Welcome to what is probably going to be the most popular page here on my website where I get to delve into the lives of some of the best Cosplayers I’ve come to know and respect for their craft.
I knew immediately who was going to be my first Cosplayer to be featured because she’s my favorite…and she also happens to be a friend…so yes, my choice is biased, but after you read my Bio here about her, and you see the artist’s work yourself, I think you’ll agree she is worthy of the praise!
I originally approached her with the idea as an interview, but then after seeing that she’s been interviewed before and I pretty much know the answers to all the basic questions, I decided to go for a more exciting angle to this article and introduce you to Damaris how I know and love her. I’ll of course be incorporating several of the questions one would typically like to know within the write up from time to time.
Fem-Wolverine Cosplay for DragonCon 2011, 2013 and 2017
Like, I know she’s been practicing her craft for ten years now, which happens to be as long as we’ve been friends. She’s not only an artist as you’ll see through her cosplays, but she also happens to be an artist professionally as a graphic designer and digital illustrator along with being an instructor in the design field.
Even though, I fully believe, she could easily make a living off of being a Cosplay sensation, it’s only a hobby for her. Her other interests include body building, sky diving, racquet ball, painting, and anything Sci-Fi.
What sets her apart as a great cosplayer is that she can do it all. She makes much of her own props and costumes and sculpts her body with body building to get into a particular character. True dedication!
If she has a deadline or a serious time crunch she has incorporated help before with getting her part ready like with sewing and electronics, but she is fully involved no-matter-what. I know this first hand because she approached me to help her with her Star Wars Commander Cody Clonetrooper armor she sported at Celebration V. I had a lot of fun with it and with her as we crunched away in my garage getting it ready for Orlando’s first hosting of Star Wars Celebration in 2010.
Yes, she can do it all, but there are some things that one has to have help with, and that’s with body painting. Here is a really cool shot of her getting body painted by the incredibly talented Nick Wolfe for her DC Killer Croc.
Quest of the Muscle Nerd Trailer, Killer Croc Cosplay body painting for DragonCon 2017 by Nick Wolfe
The Fun Loving, Lighter Side of Mystique the Comedian
Having fun is “A” #1 for her, which probably is what the secret of her success is as a premier Cosplayer. Truly, it is one of my favorite qualities that I love about her. I’ll let the gallery of pictures tell the story to how funny and witty she is:
This Great Cosplayer is a Great Cosmaker…Mystique Shares Her Knowledge
No secrets here. She enjoys sharing how she does her magic with anyone who wants to know. It’s a way of spreading the passion. Some of my favorite pictures when I’m browsing through any cosplayer’s gallery of pics are the WIP (work in progress) shots. Damaris has TONS of them. In fact, if you’ve read any of my blog posts, chances are you may have seen me use some of her WIP pics already. I need to convince her to maybe someday have a blog of her own…she has better and a lot more behind the scenes, WIP shots than I do.
True Dedication and Authenticity to the Character to be Cosplayed
Lady Bane Cosplay for DragonCon 2014
If you were to ask her which is her favorite Cosplay she’s done thus far she would tell you her Lady Bane that she successfully pulled off for DragonCon 2014 because of all the work she put into it and how well it paid off…like gaining 8lbs of lean muscle.
Because she’s a comic book junkie she’ll get most of her research just by what she’s read and knows exactly where to look for more information to study her desired character to portray. She’s also addicted to the SyFy Channel, the latest Marvel or DC film that’s released, Star Wars, Star Trek, and the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica just to name a few, so she can easily get plenty of character reference to copy in her chosen cosplays.
But it’s her strength and perseverance through uncomfortable situations that a costume may require; like crazy contact lenses, heavy wigs or tight fitting corsets that has a straining effect on the body, which defines her dedication the most.
She does enjoy the body building portion, though…but who wouldn’t with the results she gets and the beautiful physique she has.
So without any further delays, my chosen picks that I give to you:
The Best of Mystique’s World of Cosplay Gallery of Photos
DC Comics Cosplays
Marvel Comics Cosplays
Star Wars Cosplays
Collaborated Action Poses
Out of Cosplay
Sons are the anchor to a mothers life.
