The Making of a Queen Rutela Costume

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My cosplay of Queen Rutela from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is finally finished (enough) that I’ve taken some time here to detail how I made it, since I often get questions about my process. There are bits and summaries on my cosplay.com and DeviantArt, but I’d like to have a comprehensive post about it, so here we go! Sorry about all the watermarks, gotta keep things under control. Eleventy-billion pictures, BEGIN!

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I adore Zoras and after making Princess Ruto I’d been considering another Zora cosplay. I had some drawings in the works for some original Zora designs, but after re-playing Twilight Princess I fell in love again with Queen Rutela’s design (inspired in no small part by nijuuni’s beautiful Queen Rutela illustration), and decided to go for it. With SakuraCon 2011 just a couple months away, this costume became a nearly full-time personal challenge.

There are only two official artwork references of Rutela that I know of, so I played through the game once more to record video and screenshots. I happened to find a place to download the 3D character model ripped from the game, which was absolutely invaluable for seeing all angles. There are details I would not have gotten right without it. Here is a reference sheet I tossed together from screenshots I took of the model opened in Blender. (Around some details like the bracelets there are areas which are transparent when rendered properly.) You may notice that my costume’s skirts slant down on the opposite side of the body. This was initially due to a mistake I made while patterning, but the Wii version of Twilight Princess is flipped in a mirror image of the Gamecube version, so I let it slide since essentially it’s still accurate to one of the games. ;)

Queen Rutela 3D Model Game Rip Reference Sheet

Fortunately for cosplay, Rutela’s design is divided and seamed in fairly useful places. For practicality and ease of wear at conventions I’d need to have a separate head piece, bodice, gloves, and skirt, but they could all still appear to be one piece when the divisions are hidden by the collar, bracelets, and bodice ruffles.

Working as closely with the references as possible, I started building rough mockups around the cast of my head from my Ruto cosplay process, and test-fitting sections of the model over my body in Photoshop to see if the proportions would translate alright. The coral hair falls were the first part I began to actually craft - again, to test whether I could make them look good.

  • The Head

Early mockup of Rutela's head

Right off the bat I intentionally altered the hair falls from the official design, in order to make them look more like coral and less like french fries. I sculpted bits of upholstery foam with scissors to the various shapes I could see in Rutela’s hair, and arranged them correspondingly.

Of all the costume’s parts, the head took the longest to make. For the head-tail I experimented with a couple of armatures to give her that lofty profile without a lot of weight, and settled on a segmented structure of upholstery foam, attached to a rigid face-mask that covered my forehead, eyes, and nose. I learned a lot about how to waste time carving foam. Eventually the end of this..

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..became the end of this..

Rutela's headtail rough understructure

(Rough headtail understructure, or terrifying space parasite?)

I built up the face with Claycrete. It’s kinda like sculpting with thick oatmeal.. The packaging says Claycrete doesn’t shrink, but this is a liiiiiie. It doesn’t crack, but it definitely shrinks. Later I had to use another kind of air-dry clay over the top of it in order to get a smooth, detailed surface, and I fought cracks the whole time. I know what I want to use for the next Zora mask I do, and it is definitely not this stuff.

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A layer of polyester batting helped smooth and soften the form.

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On top of that I carefully fitted a custom “skin” sewn from stretch fabric which I permanently affixed to the mask along the brow and nose. Same technique as Ruto, but tidier this time. It was quite an effort to carefully de-skin and re-skin the headtail as I adjusted the fit.

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The eyes were constructed of thin, curved plastic tinted with permanent marker. Pretty low-budget but super finicky to get right. One little hesitation with the marker would create a blemish that ruined the attempt. I had to make dozens of irises and choose the nicest pair to continue with.

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The irises are iridescent and reflect green and pink light. They were tough to align to the same forward angle, so pictures often catch the light reflecting off one of the irises and not the other. But when it works right, the glowing effect is really cool. The view is something like looking through dirty sunglasses.

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  • The Bodice

Not having a ton of experience drafting my own patterns by this point, the bodice was difficult to do. Additionally, my old duct-tape dress form had mutated out of shape, so I had to drape the skin-tight bodice to myself. I must have put on and removed the thing at least fifty times, and without a zipper it was no easy task.

I didn’t get many photos of the construction of the bodice (though the previous photo shows it partially sewn) but I did document a pretty ridiculous sewing jam! My machine sewed about thirty times around the head of that pin.

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I figured it out and I’m really lucky it didn’t do any damage to my machine or my costume. Beware of sewing over hidden pins, haha!

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The shoulder epaulettes with the mollusk-like vent holes hide a simple catch for hooking her arm fins into, which worked beautifully for keeping the fins in the right position while allowing them to be detached when necessary. At present this needs to be re-made, as I would have lost a fin at the last convention if my husband hadn’t retraced our steps and found it for me.

  • The Fins

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The fin bones were made from plastic-coated wire, cut and shaped, carefully covered in a long strip of my stretch fabric, and tinted darker at the top. The membranes are a delicate, iridescent costume fabric with the fin rays painted on using opalescent puff paint. I’d just like to say for the record that puff paint is a beast if you’re as much of a stickler for detail as I am. The slightest snag or spurt or bubble while moving along creates a defect in the line which is really hard, if not impossible, to correct on the fabric I used. Getting the fins to look just right was tough. But they float in the breeze and shimmer in the sun and I am really happy with their look.

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  • The Skirt

Rutela’s skirt was another piece that I needed to modify a bit from the original design, because 1) I’m not 7 feet tall, and 2) I can’t float in mid-air. I wanted the bottom of the skirt to look floaty and layered but to be even with the ground so I could walk comfortably, so I patterned my first trumpet/mermaid skirt. I didn’t have an airbrush at the time but wanted color gradation, so I chose a fabric which had lovely, soft gradients on the reverse side. The problem was the primary side - this monstrous tie-dye pattern with screen-printed tiger stripes.

