Cosplay Feature: Steampunk Lara Croft


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.

  • [HAIR]
    • Keep: Long, brown braid
    • Update: Victorian styling in the front
    • Keep: Red lenses
    • Update: Transform to nose spectacles
  • [TOP]
    • Keep: Color, general shape
    • Update: Transform leotard into vest, with intricate white undershirt
    • Keep: Color, general shape
    • Update: Scion belt buckle, silver hardware accents
  • [Gloves]
    • Keep: Color, fingerless
    • Update: Accent with lace
  • [SHORTS]
    • Keep: Color, length
    • Update: Inspired by pantaloons
  • [Backpack]
    • Keep: Color, general shape, and twin silver buckles
    • Update: Transform into a jetpack
    • Keep: Color, size
    • Update: Add steampunk accents, chains w/TRIV ankhs
  • [BOOTS]
    • Keep: Color, height, red laces, white socks
    • Update: Transform into spats w/white lacy stockings
  • [Other]
    • 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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

That’s all for now! I hope you enjoy the photos! If you have any construction questions, feel free to ask below.

Steampunk Lara Croft WIP

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Steampunk Lara Croft Gallery

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20 thoughts on “Cosplay Feature: Steampunk Lara Croft

  1. very very cool. love this outfit ,your cosplay outfits and props always look pro. well done gurl x

  2. Hey, sorry, I can’t seem to comment on your “What would I do if I were not afraid” blog. Bravo on the piece. I had a question, however. You seem to imply that Game Informer was supportive rather than a source of sexism – is this true?

  3. Wow… you are a true cosplay artiste. I love the detail you put into your works, esp. the backpack/jetpack assembly and the wear-and-tear on the guns. PLEASE keep up the incredible work!

  4. All I can say is….wow! As a fan of Steampunk and Lara Croft, I am surprised no one tried this before. This is perfect! You’ve outdone yourself.

  5. Game Informer was incredibly supportive, Steve! They encouraged me to stand up for myself several times when I was too nervous to say anything.

  6. Hi Meagan,

    An apology if this is in the wrong section, I prefer to comment directly on your site rather than GI. I recently became aware of your ongoing harassment after reading GI’s post on the topic and my inner nerd told me to write something about it.

    I feel that aiming your reticule of threat and discrimination at fellow gamers contradicts the very spirit of gaming. Whether seeking to elicit emotions of excitement, fear, or pure bliss, fun is what dominates the genetic structure of all games, digital or real-world.

    Holding a controller, manipulating a mouse and keyboard, gripping a softball bat, or palming a pair of dice are all very different in terms of physical action yet nearly identical in terms of pleasure extraction. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cleats and a glove or sporting a robe and wizard’s hat; it’s all about enjoying yourself.

    If you aren’t having fun, in games or life in general, then something is amiss and it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself why. Put yourself in your own analytical crosshairs. Distressing others with unprovoked insults is not a valid deposit into your personal fun-bank; it’s a doubly levied fine that forces your balance to greatly diminish.

    Flip the Reality Switch

    Like you, I enjoy videogames as an escape from life’s daily pressure-cooker situations. Games such as Gran Turismo bore me to no end because they recreate events that already occur in the real world. I prefer altered gravity, swerving into the wrong lane on a motorcycle to pop wheelies over oncoming traffic, triple-jumping across inexplicably placed chasms, and instant access to a full repository of weaponry that couldn’t possibly squeeze into my invisible knapsack, replete with near-unlimited ammo.

    While meant to be fun, great videogames also have a tendency to briefly dominate your existence. After spending countless hours immersed within an imaginary realm you start to feel a very strong connection to it. You commit to memory its landscape, enemy patterns, highly specialized rules of gameplay, and can sometimes recognize by sound alone that trouble is imminent. And if both the game and your connection to it are deep enough you’ll long to revisit its world whenever life’s countless distractions finally stop impeding your return.

    Boors Will be Boors

    Working in an office with more than 50 consorts has repeatedly proven that some people simply lack filters within their brain. Title or rank have no bearing on this behavior, they just blurt out whatever comes to mind without regard for how their comments affect the people they’re speaking to and others within earshot. Combine those unfiltered outbursts with the male psyche’s intrinsic desire to recognize and announce beauty—sometimes exacerbated by alcohol or other inhibition-shedding substances—and you’re brewing a recipe for offense.

    This is how I imagine internal monologue within unfiltered gray matter: Bayonetta’s skintight hair-suit and furious gun-boots are incredibly sexy. There’s a girl over there dressed just like her! How did she know about my affinity? She must’ve dressed like that just for dudes like me. I bet something positive will happen if I go tell her how much her rack resembles the ‘real’ thing. How could that possibly go wrong? That’s exactly why she’s here at the show, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately, these antics will always exist. Every single industry has a dark side because it’s nigh impossible to escape the douche bottles that somehow find employment within the ranks of stand-up citizens. The occurrence of random encounters greatly increases when commingling with the general public, as you’ve experienced firsthand. Major accolades are due for assuming your role as crusader of justice and exposing the offenders as all-too-common trolls.

    Although initially unsettled by that infamously graceless CEO’s oafish comment and the recent incident at PAX East, you’ve seriously leveled up your life’s experience meter by pressing on and treating those unfortunate situations as mere obstacles on your road to success. A partial measure of true success, and doubly important, happiness, is one’s ability to quickly rebound from setbacks. Knowing who you are, what you stand for, and not being afraid to put yourself out there for the world to inevitably judge are highly commendable traits that require abundant courage. I doubt either of those cretins can demonstrate a tenth of your valor and are still searching for the inner tranquility you’ve obviously discovered.

    Applause for Cos

    I fully understand how an artist could be compelled to dress up as their favorite character. If the aforementioned connection is strong enough and you possess the innumerable skills required to grant real-world access to a fantasy-world individual, what’s to stop you? It’s so very easy, right? Just mix moxie and mettle, fortitude and heart, lots of patience with even more perseverance, then pile on spunk and boundless creativity to make it all form like Voltron.

    Pouring your enthusiasm for an entertainment medium into such a complex craft goes far beyond a love of games and comics. I think if more outside observers realize the full scope of dedication and resources that go into each and every one of your professional projects there’d be far fewer haters.

    Many have failed in showing appreciation for the positive influence cosplayers have on conventions. All in attendance should consider themselves lucky to score an up-close glimpse at cosplayers’ custom-crafted creations. How else are our favorite characters going to walk among us? We need cosplayers like you to make them truly breathe.

    I was going to suggest a Wonder Woman project as a metaphor for your triumph over oppression but a quick Google search revealed you’ve already donned that suit. It most certainly fits you well.

    Warmest regards,


  7. This is some of the most original and awesome Lara Croft cosplay I’ve ever seen! You rock, Meagan!

  8. Really nice, and unexpected version of Lara!
    I have some game modding hobby, so I can try to create your character, and put it into the game, for some future project steampunk mod, if you do not mind of course …

  9. Ok, I am start with the gun:
    By the way, how it should be calls?

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