If you were to ask Damaris what her greatest achievement in life is, she would say being a mother to two beautiful twin boys which is a forever, ongoing happy endeavor. In her own words about Justin and Ethan, “The world did me a favor by giving me two of you. Although you are each unique, you share the same wonderful qualities that only twins share. Ethan Degen and Justin Degen. Born June 1st, 2006 at 7:24pm and 7:25pm. I got double the blessing and twice the love!”
Twice the hugs, twice the fun, twice the laughs and twice the proud moments. She needs twice the energy, too, to keep up with two boys…I can see where she gets her juices flowing to pull off three or four different cosplays for past DragonCons. Maybe, it’s the other way around…she got twin boys because forces knew she could handle the glorious task of raising them in a fast paced modern world we live in today.
Here are some of my favorite pictures and selfies of Damaris Out of Cosplay:
Earlier I told you one of her hobbies is painting…check out these samples of her work, including some sketches, I pulled from her collection:
So not only is she a terrific sculptor and 3D artist through her Cosplays…she’s a great 2D graphic artist and painter as well. Her background in fine arts she credits to her success with any artistic task she conquers.
There are times at a comic convention, believe it or not, that an Out of Cosplay experience happens more frequently then you’d think. It’s mostly about the people and friends you hang out with and Damaris feeds off these times the most.
I don’t go to conventions just to show off my craft or to express my fandom with others.. What drives me the most is to be with people that I consider to be family.. like all these faces right here! THAT’s what conventions has done for me.
Our History Together: A Shout Out to The TCF!
DragonCon Colonial Fleet photoshoot.
Damaris and I first met on a forum for Battlestar Galactica fans called the Colonial Fleet Quorum, where we hit it off right away talking about props and her first and still planned attempt at her Borg Queen from Star Trek First Contact motion picture Cosplay she aspires to do someday. It’s still my favorite makeup FX of all time and hers too. We saw that we were local and met face to face for the first time at a TCF (The Colonial Fleet) gathering of the first Iron Man movie release in the summer of 2008. Since then, a few Cons, gatherings and 10th floor Marriot parties later, along with a Clonetrooper armor build together has been a complete pleasure being around this fun-loving friend and Queen of Cosplay.
She’s not the only true friend I made at the TCF…a dozen more immediately comes to mind when I think back at all the past events involving these Frakkers. I miss you all and I am soon coming back out of the shadows of lost time.
Here is what Damaris feels about The Colonial Fleet:
Today [December 9, 2017] is the 14th year anniversary of one of the GREATEST shows of all times, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA!! This show changed my life as a geek, introduced me to the best group in the FRAKKIN world AKA: The Colonial Fleet, as well as giving me the best hobby: costuming! It also brought me closer to my fandom and I got to experience many wonderful once-in-a-life-time events such as the BSG auctions ran by Propworx. I raise my Top Gun mug to all you frakkers that share the same feelings as I.. So Say We All.. Thank You Ron D Moore for BSG!
…So Say We ALL!
Notoriety and Publication Appearances
DragonCon2017 Co-hosting a panel on body building for costuming
I knew I had to include this section to my write up on her because it tells you just how well received she is in the Cosplay community. I’m going to include only a few of these because there is so many and also when I asked her to list them to me, she couldn’t remember all the different publications that have featured her in the past.
First I need to give you the link to her Facebook Fan Page here because it is definitely an important achievement, it’s her publication.
Next is her Instagram account here. Go and follow her if you have Instagram. She’ll continue to update you on what she posts next.
Trailer for Quest of the Muscle Nerd where Mystique makes a cameo appearance with her Killer Croc Cosplay for DragonCon 2017. She was also invited to be a guest co-host for a panel on body building for costuming, and a judge for the competition: https://www.facebook.com/JayShettyIW/videos/1995740577407064/
Aside from a few calendars she’s appeared in, here is a few publications and links to past interviews:
Perhaps the best notoriety, ironically, is something she wouldn’t want or need the attention for, and that is when she joined forces with Costumers With a Cause and has volunteered for Toys for Tots, Freedom Riders, and Free Comic Book Day benefiting BASE Camp, just to name a few…where she gets to dress up and interact with children in special circumstances.
