Cosplay Feature: Steampunk Lara Croft
Inspired by my desire to realize an original design – and by my perpetual love for Lady Lara Croft – this costume has been gnawing at the back of my mind, attempting to manifest itself into reality, for years now. Most likely from the first time I heard the term “steampunk.”
This year has been a bit challenging for me in terms of cosplay. It’s been very, very difficult to find time to tackle large projects with my often-overwhelming work schedule. As such, the two major projects I finished in 2012 (aside from San, which I made entirely on my own) have been collaborative in nature – Claymore and Steampunk Lara. That being said, my personal motto always drives me to learn a new technique, or better yet skill, with each project. One of the primary reasons I wanted to tackle a steampunk interpretation of Lara was to try my hand at leatherworking, and I’m exceptionally happy with what I’ve learned so far.
This project also gave me the chance to collaborate in a way I’d wanted to for years – working with a concept artist to flesh out a costume prior to its construction. The incredibly talented Tess Fowler was my first choice for the project, and she happily agreed to the job. I brought another lovely lady onto the project early on, knowing that I’d want to commission Lara’s garments so to focus my limited time on the props and accessories. Samantha of Blasphemina’s Closet joined Tess and I, bringing her intricate knowledge of clothing design to the table. As a side note, while Sam is an incredible designer and I urge you to buy her wares, please note she only does costume commissions for a select group of friends. Her primary work dips into fashion & couture, much of which is Lolita inspired.
With the three of us assembled, the first step was to conceptualize and flesh out the character design. Knowing that Lara’s classic costume would be the most recognizable with the Steampunk twist, I began by detailing the iconic features I wanted to retain from her ensemble. Then the three of us brainstormed steampunk updates for each aspect of her look. You can check out some of the early ideation below.
- Keep: Long, brown braid
- Update: Victorian styling in the front
- Keep: Red lenses
- Update: Transform to nose spectacles
- Keep: Color, general shape
- Update: Transform leotard into vest, with intricate white undershirt
- Keep: Color, general shape
- Update: Scion belt buckle, silver hardware accents
- Keep: Color, fingerless
- Update: Accent with lace
- Keep: Color, length
- Update: Inspired by pantaloons
- Keep: Color, general shape, and twin silver buckles
- Update: Transform into a jetpack
- Keep: Color, size
- Update: Add steampunk accents, chains w/TRIV ankhs
- Keep: Color, height, red laces, white socks
- Update: Transform into spats w/white lacy stockings
- Add Dagger of Xian
Armed with the above details, Tess took a (very successful) first stab at the design, to which Sam and I provide feedback – Sam specifically in regards to keeping the design authentic to Victorian standards, and I in regards to keeping it true to Tomb Raider. With feedback in hand, Tess whipped out a second sketch in no time, and hit the nail on the head. The image on the right is the one that we referenced for the final costume.
Time to dive into specifics! As I often do when I start a project, I made my way over to the Home Depot for inspiration. I walk up and down every isle at the beginning of a build, looking for form over function. I found myself in the plumbing section and purchased PVC pipes, plungers, an A/C vent, and several other assorted pieces of hardware with the jetpack in mind.
The first step of the jetpack was to build out the general structure. This was easy enough with a hacksaw and some PVC glue. Note to anyone using PVC glue – it is very, very permanent. I attempted to loosen and adjust the pipe shortly after applying the glue, and it was a no-go. I had to go buy new pipes as a result.
I used Craft foam, brads, and decorative tacks for the first level of detailing on the jetpack, and then sealed the craft foam with Mod Podge before spraying the entire pack with primer. I next coated it with a bright copper spray paint, before distressing the paint job by adding in bronze, gold, and even black for variation. The distressing process usually consists of layering on significantly more paint than needed, and sanding it down to a dull luster. I also often burn imperfections into my props with a soldering iron. Lastly, I added ornamental pieces such as filigree and clockwork cogs for a bit of extra flair.
It just so happens that I had two Darkwatch replica guns lying around from my Game Informer days, and they were the perfect twist on Lara’s twin pistols. I repeated the painting and distressing process (in silver this time) before adding a slew of findings, such as a keyhole, assorted valves, decorative tacks, and other ornate items. I also attached two chains capped with The Last Revelation inspired Ankhs to the very bottom of the pistols.
