The Art of Cosplay: Five of O.C.’s Top Cosplayers Show Off Their Creations

At this month’s WonderCon, an annual convention celebrating all things nerd in Anaheim, you might see these O.C. cosplayers clad in their own creations.

All photos by Mariah Tauger

Karlibraas a demon hunter from the Blizzard video game “Diablo III”
Age 25

→Fan-funded cosplayer through Patreon

“Many people in the cosplay community are shy or outcasts. With dressing up as other characters, I’ve learned to be more confident with the person I am underneath the mask.”

How did you get into cosplay?
I was in a really dark place in my life at the time. I was kind of homeless for a while and staying at my ex-boyfriend’s house temporarily because I didn’t have anywhere else to live. In order to keep myself happy and sane, I’d work on costumes and it gave me something exciting to look forward to.

You also had a makeup line business at that time, but you decided to shut it down?
I ended up shutting it down because cosplay meant more to me. I didn’t know at that time that it would go anywhere. It went from something that cost me a lot of money to something that I get to do thanks to people that support me.

What advice would you give cosplayers who are just starting out?
To have patience. It’s better to do things right the first time than be lazy and have to go back and correct your errors.

What elements do you focus on in your cosplay?
Makeup and transformation. I pay a lot of attention to the colors of my wigs, colors of my makeup, and I spend hours looking for the perfect shade of contacts and eyebrow colors. I really want people to believe that I’ve become the character and I’m not just putting on their clothes or any wig. 

What’s your favorite part about cosplay?
Taking the cosplay off and connecting with the friends that I’ve made through it. Cosplay is a way for people to express themselves, connect with people who like the same things, and a great icebreaker.

What’s next?


Dupree Jones, as Darth Vader from “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”
Age 31
Costa Mesa

→Member of 501st Legion, a cosplay group renowned for handcrafting costume replicas from the “Star Wars” saga

“We love doing events for CHOC. Sometimes, it’s a little hard because some of the kids have terminal illnesses. They have really tough days, and we go in there and try to bring smiles to their faces. They are so surprised that someone would come visit them, let alone Darth Vader.

What drew you to cosplay Darth Vader, specifically?
He’s my favorite character. I researched all the costumes I could do and I felt like if I wanted to take a dive into this, why not take a deep dive and anything after that would’ve been easy.

Tell me more about 501st Legion.
We are a cosplay club that does charitable events. The requirements are you have to build your own costume and that costume has to look like it just stepped out of the movie.

As a member of 501st Legion, what memories have stood out to you as far?
We visited a girl who had double-lung transplant surgery at UCLA Medical Center. She was dubbed “The Littlest Wookie” because her uncle was Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca. He was able to fly her out there and donate to pay for that lung transplant. We made her a rebel pilot helmet and gave it to her during our visit.
At Comic-Con in 2015, I got asked by Wired magazine to strap a GoPro to me and go around the convention force-choking people as Darth Vader. From that video, it blew up. It played on Good Morning America and in a Google commercial before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

How do people react when they see you?
A lot of people don’t know how to react. Many say it brings them back to their childhood. When you embody the character and stay in character at all times, people use their imaginations and feel like you’re the actual character.

What were the main challenges of creating your cosplay?
It was a lot of research, trial and error, and just talking to the different people because nobody has the tools to do everything at home. When I first started, I never knew how to vacuum form plastic or fiberglass or knew much about electronics. I definitely didn’t know how to sew, so it involved a lot of research from photos to getting help from people. You definitely need to do your homework before you start dropping money on this.

Describe the materials you used for your costume.
All the leather is real cowhide that was dyed and the cape is full-length wool and satin. I used car paint on the helmet to give it that shine. Somebody told me when you’re going to make a cosplay like that, don’t skimp and get knock-off materials. You want it to last and you want it to look good.

What’s Next?
WonderCon, San Diego Comic-Con


Richard Schaeferas Belle from “Beauty and the Beast”
Age: 23

→Freelance makeup artist and graduate of Cinema Makeup School

“I started off doing male characters, such as Peter Pan and Aladdin, and I thought, I’m really androgynous. I’m gonna try to be Ariel, my favorite princess, and I did a pretty good job. That’s when I realized I had a knack for makeup.”

How did you get into cosplay?
I saw people doing it online and a big inspiration of mine was Traci Hines. I wanted to do what she did. I just started posting pictures and a lot of people were really interested in what I did because I transformed myself into princesses which is pretty unusual.

What inspires you?
Literature and classical art. My process is very organic. Sometimes, I’ll just be in bed thinking, “Oh, I should do that. I’m gonna do that.”

What does cosplay mean to you?
It’s a really great creative outlet. It always improves my mood when I drag myself out of bed and put makeup on. Cosplay is such a therapeutic process from start to finish. Starting with makeup, then the costume, and finally the wig. You’re just constantly transforming until the very end.

What characters would you want to cosplay in the future?
I want to re-do my cosplay of Esmeralda. I also want to transform into Edith from Crimson Peak. She’s one of my favorite characters.

What’s your favorite part about going to conventions?
Seeing friends. I’ve made so many friends in the cosplay community. Every time there’s a convention, they’re all there at once and I never see them except for conventions. It’s great. It’s like a family reunion.

