We talk to artist Laura Mercer about her cos­play cre­ations – and what it takes to make a full-body Hog­ger cos­tume

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This month we chat to a cos­player whose mon­strous cre­ations re­ally have to be seen to be be­lieved.

There’s no short­age on­line of fans’ real-life in­ter­pre­ta­tions of their vir­tual heroes, and while fa­mous faces such as Lara Croft and Solid Snake are firm cos­play favourites, other artists aspire to bring more niche char­ac­ters to life, ones whose de­signs are beyond the realms of pos­si­bil­ity for all but the most tal­ented and ded­i­cated cos­tume artists. Artists such as Laura Mercer, aka Kaz­play, whose work in­cludes in­tri­cately de­tailed and ex­tremely life­like replica cos­tumes of some of gam­ing’s coolest crea­tures. Mercer re­gards her full-body cos­tume of World Of War­craft’s Hog­ger as her most am­bi­tious cos­play to date. Such an elab­o­rate un­der­tak­ing as this re­quires a lot of pre­lim­i­nary work, as she ex­plains: “I started by do­ing lots of sketch­ing and mak­ing lists of fea­tures I wanted to try to have. I spent a lot of time re­search­ing and test­ing new ma­te­ri­als I wanted to use. I sculpted ma­que­ttes to help me get an idea of the forms and scope of the body shap­ing I needed. I took my tests a step farther by build­ing a card­board mock-up of the cos­tume pieces. Af­ter I was sat­is­fied with my tests, I moved into the ac­tual con­struc­tion.”

Mercer ad­mits to spend­ing al­most 500 hours over a year on the project. This meant five months of plan­ning and re­search­ing and seven months of build­ing, in­clud­ing re­do­ing as­pects to en­sure the fin­ished piece looked and moved ex­actly right: “I built the flex­i­ble neck struc­ture and threw it away three times. The fourth build is the one that ac­tu­ally worked!”

Bl­izz kid

All that ef­fort paid off as she fought off com­pe­ti­tion from cos­plays of the Prophet Ve­len from World Of War­craft and StarCraft’s Jim Raynor to be crowned the win­ner of the 2017 Bl­iz­zCon cos­play con­test. “It was in­cred­i­ble. I ad­mit I was com­pletely shocked and in de­nial when I was on stage," says Mercer. “It sank in af­ter leav­ing the stage and I couldn’t help but smile and cry. Win­ning Bl­iz­zCon was a huge goal in my life for five years. Each year my skills im­proved and my cos­plays got more am­bi­tious. To fi­nally have achieved my goal was over­whelm­ing, and to have so many peo­ple cheer­ing and con­grat­u­lat­ing me made it an ab­so­lutely unforgettable mo­ment.”

Mercer doesn’t just look the part, she em­bod­ies the essence of the char­ac­ter. When asked why she chose Hog­ger, she says: “I had two goals: I wanted to pri­ori­tise move­ment and fin­ish. I wanted to be ag­ile in cos­tume so I could re­ally put a lot of char­ac­ter into the per­for­mance. I also wanted a char­ac­ter that I could have a lot of fun on textures and weath­er­ing with. Hog­ger ended up be­ing a per­fect com­bi­na­tion be­cause he’s a ma­ni­a­cal, blood­thirsty, smil­ing, filthy hyena thing that lives in the woods. I was very ex­cited to make him look like he smelt re­ally bad and to chase down peo­ple who were still scared of him from vanilla World Of War­craft.”

Mercer’s been hon­ing her tal­ent since an early age and be­gan cre­at­ing cos­tumes af­ter start­ing col­lege in

“I was very ex­cited to make him look like he smelt re­ally bad”

2009, while 2013’s Bl­iz­zCon cos­tume con­test marked her first foray into cos­play. Her tal­ents span a wide range of artis­tic me­dia, in­clud­ing a de­gree in 3D an­i­ma­tion, which led to her work­ing on An­i­mal Jam for five years.

In for the skill

Be­ing able to use many skills is one of the as­pects Mercer en­joys most about cos­play. “I use skills that I pick up ev­ery­where in my cos­tumes. My mother showed me how to sew when I was very young and I prac­tised those skills by mak­ing plush an­i­mals. I loved play­ing with clay grow­ing up and taught my­self how to make jewellery and minia­ture fig­ures. I even use prin­ci­ples and skills learned in my 3D an­i­ma­tion school­ing in my cos­play work. I love watch­ing tu­to­ri­als on YouTube and read­ing blogs from all sorts of cre­ative folks to in­crease my knowl­edge, and then I fig­ure out how to ap­ply those things I’ve learned to cos­play.”

Fully aware of the daunt­ing na­ture of delv­ing into the world of cos­play, Mercer has some apt ad­vice for those con­sid­er­ing tak­ing up the craft: “Just start! Ev­ery­one starts some­where, and you will learn more by ac­tu­ally build­ing, com­plet­ing, and wear­ing a cos­play to a con­ven­tion than you will by just watch­ing YouTube tu­to­ri­als or by al­ways leav­ing your project un­fin­ished.” She adds, “The quicker your first one is done the quicker you can move on and build the next one with all the things you learned.”

As for Mercer, she’s got a few more ideas for fu­ture cos­tumes that prom­ise to be just as fear­some and fan­tas­tic – and ev­ery bit as chal­leng­ing to build – as her pre­vi­ous award-win­ning work: “I am work­ing on build­ing a Blood­borne Hunter cos­play, and plan­ning a few other beasts from that game. I am also work­ing on sched­ul­ing my builds for next Bl­iz­zCon.”

Anne-Marie Coyle

Lighter than some of Mercer’s other cos­plays, Hog­ger’s whole head and neck struc­ture weighs five and a half pounds.

Mercer posts videos on her YouTube chan­nel ex­plain­ing in de­tail how she cre­ates her im­pres­sive cos­tumes. Here’s a skin­less Hog­ger.

World Of War­craft is the ba­sis for many of Mercer’s mon­strously mag­nif­i­cent cos­plays, such as Genn Grey­mane here, but she’s also a big fan of the Dark Souls, Zelda, and Un­charted se­ries.

Hog­ger ac­cepted his Bl­iz­zCon cos­play con­test win with a mov­ing speech of snarls and stomps.

These cre­ations can be ran­domly po­si­tioned around the house for max­i­mum scares.

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