Two other small props topped off my workload – the Scion belt buckle and Dagger of Xian. I built the belt buckle out of wood and craft foam, sealed with Mod Podge before it was painted and distressed. The Dagger of Xian took a bit more work, as sculpting is still a skill I’m trying to develop. I used Sculpty for the head, baked onto a wooden dowel that became the hilt of the dagger. I used two loose gems for the eyes, and velvet with gold cording for the handle. I was actually pretty proud of the final result, only to have it break ten minutes into SDCC. Hence, I have very few photos of it.
With the props done and the clothing in Sam’s hands, the leather working remained the final big blip on my radar. I’d always wanted to learn the craft, and lucky enough Tess knew a local artisan who was up for providing me with some lessons. Enter Thomas Ignatius! Tom has an extensive history in theater, specializing in costume, prop, and leatherwork. His corsets in particular are incredible, and I hope to try my hands at one under his guidance soon. Tom’s help was invaluable on this aspect of the project, although I’m not sure if my wallet will ever recover after my introduction to Tandy Leather Factory.
Working under unfortunately tight time constraints, Tom and I opted to use pre-stamped belt blanks for the jetpack and holster straps, although he was nice enough to let me try out his stamp collection on scraps after learning the basics of shaping leather. We also picked up a slew of metal buckles and other ornate hardware.
Once at the workshop, we stained the jetpack straps a deep brown, and the holster pieces a solid black. We used an edge trimmer to give them a more polished look, and sealed the back with a special coat to protect the garments from the leather’s rougher side. Cutting and dying was the easiest part of the project. Engineering points of attachment was a bit more difficult and took some work to perfect.
While I helped with the staining and shaping, Tom gets most of the credit for the holsters. I had a surprise work trip pop up just prior to SDCC, and as such Tom had to finish them off them without me. Tom and I patterned out the holsters prior to my departure. After that, he used an industrial sewing machine to line the holsters with suede to avoid damaging my guns. Armed with my measurements and the pieces we cut and dyed, he polished off the holsters in little time.
As always, last-minute details consumed the weeks prior to SDCC. Finding the perfect fingerless gloves, glasses (which I had to modify with red lenses), stockings, and so on came right up to the last minute. I also had to secure a proper wig, as at that point my hair was nearly blonde.
Tomb Raider had a massive presence at SDCC this year, and as such I worked every day but Sunday. I reserved the final day of the convention to debut my Steampunk Lara Croft costume. As with every SDCC, my lovely makeup artist friend Hydred put my face on for the look, and I styled the wig just prior to leaving the hotel.
All in all, I’m very happy with the final result of the costume, although Sam and I are already working on a few tweaks to the top to ensure it stays tucked in a bit better. I was very surprised by how many people recognized me as Lady Lara even with the Steampunk twist. I was told more than once that the red glasses and laces gave it away. A few hardcore fans even noticed the little touches like the belt buckle, and appreciated it that much more.
I was really bummed out that my dagger broke ten minutes into the convention, and plan to remake and fortify it before the next outing Lara goes on. I also just dyed my hair back to brunette, which will allow me to skip the wig next time.
The bulk of the photos below come from a mini-shoot with the talented LJinto. While we were both rushed, we managed to find some fitting interior locations, and a lagoon that looked reminiscent of The Lost Valley. I also nabbed some photos with the lovely Monica Lee, who was dressed as Legend Lara for a TR cosplay gathering I organized. Leonard and I have plans for a grander shoot at an undisclosed point in time, hopefully at a steampunk restaurant in LA he previously scouted. By then Steampunk Lara 2.0 should be ready to go!
This project came full circle when I sent Tess some of the early, high-resolution images from SDCC and she created a final polished piece based on the real-world implementation of her art. In the end, this collaboration began as life imitating art, and concluded with art imitating life! You can see the final (stunning) piece below. If you’re looking for incredible original art or character design, I highly recommend Tess.
That’s all for now! I hope you enjoy the photos! If you have any construction questions, feel free to ask below.