external help. Baby steps! Catherine of God Save the Queen Fashions was a lifesaver in agreeing to help me translate the design to paper. I sent along my measurements and a slew of reference material, and she returned something I was able to take to a large format printer – and during her pre-Dragon*Con crunch nonetheless. I can’t thank her enough for the help! It will be a while still before I’m able to look at a garment and deconstruct it.

Keeping in mind that I mostly make armor and props, it was overwhelming but also immensely satisfying to draft up the garment in scraps of fabric. Once wearable, I spent the evening dancing around the living room, proud of my meager accomplishment. The design didn’t require much in the way of alternations, thankfully, other than a few nips and tucks that were intuitive enough for me to make myself.

When it came time to move from mockup to the real-deal, I called on my friend Thomas Ignatius so that I could work under his supervision and use his industrial sewing machine. I had a nearly a full hide left of red leather from my Warrior Wonder Woman costume, which was thankfully the perfect color for Gabrielle.

I brought my mockup to Tom’s place for him to look over. Once he approved it I cut everything apart and created new patterns from the slightly-altered pieces. Thus began a painful seven-hour marathon of bending over a table measuring and cutting leather and gold marine vinyl for the appliqué. Thank God for sharp rotary blades.

Once everything was cut out, Thomas showed me how to top-stich the marine vinyl onto the leather –  he helped out with more than a few of the panels before I was brave enough to try it on my own. It’s pretty easy to tell what he did versus my sad attempts – most of my lines look like I had a few glasses of wine prior to manning the machine. I’m still pretty proud that I managed to attach them without any major mess-ups, though.

By far, the shoulder pieces were the hardest part, as they required top-stitching on really narrow surfaces with lots of 90 degree angles. Again, not perfect, but I’m feeling much more comfortable with the thought of sewing complex garments in the future. Massive thank you to Tom for ensuring I didn’t run all that expensive leather!

I used lots of snaps and rivets to hold everything in place. The grey hood was made out of a remnant I found at the fabric store, and the skulls on the sides of the shoulders were crafted out of foam and Worbla.

Belt (Leather)

At this point it was getting down to the wire, and I still had a considerable amount of work to do on the costume despite giving myself two months lead time. I felt pretty comfortable with the belt, having patterned, cut, dyed, and finished leather several times in the past. Each piece was top stitched to look a bit more finished, and hardware was secured in place with rivets.

The belt has a slew of stuff on it, making it quite bulky and obscuring my natural waistline more than I would have liked, but the tradeoff (being a BAMF) is worth it, in my opinion. I picked up holy water bottles online (yes, they are really for holy water), and filled them with mouthwash to get the nice blue-green hue. Minty fresh! I made the fairy jar in an hour or two out of EVA foam, PVC pipe, and Worbla, with an ornate candle toper at the apex. I’m likely going to remake it as a transparent jar so I can have a green glow emanating from inside.

Cyclone Boots (Worbla)

With three days until I left for Dragon*Con I’d barely started my Cyclone Boots. What followed was a 16-hour crafting marathon, ending at 5AM on a Monday morning only hours prior to leaving for a full work day.

It’s difficult to describe the complex construction process for these boots, but it involved a ton of patterning on paper and frequently trying the boots on while assembling them to ensure I maintained mobility.

I started with the back, layering successively smaller pieces of Worbla on to an old pair of leather boots, attaching them with brads to allow for movement as I walked. I used a similar treatment in the front even though I knew that most of it would be covered by the more ornate feather accents. I heated and bonded the multi-layered feather accents flat to each other, attaching them to a base of Worbla and craft foam. I then heated the entire thing on to a large PVC pipe to give it a perfectly cylindrical shape, before tapering it slightly by hand as it cooled.

The toe of the boot took quite a bit of time and repeated heating to round off properly, as I had to dart the Worbla to get the right fit. Everything again was attached with rivets or brads, depending on if I was able to reach far enough into the boot to use an anvil and hammer the pieces together. The very top of the boot is a cheap foam kneepad. I heated the Worbla directly over the pad, shaping and smoothing away the excess slowly.

The above is a sad explanation of something that took me so long to complete, but the WIP gallery shows much more of the process that what I’m capable of conveying with words.

Painting & Distressing

With the boots done it was time to distress and paint the props, my favorite part of costume construction. I started as I always do by burning in battle damage with a soldering iron, paying extra attention to high-friction areas such as the kneepads and the toes of the boots. I followed up with a similar treatment, this time using a rough metal file for a slightly different texture of damage.

I moved directly on to paint as I don’t bother with a primer when working on such heavily distressed items. When I do use primer, I alternate between wood glue and gesso, as endorsed by many other cosplayers.

I opted for hammered metal paint in silver for the base coat, as I’ve found it looks the most realistic and ages well. It took nearly five cans to get the right amount of coverage.

With the primary coat done, I used a charcoal grey acrylic paint to darken edges around accent pieces and make them pop. I also brushed a light silver paint into damaged areas, making the metal look raw like an open wound. The next step had me using a fine grain sanding block to dull down some of the natural shine from the metallic spay paint.

Nearly finished, I used a combination of diluted brown and black acrylic paint to stipple on dirt and grime with an old sea sponge, giving a unique texture to the finished pieces. Again, I paid special attention to areas that would have seen more use – the feet of my boots are almost entirely obscured with dirt and dust. Lastly, I sprayed select pieces with fake blood, letting it dribble and dry as if spilled long ago.

I repeated a very similar process with the coat, using a scissors to tatter the bottom edges, and then a metal file to add additional wear and tear. Instead of spray paint, I used black and brown hairspray to sully the jacket, doing my best to make it look like it had seen a battle or two. Also, more fake blood. Added bonus – my horrible topstitching is now less visible! My cosplay mantra is like that one Portlandia skit “Put a Bird on It.” Except my motto is “Throw some blood on it.”

I only vaguely remember finishing this costume and packing it up, as I was mostly brain dead from days of inhaling spray paint fumes. Luckily, everything made it out to Dragon*Con safely in my hard shell luggage.

I had the amazing fortune of shooting with several fantastic photographers at the convention, all of whom have a unique flavor in their shooting styles.

A special shout out goes to Darrell of BGZ Studios, though, who went above and beyond in his preparation by renting out Rhodes Hall for our pre-Dragon*Con photoshoot. The location looked straight out of Castlevania, complete with lanterns on the walls, stained glass, an epic spiral staircase, and a massive claw-foot chair. The photos are wonderfully moody.

Additional thanks go to Anna Cosplay Photography, Benny Lee Photography, Jason Chau Photography, and Joseph Chi Lin Photography for taking time out to shoot with me!

And thank you to Acksonl for featuring Gabrielle in the cosplay video below twice!