International beauty Etaru came to the United States from Russia in the mid-90s and fell in love with costuming. Her costumes have been featured in a number of international publications like OTACOOL2, and showcased on many news and gaming sites, and on evening news. I’ve also been a cosplay guest of honor and judge in the United States, Norway, and Denmark for World Cosplay Summit, Euro Cosplay, and EuroCosplay Gathering. Read below for the full interview…
Having created accessories and costumes for close to a decade now, what are some of the things that you have learned along the way?
Etaru: I’ve learned quite a few things, physically and emotionally. The most obvious being the craft itself – patterning, tailoring, wig styling, cosmetics, working with different materials and textiles, altering commercial patterns, wing-making, photography and posing, etc. There’s not a project that crosses my path when I don’t learn something new, however minuscule it seems. I’ve also learned quite a few things from the people in this hobby – how helpful and compassionate they can be, how individuals with a common interest can become the closest of friends despite living on opposite ends of the country. Most importantly, and perhaps ironically, I’ve learned to never take this hobby too seriously.
Born in Russia, living in the United States and cosplaying in Copenhagen and Sweden, how have these cultural experiences impacted your decision on who or what to incorporate in your cosplay?
Etaru: I think having cosplayed abroad, it really made me aware of how lucky I am in the United States to have access to all the materials and cosplay companies that we do without much restriction. Several years ago in Russia, cosplayers had to hold off on making the costumes they really wanted to, or invest a lot more money in them than planned just because they didn’t have access to fabrics or wigs that were readily available in other countries. While this is changing with globalization and increased access to specialty stores in China, United States and Japan, I still find myself very lucky to be able to order pretty much anything I need for a costume without excessive financial burden. We’re quite lucky here in the United States with so much entrepreneurship in the hobby! Moreover, going to cosplay events and having interactions with cosplayers from across Europe made me so much more aware of the time and effort put into costumes by Europeans and their healthy trade off of doing characters they really love versus just doing outfits for the wow factor; it motivates me to continue stepping up my own standard of quality and recreating characters I genuinely adore rather than what’s just popular at the time.
Besides the obvious reasons, why are you attracted to strong female leads in regards to costume choices?
Etaru: It may come off as a bit of a blanket statement, but while there are exceptions… in general… I find strong female leads have more structured, rigid and geometrical designs and less ruffles and frills. That type of design is very attractive to me because it requires tailoring and forethought in construction, but also represents the confidence of the woman in wearing such an outfit. I suffered from self esteem and body image issues for many years, so to be able to portray a secure and confident woman for even an hour, it’s very empowering, I suppose it becomes a sort of high!
What is the attraction to Vocaloid shoots?
Etaru: I think it’s the attraction to the series as a whole, with the Yamaha company giving so much control of the software of characters and songs to the fans to do with as they please. It opens up a universal door of creativity and originality for fans who would otherwise feel limited.
What are some of your favorite anime?
Etaru: Such a complicated question! I love video games in a far greater emphasis than anime, and feel really behind on current trends so it’s no surprise most of my favorites are older productions. I adore Sailor Moon, Outlaw Star, X/1999, Angel Sanctuary, Record of Lodoss Wars, Evangelion, Fate/Stay Night and more recently Fate/Zero.
Your Alexiel costume took months to build. Could you tell us a bit about the cosplay creation process and how to stay focused during long period of time?
Etaru: Looking back on this costume now, I realize I could make it much faster with a better choice in materials and construction, but it was such a strong and important learning experience that it was absolutely necessary for my growth to get to where I am now. I started reading the manga Angel Sanctuary in 2006-2007 and was simply smitten with the character of Alexiel, but didn’t have much of a desire to create her as I was still new into cosplay and the thought of a such a difficult costume would have normally intimidated me. After attending Nan Desu Kan in Denver in 2007 and being inspired by costumers there and having long conversations about Angel Sanctuary cosplay with who is now one of my favorite cosplay partners, I convinced myself to make it over the winter for a convention in spring. I went through a lot of difficult times during those months, but kept pushing myself to just get it done in tiered parts, instead of overwhelming myself with the whole project all at once. It was also enjoyable to continue working on it because I was learning so many new skills – patterning my own dress and clincher, sewing my own gloves, designing boot covers, and of course those massive wings. I did a lot of research on how birds’ feathers lay and tried to combine the bone structure of a bird’s wing with the style of Kaori Yuki’s artwork, so they came out looking absolutely unique and original to anything previously made. The harness system was actually what kept stalling the completion, and I eventually had to get the help of my dad and an amazing cosplay prop making friend to get them to sit in the back plate without breaking. The blood and tears were absolutely worth it though, and I look back on it as nothing but a fond learning experience!