Thanks for the Fun Ride, Mystique, We’re So Looking Forward to More!
Isis (Damaris Degen of Mystique’s World of Cosplay) and Skull Knight (me) at DragonCon 2011
One question I did ask her recently, which I was reluctant to ask because I thought I should have known already was why she picked the alias Mystique for her Cosplay name. The answer was really simple…Mystique is just her favorite X-Man…
I don’t know if she realized this when picking the name, or you as the reader figured out while reading about her, that Mystique is the BEST most PERFECT name for a Cosplayer. Think about it…Mystique’s mutant power is shape shifting, and a really good cosplayer, as Damaris is, has the ability to change into any character she chooses…Bravo! I can’t wait for the next adventure with Damaris at Mystique’s world of Cosplay!
I’ve seen some other cosplay attempts at Skull Knight and they were okay, but I’ll tell you right away here that the secret to the success of this armor build and what sells it is the form or tight fitting of the skull helmet on the head. The others were too large because their helmets were designed to put on over the head, so it had to be large, like a motorcycle helmet so it gave a bobble head effect. I made my helmet hinge at the top with the natural seam down the side where SK’s (Skull Knight’s) rivets show up giving a slim skull effect like the pages of the manga.
This post is a complete tutorial on building a full armor costume for the Berserk manga series by Kentarō Miura. It is different than my other tutorials where, here, I tell you how I did it instead of instructing you what you should do. I freely confess that this is the more difficult, time consuming, and more expensive way of going about it. So I know most of you wanting to build your own may not go about it this way. The way I chose to build it is how a production company would go about it, maybe, and gives it a higher quality with durability and control of detail.
The costume was conceived out of the Life sized bust I and @berserkstatues of skullknight.net collaborated on and produced as a collectible statue. One of the recipients of the bust commissioned me to make the full armor costume build for him to cosplay in. Fortunately for me I had the privilege to test fit it and cosplay myself at a few cons to get the kinks out. Fun Times!
Skull Knight Bust from Berserk Manga
Reference from the pages of Berserk manga of Skull Knight
So I’m going to start this tutorial from the skull down since that’s how it began. I’ll update my Instagram account with posts promoting each section as I complete it. If you clicked on a link that took you here and I’m not finished, follow me if you have an Instagram profile and you’ll get updates as I complete each section. I’ll also be sharing on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
Skull Knight from Berserk manga WIP clay sculpture
As a trained special effects makeup artist and prop maker I immediately knew that I was going to sculpt the skull and most of the armor out of clay first and then make molds to give me maximum control of detail and function. Again, I know this is not the efficient and least expensive way that most cosplayers would taught about, but it is the way I know best as a professional.
I began by studying the manga and receiving a small scaled statue from Derek of @berserkstatues for reference material and made measurement conversions to life size.
To begin sculpting, I mounted a realistic looking skull prop, as an armature, on a board and began wrapping clay on it keeping some of the shape intact to help me keep defining the skull. However, it took a lot of clay to get the scaled measurement that the armature skull detailing only helped at the beginning. Plus, SK has defining character features, like his brow, that’s separate from a real skull.
Another recognizable aspect to SK is the spikes on his forehead, which I used a different type of clay, known as Roma #3, that is more rigid and holds detail better. I had to wrap the clay around stiff gauged aluminum wire to maintain the spike shape and stab it into place on the clay forehead.
Once I received approval from Derek I then proceeded to the molding stage of the helmet. I wanted to begin molding right away so I could then cast a rigid piece from the mold to use for fitting and sculpting the spiked collar, because I know I would have damaged a clay sculpture otherwise.
I carefully removed each of the nine spikes from his forehead and made a two part poor mold. (see pic below)
For the skull helmet, I decided to use my case molding skills as I believed it was the best method of molding this type of plug (original sculpture to be molded). If I haven’t done it yet, I fully intend to do another tutorial on case molding alone soon. See pictures below for the case molding method.
Once the mold was finished and I removed the sculpture from the new mold, I was able to cast a rigid (fiberglass) piece to have for the spiked collar build. A hard piece was important to keep from damaging a clay, delicate, sculpture had I used it.
I want to take a little time giving the formula I used for casting fiberglass pieces from molds.
