Behind the Scenes at the C2E2 Crown Championships of Cosplay

Thanks to the good people at C2E2, we were given access to see up close how much time, effort, and love cosplayers put into their incredible creations. Cosplayers spend months and sometimes even years putting their costumes together, putting an incredible amount of intricate work and love into their outfits. Amanda Hass, a seamstress from Louisville, Kentucky who took home the first place local qualifier prize, spent six months working on her take on Anastasia. “I went to school for painting and costume design and I actually designed for stage,” said Hass, who has been doing cosplay since 2012. “I got tired of the actors wearing my designs and so I was like ‘it’s my turn.’” Her costume this year contained about 60 crystals inside a light up crown, and around 10,000 rhinestones in the entire outfit. “I did my own spin with it by adding in more historical Russian gown designs and lighting this crown up like a disco ball,” said Haas. “It was a labor of love and rhinestones.” Mary Stephens, from Cincinnati, said she got into cosplay after her kids “dragged her” to a convention but instantly fell in love. “Once I saw it, I just jumped in with both feet - I loved it.” Stephens played Maleficent, of the movie sharing the same name, for the contest. Her costume took six months, with more than 500 hours worth of hand beading and embroidery. “I love the creativity and the challenge of making a costume,” said Stephens. “If there’s one that I look at the picture and I don’t know how I would make it, that’s the one I want to do.” Another extraordinarily labor intensive costume was built by Thane Dennehy, of Comstock Park, Michigan. Dennehy spent more than three years creating a frost dragon from the video game Skyrim out of EVA foam with a tubing structure that featured light up eyes and sound effects. “Originally we got into it doing Halloween costumes, props and stuff like that. We found out that it’s for real, people can dress up and it’s called cosplay, it’s not just for little kids,” said Dennehy, who said that he’d been doing professional cosplay for about six years, but costume building with his family for more than a decade. “It’s a work of art,” said Dennehy. The C2E2 Crown Championships of Cosplay are serious business. They represent the best of the best, in a tiered competition format that begins with the "Local" talent--cosplayers competing to be the C2E2 specific cosplay champion, and then ramps up to the national and international level in the blink of an eye. But don't underestimate the locals, either. These cosplayers spend hundreds of hours and sometimes hundreds of dollars just in hopes of being qualified to walk the Main Stage at C2E2. Chicago competitors (who are from all over the Midwest and beyond) are grouped into three separate categories for their big moment. The categories are Armor, Needlework and Effects. Each category represents a slightly different skill set, but all are weighed equally when considering who will clutch the Chicago title. It's not so easy even to make it on stage, with a lengthy application process and pre-judging happening before the contestants can even step foot out on the stage for the show. Every stitch, crystal and light is analyzed for the quality of its craftsmanship, and successful interviews with the judges in the pre-judging are critical, both giving the show emcees more information for the audience and providing a longer look at the work up close before that final walk. Cosplayers must be careful in the interim between the prejudging and the show, too, since costume issues that arise while out on the floor, if not fixed can spell disaster. This year's local qualifiers were incredibly impressive, with magnificent examples in each category that included an exact replica of Liz Taylor's Cleopatra costume, a working Beetlejuice nightmare costume with rotating carousel head and frighteningly elongated limbs, and a fully lit amazing piece of armor from Heroes of the Storm. In the end though, the top prize for Chicago would go to a needlework contestant named Amanda Haas, who hails from Louisville, and created an amazing period-inspired gown and beautiful brightly lit crown for her portrayal of Anastasia from the eponymous 1997 film. Haas had almost no time to take in her win though, as almost the moment she was handed her giant check for $1000, she was joined by the winners of ReedPop's US con circuit--one from Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, and another from New York Comic Con. Haas would walk the stage in front of the judges again, along with her fellow US champions, an incredibly faithfully recreated Ornstein from the video game Dark Souls and an Astrologian from the Final Fantasy series. Eventually, the US championship was announced, and the prize went to Alchemical Cosplay as the Astrologian from Final Fantasy. If the national level of cosplay hadn't dropped your jaw yet, it wouldn't take long to get to that point as soon as the international competition began. Contestants from all over the world were on the Chicago stage with absolutely stunning costumes, from a custom built Batman suit with fully functional gadgets to Prime Evil from Diablo III, a frost dragon from Skyrim that was nearly too big to walk the stage and Bahamut, an iridescent wonder also from the Final Fantasy series whose costume included smoke effects, an internal cooling system, Google Play hookups and even a snack bar. Every last person on the international level represented the peak of the art form. They were passionate, pumped and nervous, and had the crowd going wild. If it was hard to pick a favorite at the local level, it was impossible here. Eventually, after the judges deliberation, the top prize was awarded to American Alchemical Cosplay, who had won the New York Comic Con Championship and then the US. Her prize package included $5000 dollars cash in the form of another huge cardboard check, as well as $1000 dollars in sewing and costuming equipment from Singer, one of the sponsors of this year's contest. Second prize, which went to a fellow Final Fantasy cosplayer, Bahamut, walked away with $2500, and third place winner Gunslinger Spawn walked away with a $1000 prize. There's a reason this competition is packed to capacity every single year, and just like every year, by the end of it we were picking our jaws up off the floor. Contributing author/photographer/videographer Aaron Cynic.  
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Marielle Bokor