What’s next?
RuPaul’s DragCon


Tiff Nguyenas Wrath Sonya from the video game “Heroes of the Storm”
Age 30
Lake Forest

→General manager and graphic designer at EpicCosplay Wigs in Tustin

“I’m a very visual person, so when I see badass armor or outfits on a character, I get very inspired. I love making really cool armor and dressing up as empowering, independent, and just badass women.”

How did you get into cosplay?
In 2008, I went to my first convention which is San Diego Comic-Con. I saw a lot of cosplayers there and that really drew me into the community. It was really cool to see people dressed up and it not being Halloween.

Tell me about the process of making this costume.
When I started making this costume, I decided to gamble and work with a new material that I’ve never used. That material is EVA foam and basically, it’s a kind of material that you use at the gym and can get at any hardware store. It’s affordable and light, which is the main reason I wanted to try it for the first time. There were times when I wanted to beat my head into the keyboard because there was so much work. The painting was really hard because I’ve never painted intricate armor before especially armor with gold trimmings. After I finished, it ended up being displayed at the Blizzard headquarters in Irvine. That was huge for me.

How does your graphic design background influence your cosplay?
Because of my graphic design experience, I’ve been able to make patterns for the intricate weapons and props that I make. I actually pull up reference photos and create a pattern on Photoshop to trace. It’s also helped me in in the aspect of knowing color. I took a painting class when I was in college and it has helped so much in painting my armor.

What cosplays are you known for?
Mainly known for doing the armor-heavy stuff. I also mostly cosplay characters from Blizzard video games such as “World of Warcraft,” “Overwatch,” “Heroes of the Storm,” and “Diablo III.”

How has cosplay impacted your life?
I’ve learned problem-solving skills. My dad has these prosthetic legs. They’re very old and he’s too stingy to buy new ones. Through the skills I’ve learned through cosplay, I was able to cover the cracks and repair them. Many of the skills you learn through cosplay, you can apply to everyday life.

What advice do you have for cosplayers who are just starting out?
No matter where you live, the internet is your best friend. There’s literally a tutorial for almost anything. When I started cosplaying, there weren’t a lot of resources for me. I think people should start out small and find stuff at the store or in their closet. For O.C. locals, EpicCosplay Wigs in Tustin is a great resource. Although we are an online-based company, we let customers come in, shop, or pick up their order. We’re there to answer any questions to the best of our ability and give customers tips on styling and taking care of the wig.

What’s next?
WonderCon, San Diego Comic-Con, BlizzCon


Chris Villainas Iceman from “X-Men”
Age 25

→YouTube content creator and social media specialist

“Some cosplayers get their high from the process of building a costume. For me, it’s the feeling that I get when I have it on, and I feel like ‘Hey, I can kick butt today.’ The characters that I cosplay are so different from everyday life that it just pulls me into their world.”

How did you get into cosplay?
I actually started off on YouTube. I’m a singer by trade and sing for the Disney Parks. I didn’t really know that I was technically cosplaying at the time.

What do you think elevates cosplay from just wearing a costume?
Cosplay is more than just putting on a character’s clothes. It’s becoming that character and knowing their background and lore. A lot of cosplayers do this because we’re genuine fans. Maybe for Halloween, you dress up as someone because you think it’ll look cool. With cosplay, we dress up as a character because we love it. This is our lives.

Can you speak about the craftsmanship involved in cosplay?
Every cosplayer in general, but especially at the higher levels of cosplay, all have their own strengths. A lot of the cosplays that I do are very makeup-based. I feel like there’s a lot of aspects to cosplay. When you see a costume, you don’t realize that a lot of that stuff is just made from scratch and it looks so good. I have a huge admiration for armor builders. I’m a pretty good fabricator in terms of sewing, but armor is not my forte. So anytime I see a good armor build, I think, “Yes, you’re so good at your work!”

Can you tell me more about you how you put this cosplay together?
As far as the makeup goes, it’s all airbrush makeup. I start with a few underlines to give it depth. Any shadow areas, I contour in blue. Once I see it kind of coming together, I’ll put another layer of white to set everything into place. The ice crystals actually come in a kit. It’s an Ice FX kit. It comes in a jar of different-sized crystals with a gel. I rub the gel in the areas I want iced and literally just pat the crystals on. Finally, there’s very fine ice powder that acts as the final layer. It looks very nice in the aftermath of it all, but the process is very messy.

Describe a proud moment you’ve had as a member of the cosplay community.
Last year at WonderCon, I was able to be a moderator on a panel. Some of the cast of The Walking Dead were there as well as big names in the makeup and movie industries. It was one of those panels where people were lined up hours in advance and the room was gigantic. I feel like if anything that would’ve been like, “Hey, I’m doing good. I could be doing worse.” 

What role do you see cosplay having in terms of a future career path?
I feel like I cosplay because there’s a creative part of me that needs to be let out. There’s a lot of stuff in my career path because I grew up doing theatre. One day, I would love to bring characters like this to a show on Broadway. I also produce a lot of music videos on YouTube where things are very editorial or bizarre. One day, I can hopefully make a living doing this and inspire people to just be weird.

What’s next?
WonderCon, Anime Pasadena


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