First skim coat inside empty mold, 1 part polyester body filler (bondo) mixed with 1 part polyester high building sandable primer, catalyzed together with each respectable hardener. Allow to cure until gloss sheen is replaced with a dull matte surface.
A putty with a pudding like consistency made of polyester fiberglass resin mixed with cabosil/aerosol micro-balloons. WHERE A MASK WHEN MIXING! The putty after mixing and adding methyl ethyl ketone peroxide for hardening is brushed in to smooth out the hard lined detailing of the mold to inhibit air bubbles when laying down fiberglass matte.
Polyester fiberglass resin catalyzed with the same methyl ethyl ketone peroxide above wetting fiberglass matte sheets and forcing it to lay over top of the inside of the mold with no air between layers.
The reason I like to use my mix of bondo/polyester primer first instead of the popular gel coat method is because once I “pop” a fresh piece from the mold I can sand smooth any imperfections from the casting or even my sculpture if I didn’t get all my fingerprints out of the clay sculpt before molding.
I chose to sculpt the collar and spikes out of foam because most of the surface is symmetrical, smooth and the shapes could easily be captured more efficiently with foam. See my blog post on sculpting to see the benefits and tools used for working with foam.
Even though I was able to achieve quick results with the foam, I was immediately slowed down by having to fiberglass and bondo over the foam to get the smooth, hard shell needed for molding. Anyone who has bondoed before knows how much sanding has to be done…this took forever, it seems, bet well worth it to get the desired outcome. The spikes were to be silicone poor molded, where the collar, I chose to do a hard fiberglass mold. I only molded one of the spikes, since they are all the same.
Skull Knight life sized bust fiberglass sculpture, pre-mold, pre-paint
Introducing Trent the Mannequin
I’d like to introduce you to Trent, a main contributor to the project. He’s slim and strong and never complains about anything, even when he’s been “taken apart at the seams…”
Trent the mannequin from Barr Display supply for Skull Knight build
Having a mannequin to build off of is probably the first thing I thought of using to be able to create this costume fully. It was important because I could work on other parts of the costume independently from other sections while some armor parts were occupying areas of the mannequin that were being molded. It was also nice to have someway of assembling the costume onto a subject seeing how it would look and function all together.
3D reference for sculpting armor. Art of War’s 1/10 scale Skull Knight statue
Before I show my progress on the armor any further I thought I’d give you a shot of the new reference I used for scale, shape and style for the costume. I can’t believe the client trusted me with this VERY rare Japanese Toys R Us Exclusive. The statue was never sold directly through Art of War, which goes to show the dedication to the success of the project.
Breastplate Merger With Spiked Collar
Clay can get extremely heavy when building up it’s thickness for any sculpture, particularly whole body armor, so I began bulking up the mannequin armature with plastic wrap and duct tape to reduce the amount of clay I had to use. Clay can also be quite difficult to remove as it leaves behind a smooth layer as you would try to scrape it off, especially during a hot Florida summer as the clay becomes softer and more sticky. So a pleasant surprise I had by using plastic and duct tape first insured a clean mannequin when complete.
As you can see from the pictures above, I included the fiberglass collar as part of the breastplate and back shoulder armor to eventually be molded as one unit. The stomach and back scale armor is part of the solid unit, but after casting it all as one out of the mold, you’ll see how I separated it all as a movable unit.
Brush molding with silicone was my choice of capturing the sculpture. See pics below.
I casted the part out of fiberglass using my formula from above.
What’s nice about armor builds that may require aging and/or hammered metal look is that the surface doesn’t always need to be perfectly smooth. Sculpting out of clay can leave fingerprints and imperfect surfaces and tool marks during the sculpting process. This was my plight and I was able to sand a lot of it off after casting, but I purposefully left some visible for that weathered look which helped me with the paint job as well.
Arms and Legs Armor
Again, having a mannequin to work off of was a great advantage for me. I was able to disassemble him and work on different parts of the costume as other parts occupied his main body. The mannequin’s arms, for example, were small enough that I could work with the sculptures and molds on a table top for ease and comfort.