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I discovered when I was trying on my mostly-sewn skirt that the printing distorts the fabric into ripples whenever it’s stressed even slightly along the bias. The lining, which uses exactly the same-shaped pieces as the outside, but a different fabric, turned out smooth and almost perfect. Learned my lesson with that one. I might eventually remake this part, possibly using a water-compatible fabric so I could stand in water for photoshoots. Someday!

  • The Accessories

My favorite part of costuming! I started work on them early on, because it was really helpful to see them against the other parts of the costume to assure myself I was on the right track. The jewels are clay settings sculpted around aqua-colored flat marbles, later painted gold.

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My jewelry-making tools came in handy here, for shaping wire to join the necklace gems and the central motifs, and for finishing the chains with sturdy clasps.

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The collar involves card stock from some recycled packaging, puff paint, twisted paper cord, and craft foam. It closes with a custom-made magnetic clasp which is on my list of things to replace as it likes to fall open and ruin photos. The bracelets are shaped from craft foam backed with wire and painted. I like that they are soft enough that they don’t chafe my wrists, but they’re starting to show some wear so if I need to remake them I’ll use a stiffer material.

  • Conventions!

Despite many long nights, I wasn’t able to get Rutela completely finished in time for SakuraCon 2011, but she was so close to done and I really didn’t want to wait for next year, so I debuted her there anyway. The response was wonderful! People were so generous with praise and asked for lots of photos, so all my hard work felt appreciated. A couple of little girls wanted their picture taken with Rutela. It was so sweet! I really didn’t want the unmoving eyes to be scary, but in person people don’t seem to get too creeped out by them. They actually seem to show a surprising, though subtle, variety of expressions in photos.

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There are, as a result of SC’11, lots of photos on the web of this costume uncompleted, and I love that people appreciated it but really wanted them to see how I intended her to look. Some things were definitely still missing.

Before Penny Arcade Expo I finally invested in an airbrush to do her color correction. Ruto had been painted entirely with sponges and brushes, which was a huge trial and a learning experience. Rutela looks much smoother because of the airbrush. It was still a lot of work, though. An elaborate rig helped me stretch the layers of the bodice while airbrushing them, to force them to ruffle when they dried.

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Her head had to be carefully masked against overspray.

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After that, I gave her the little, iridescent dots that run along the sides of her head, as well as changes to her shoulder “vents,” some corrections to her necklace, and new eyes, since I accidentally warped one of them while heat setting her head paint. D:

Despite my efforts to keep the weight down, the head had been a challenge to wear the first time. The head form that I built both of my Zora cosplays around was a little too big in the back because of the way my hair was covered, so both Zora heads tended to settle in the back and lift at the front. In Ruto this resulted in a visible and annoying gap between the mask and my nose. In Rutela it put pressure up under my eyebrows, which became pretty taxing after several hours. New padding helped, but for PAX I also added a chin strap and diverted the old forehead-to-back strap around my ears using large rings, to prevent the painful squashing they received before. The fabric covers all this up on the outside but it made a major difference for comfort. It’s also even more tricky to put on, especially with half of my face covered in makeup. I usually need someone to help now by lifting the head while I hold all the straps and dive in. XD

PAX was a tough venue for cosplay, being more crowded and at a hotter time of year. My mask eyes fogged up even worse than at SakuraCon and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Someone squeezing by snagged my bracelet and almost tore it. But in the brief afternoon I was able to tolerate being in costume, I unexpectedly ran into one of my cosplay idols, PikminLink! I could hardly tell how close I was standing and I felt quite socially handicapped by my half-covered face, but I was happy to meet her and chat briefly.

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You can see I still hadn’t gotten that overlay skirt made yet. It was one of the last additions I made prior to the third and most recent time I wore her, at SakuraCon 2012. In the preceding weeks, I finally took time out to pattern, sew, and airbrush the overskirt.

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Airbrushing took another tricky setup, especially with the slight breeze playing havoc with what was basically a big pink sail pinned to some polystyrene foam. But I got it done! And it makes such a difference to me; I feel like the costume looks so much more polished and balanced.

  • SakuraCon 2012

This convention I really prepared for. Friends were coming from out of town, I’d touched-up Rutela, and I’d just finished a long-overdue faithful remake of my Princess Mononoke cosplay to wear Friday. I was even going to enter the costume contest, but found it had filled up well before the deadline - oops. It ended up being good though, because it freed me to attend the Zelda group photoshoot on Saturday and meet several awesome and friendly Twilight Princess cosplayers who I’m hoping to see at the next convention!

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Heeeeeeeeeeey! There’s a letter for Rutela, delivered by Fem-Postman as cosplayed by Angie-chuu.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Rutela with spicy-seasoning, rikkugrape, nemuren, angiechuu, chochomaru, and others whose names I didn’t catch.

I also figured out a trick to solve the eye-fogging problem: have a hotel room! I took a break partway through the day, went back and sat with a hairdryer on “cool” pointed up my face while I relaxed. I was able to stay in costume for about seven hours there! So much fun! And a lot of lovely photos turned up on the web.

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This was my favorite shot of a short photoshoot I did with photographer Psychonautz

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Awesome shot by kuro-heise of both eyes glowing at the same time! XD

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Another lovely photo courtesy of Camerarchitect 


Ok, if you made it this far then you are either a trooper or I should be really grateful that you’re this interested in my costume. If for some reason you’re not fully satisfied, there are more photos here and here and elsewhere. And of course you can see more of my work at my DeviantArt, if my obnoxious watermarks have not burned the address into your retinas by now.

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    this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my entire life!
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    DANG YO
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    OMGGG
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