Tailoring cosplay fantasies

For Jarod Yip, bringing people's favourite characters to life by crafting elaborate costumes is a labour of love

Give Mr Jarod Yip some ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, resin casting, cardboard and wood, and he can transform these ordinary raw materials into elaborate outfits and props for cosplayers.

Inspired by big multi-genre entertainment and comic conventions like the San Diego Comic-Con and Dragon Con in the US, the 20-year-old basks in the attention that his costumes receive at local conventions.

And he also enjoys how cosplayers use his work to become their favourite characters from manga, anime, comic books, cartoons, video games and television series.

"Putting pieces together is a joy to watch, and it feels good to know that you came up with your own designs from scratch," said the final- year animation student at Lasalle College of the Arts.

With the Anime Festival Asia (AFA) starting tomorrow and running till Sunday, he is rushing to put the final touches on three more costumes. Held at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre this year, AFA is the region's largest and most followed Japanese popular culture and anime festival.

Mr Yip gets really busy a few weeks before events like the AFA and GameStart Asia in Singapore as he has to juggle his time between his studies and his passion for creating costumes.

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

I don't mind turning this into a full-time job, although I don't think I'll make a ton of money doing this. Seeing my creations at conventions, that satisfies me.

MR JAROD YIP, who hopes to turn his passion into a career.

His bedroom in his parents' four-room HDB flat and a corner in the stairwell become his work studio, where he cuts, sews and spray-paints his projects.

It usually starts with brainstorming and sketching out ideas on paper, cross referencing the images from Google, and then creating a shopping list of odds and ends and costume parts.

While he acknowledges the challenge of doing something without an instruction manual, he enjoys the laborious process of discovery and creation, which also takes his mind off the stress of schoolwork.

Mr Yip became interested in making his own costumes about 14 months ago after watching YouTube videos of cosplay conventions in the US.

He had been working part-time as a cleaner to support his family and help pay for his studies but he did not like that job, and learning how to make his own cosplay costumes could lead to an alternative source of supplementary revenue.

However, he knew nothing about working with EVA foam, a flexible material used in a lot of costumes. He found out by going to a cosplay convention and asking around about the kinds of material used on different outfits and where to source the cheapest supplies.

Generous strangers shared their knowledge and pointed him in the right direction, allowing him to practise by creating simple props in the beginning. Mr Yip said he used up "many rolls of foam" to get better at his craft.

Paying it forward, he now helps others who are also interested in foam-crafting, teaching them the techniques he uses and telling them where to get the basic materials.

His costumes are commissioned by peers or strangers he meets at local conventions.

He makes an average of 12 costumes a year, ranging in price from $30 for a simple mask to $600 for a full-sized costume. His earnings help pay for his course fees.

He posts his creations - such as traditional Japanese armour, mediaeval costumes and sci-fi gear - on his Facebook page "Ronin Cosplay".

But it is not just about the money for Mr Yip, who hopes to become a professional cosplay costume and props maker. "I don't mind turning this into a full-time job, although I don't think I'll make a ton of money doing this," he said.

"Seeing my creations at conventions, that satisfies me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Tailoring cosplay fantasies'. Print Edition | Subscribe