As I completed a clay sculpture section of the arms, like the forearm gauntlet, or the boot armor of the legs, I would immediately mold them and cast a solid fiberglass piece before going on to the next section of the appendage. This was to avoid taking the chance of damaging the finished clay sculpture, had I kept going with clay all the way up. Another words I took it one step at a time. See various stages of the sculpting and casting below in pics.
Even though most sections of the armor build started off in the clay stage, I sometimes went with a different material for the original sculpture like I did for the beginning of the spiked collar build. Another section I chose to use something other than clay first is the gauntlets for SK’s arms. White EPS foam gave me a quick shaping, but then I foiled and fiberglassed and then bondoed the surface hard and smooth for molding.
EPS foam beginning sculpture of Skull Knight gauntlet build
The knee guards were fabricated by using generic knee guards I found at a thrift shop in the tool section. Once I had a mold for the spike coming off the back of SK’s boot, I used multiple castings of that spike for the knee guards. A mold of the completed knee guard was then made for fiberglass reproduction.
Sword And Shield Fabrication
Once again I took the 1/10 scaled measurements of the statue and converted it to 1:1 scale for the sword and shield in this case. Zero clay work for these parts, but after fabricating each piece I made a mold, of course, for both of them. I had success with making only half or one side of Guts’ Dragon slayer sword and molding it so I was able to cast two parts and put them together, therefore, I repeated the same concept with Skull Knight’s sword. The hilt for the sword and the build up down the thickness of the shaft of the sword was a foam base fiberglassed and finished with bondo. The thorns on the hilt was added with Apoxy Sculpt. See pics below.
The shield started out as EPS foam. Once I had the right shape and size, I glued aluminum foil with spray adhesive over the foam to protect it from the resin melting it away during the fiberglass process. After the fiberglass fully cured and hardened, I bondoed and sprayed high building polyester primer over the finished sanded bondo and sanded, sanded and sanded even more to get it perfectly smooth. The thorny rose emblem on the center of the shield was added with Apoxy Sculpt. The shield mold was a fiberglass hard mold instead of silicone. I just had to wax the heck out of it and made sure there wasn’t any “locks” in the sculpture.
Fitting The Armor
I took my experience of making a complete Star Wars clonetrooper suit and applied it here with SK’s armor. Much of the same concepts, materials and applications were used to make Skull Knight a successful cosplay. Below is a simplified drawing of the strapping system used on both the clonetrooper and Skull Knight.
Strapping system for Skull Knight costume. Identical to Star Wars clonetrooper
The blue straps represent 1″ non-roll elastic (black). The black straps are 1″ black webbing. Red and yellow is for 1.5 ” heavy stretch elastic (black). The belt made of the black 1″ webbing material is fitted with a parachute buckle and the end straps have the female portion of 5/8″ metal snaps where the male snap sections are epoxied to the cooresponding inside surface of the armor where the strap connects. The stomach and back scale armor is worn being held up by suspenders made out of the 1″ non-roll elastic.
The spiked collar and the connected rib cage not represented her is just a slip-on over the head, resting on the shoulders with foam for comfort to inhibit the weight.
Other materials used to facilitate functional costume fabrication were as follows: super glue, Velcro, epoxie glue, cushion foam for padding, hot glue, rivets, grommets,string laces, and leather belts.
Another very important part of selling this costume is with the very first thing the cosplayer will put on before any of the armor and that is a full BLACK one piece lycra spandex bodysuit with hood and jaw cover so that any exposed body part not covered by armor appears black and unnoticed.
But first before the armor gets fitted on a real body, Trent the mannequin gets the honors of putting on the suit of armor for the first time.
Let The Painting Begin!
I’d like to share with you one of my favorite tricks when I go to surface armor builds before painting. It replaces the use of primer and leaves a good hammered/weathered effect to the costume. The product is called rubberized undercoating for automotive use.
My first step before painting any weathered armor effect.
It sprays on black with a bumpy texture and dries quickly so it doesn’t run or drip. The adhesion is incredible and paint sticks to it as well as a good primer. The texture is that of a hammered metal look and helps with the dry brushing step in the paint job.
A total of only four colors was used to achieve the finished costume (with the exception of a few more colors for the sword and shield).
Modern Masters Iridescent Silver (opaque formula) – First coat sprayed on over entire armor.
