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