Earlier this year you hosted a panel which explored both the cosplayer and photographer points of view, with an emphasis on areas where there’s confusion. For those who aren’t aware, what kind of problems can arise in that situation?
Etaru: I’m very lucky to have done this panel for several years, and as I meet new photographers every year and learn something new each time, I feel like it’s just a plethora of information to include and try to share in a limited time frame. Each interaction is different with each photographer and cosplayer because we all have a different and unique way of doing things, some plan photoshoots months in advance, others carry it out spur of the moment. I’ve done both, and the biggest confusion that can arise usually can be split up into two reasons:
Shooting with a new photographer (or model) can either be the most pleasant experience of the year, or a state of constant awkwardness and confusion, and they usually stem from a lack of communication. General guidelines and preferences have to be set down a little ahead of time so no one feels overlooked- maybe the model doesn’t prefer a certain angle of their face, or the photographer didn’t communicate that they take an hour to set up equipment. It can also carry over into post production of the shoot, like the model not doing his/her research about the photographer’s editing styles and doesn’t like a lot of Photoshop manipulation, or the photographer didn’t review the images with the model post-shoot and chooses to publish less than flattering ones. Communication is essential, and assumption is the worst way to go, so whether photographer or model, just be honest about your expectations so not to set yourself up for disappointment in both parties. The second problem that’s most common in my experiences is one party not being aware of what is being photographed, and it makes perfect sense: how can a photographer deliver an amazing photoshoot accurate to the source material without knowing what he/she is supposed to be photographing? Maybe it’s a Final Fantasy character that is intended to be young and fragile, but is posed in a provocative way, they would never know that’s not accurate to the persona without being told so ahead of time. Again, just communication: let the other person know as much as possible and your expectations for the photos before you begin, I promise it will make everyone’s lives so much easier and you will be more satisfied with the results.
How are you able to work on oneself in order to learn to take criticisms with a grain of salt as a cosplayer? Did peoples comments affect you in the beginning?
Etaru: In the beginning they certainly did, in part because I joined cosplay in a rather transitional phase where cosplayers, fans and commentators started to move away from personal interaction/emailing and into forums, blogs, social networking, and websites promoting anonymity. It was a confusing period as a young woman going from having friends and family commenting on your creative hobby to strangers with no names, and really no way to justify their words when they were harsh or beyond simple constructive criticism. Dealing with that takes building a bit of a tough skin, but also just surrounding oneself with supportive and down to earth people. I think it’s extremely important to have a little faith in yourself and not confuse people’s expectations of humility with denying acknowledgement of your own talents. You can’t control what people think or say, but you can control how they make you feel and how you act on it.
Your general modelling is fantastic. You are incredibly beautiful. Does modelling help you as a cosplayer behind the camera?
Etaru: Thank you very much! I think it has helped me behind the camera more as a photoshoot assistant than as a photographer, because when the camera is in my hands I tend to focus more on technical settings like “is the aperture right?” or “where is that misfiring flash?” rather than on the model and her posture. Realizations of a pose looking unflattering or a hair out of place or a distracting object in the background usually only come to me when editing photos after the shoot; it gives me an awareness of the photo as a whole when I go to shoot the next time, but most likely my attention will be affixed from it if I’m busy being the model or the photographer. My ideal situation is leaving the photographing to someone more experienced than I, and directing the model from the side because I can see imperfections the photographer may not be focused on and the model can’t see because she’s busy…being fabulous!
Seeing cosplayers back in 2005 inspired you to become yourself. What if you were looking at cosplayers in 2012 for the first time? How would your thoughts differ now versus then?
Etaru: If I started cosplay now in 2012, I think I would be too intimidated to even attempt it! I was lucky to see a wide range of cosplays back in 2005 that bred the impression that I could start wherever my skill level allowed, and build up from there because not everyone was perfect, and each person has to start somewhere. With the massive growth of the community in recent years and viral spread over social networking websites, every costume has the possibility of being nitpicked for any reason. While it’s wonderful that the quality of construction, photography and presentation has tremendously increased, I can’t imagine how overwhelming a standard it must set for new hobbyists getting into cosplay with the expectation of just making and wearing costumes for fun. I sincerely hope veteran costumers help out the newcomers and pass on the knowledge and positive experiences we’ve learned when we got into the community, because it certainly isn’t Kansas anymore.
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