Acrylic latex Burnt Sienna and Black with a touch of the Iridescent Silver mixed with 65% water – A brushed on dark “wash” in sections immediately wiped off with cotton rag for dark recess accent appearance.
Acrylic latex White mixed with the Iridescent Silver – Dry brush technique accenting high points and hard line detail.
Skull Knight armor painted and test fitted
Cape And Kilt
I found a terrific drapery material at Joann Fabrics that was light and had a good texture that matched the SK model I used for reference. It was important that I ripped and fringed the bottom of each the cape and the kilt to give it a worn, aged look. I had to tear it and not cut, because cutting with the scissors is too obviously square cut and clean.
Both the kilt and cape were cut to size and female snaps were installed several inches apart at the top inside of the fabric and the male receiving snaps were superglued at the corresponding points inside the armor for installation. I used thin black liquid leather dye to darken the drape fabric.
Fitting The Costume On A Person
A VERY important step when getting ready to fit the armor on a person with this particular costume, made of fiberglass, is making sure it’s clean and devoid of any sharp burrs of glass and fiberglass dust. OUCH and ITCHY!
The Cosplayer sporting this armor has to have a handler with them. The legs and arms are easy enough by themselves, but the collar and rib cage with attatched shoulder spiked armor has to be carefully slipped over the head. The opening of the rib cage/spiked collar armor is large enough for the person to have put the helmet on first, but if he so chooses to wait until after slipping on the chest and shoulders, the helmet will need to be put on by the handler. Arm reach is limited with everything on.
I know what you’re thinking, “DAH–No Kidding! Of course I’m using props to go along with my getup!” In fact I would venture to say the weapon is probably the first thing finished or obtained before the costume is ready for showing off. This entry is about different ways to make and use your prop weapon as a way to save money and keep it light and safe, but also looking great. Not every weapon here is done by me. I’ve asked a couple of talented artists I know if I can feature their work here because what they did looks great and they kept it on a low budget.
It’s amazing what spray paint and some dry brushing can do. She even took the time to drill out the many small holes on the flash hider at the end of the barrel giving it a more authentic look. Great Job Damaris!
Along the same idea as buying the form and then painting is purchasing an airsoft rifle or gun which is what I did for DragonCon one year. I got the airsoft to go with my viper suit in combat mode for the parade with The Colonial Fleet. It was an incredibly easy paint job because it was already black. I just dry brushed some silver highlights to make it look metallic and not plastic. Both the toy and the airsoft are light weight so carrying them around all day is a breeze.
Airsoft Rifle from eBay silver highlights painted for realism.
Building your weapon from scratch is not as easy, but it is very rewarding and a lot of fun. The challenge is to find the right materials at the right price. Here is an example of an accessory my friend made for his son for Halloween. This is how he described
Leather strapped PVC handle and Foam floor mat head.
the process of fabricating it: “I drew the axe head pattern on a large sheet of paper and cut it out. I then traced it onto foam floor mat and flipped the pattern and traced it onto another piece of foam floor mat so I had two halves of the axe to sandwich the PVC handle between. I then glued them together with contact cement. I used a dremmel tool to shape the axe blade and pick. I wrapped the handle to look like a leather grip. The foam head was sealed with two layers of modge podge and then spray painted the whole thing black. Then I dry brushed the metal parts with silver paint, painted brown over the leather parts and dry brushed a lighter brown on the leather.” Thanks Jack…looks great!
Much of my work, however, was not so easy. Some how, I seam to end up doing things the hard and expensive way, but the pieces I’ve made are durable and can be made again because I make molds for about everything I produce. Having a mold means you could make several and you can experiment with casting in different materials. Fiberglass, pour resin casting, or foam are usually the choices of media to manufacture in.
It is a long withstanding or known rule that when bringing a prop firearm with you to a Comic Convention that you paint the tip red or orange for easy visibility to let Con folk and staff know that your piece is fake or harmless.
I hope that this may have been a little inspiring for you to get motivated and be thinking and executing your plans for the next convention you’ll be attending. Prop weapons are a must and there is nothing like posing for pics by excited Con guests wishing that they had a cool prop to go with their costume.