PopCultHQ was on hand at this year’s Wizard World Sacramento June 17-19. The event featured everything you would expect from a Wizard World convention: comic books, collectibles, gaming, superheroes, and of course… cosplay. After attending a superb panel entitled, “Beyond the Craft,” where the panelists gave tips and suggestions from their experience in the cosplay community and how to break into the craft, we approached two of the featured speakers, Wizard World cosplay guests Keith Zen and Abby Dark-Star.
Keith and Abby are a cosplay couple from the San Francisco Bay area. To hear them express their passion on their website defines just what cosplay is to them:
We enjoy costuming together for conventions and charity work. Costuming for us is about creating accurate costumes based on movies, artwork, and video games. We try our best to recreate the characters through appearance, costume, and presence. It is what we enjoy about the hobby. To be sure, it is a hobby. Costuming is not what we do for a living.
Keith Zen has been costuming for over 10 years with his first costume being Indiana Jones. He grew up on the staples of geekdom today with Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
Abby Dark-Star got into costuming by way of being a theater geek. Influenced by her stay at home Dad, afternoons were filled with cartoons, comics and old tv shows like Battlestar Galactica and Dr. Who. She enjoys passing on the joys that she experienced as a child to people and families at conventions.
What impressed me about this cosplay couple was when I attended their panel. They shared with the audience the tricks of the trade, if you will. Everything they have learned from their experiences cosplaying over the years, be it helpful tips, advice for attending cons, where to purchase supplies, how to make your own props, and so much more. What really resonated with me was their desire to help other cosplayers or those thinking about getting started. It’s not just about dressing up with Keith and Abby… it’s about making things better for cosplay as a whole. Teaching others, sharing tidbits of info that have helped them, doing charity work, and an overall spreading of all the great things imaginable in the cosplay world. The duo stood out this past weekend as exemplary models of what great cosplay can be.
Here’s our chat with this highly talented and gifted Northern Californian couple as they were front and center at this year’s Wizard World Sacramento.
PopCultHQ: Thank you both for taking the time to speak with us. You’re both listed as Wizard World Cosplay Guests. In case many of our readers or cosplay followers are unaware, what exactly does it entail being a Wizard World Cosplay Guest? Do you travel on their circuit, or attend their events, is there required on your end? What exactly does that look like?
Abby Dark-Star: Wizard World tries to get a lot of local people to their conventions. They really care about the local community. Of course there’s a lot of popular cosplayers in different areas but for the local scene they’re, “Hey, this is your community.” They’re here to encourage you. A lot of times… we don’t travel with their circuit but we’ll do a lot of shows because they’ve always been so good to us. We like the fact they have a real emphasis on creativity. They want you to be at your booth, they want you to be talking about your craft, they want you to be talking to people. They do require that we do panels so we can help teach people about the craft.
PopCultHQ: I was going to mention that too. That was one of my next things about your panel yesterday that we sat in on. I love that you’re helping people get started. Learning from people who have been through this with tips and advice and suggestions. I mean, you covered a lot of things yesterday. I was intrigued when you were talking about the difference between screen accurate versus hero accurate (the use of authentic props). How do you actually get a hold of props or costumes from a movie set or a tv show or perhaps a creator?
Keith Zen: So the way it used to be, in Hollywood in particular, when a film would be made, most of the props and costumes would go into a big, giant warehouse. Then, many times, they would be pieced back together and reutilized in other films later. So you could almost see a trail of certain costumes like, “Yeah, that looks like that’s from Star Trek.” Then they have to continue paying taxes on that stuff, had to pay storage fees… it didn’t really make sense. More and more companies started saying, “Well, part of our production is being able to sell these costumes off so we can recover our money that we invested in the first place.” Now, almost every film, at the end, will have a prop auction.
Abby Dark-Star: If you got the money, you can buy it. A lot of times those websites, if you can’t afford the $3000 whatever prop, they put up a lot of reference photos for people to look at during the auction. There’s also, in L.A., there’s so many shops that get wardrobe from the studios. There’s one, I forget what it was called, but we went down there and almost all the armor from John Carter, the Disney movie..
Keith Zen: It’s a Wrap
Abby Dark-Star: Yeah, that’s it. It’s a Wrap. It’s a store in L.A. and almost all the armor was in there. I bought a dress from John Carter that was used in the wedding scene and it was like $100. It was all hand-painted silk!
Keith Zen: When you think about movies like 300 or Spartacus, the number of costumes they have for extras and stuntmen is a big number. Most of those are going to be auctioned off (mostly front and center costumes). But all the background costumes, they may get bought up by a store like It’s a Wrap, and then they’ll turn around and offer it to the public so people buy them for Halloween or whatever. You’ll also have a lot of collectors out there. We have friends that have in their “man space” screen-used items. Some people, that’s their hobby – collecting screen-used stuff. Those people are often part of places like the Replica Prop Forum, which we talked a little about yesterday [at the panel], and they’ll turn around and put up tons of photos, like with a ruler, so that people will have all this resource they can use. They like having that ‘hero prop’ and they’ll share that information.
PopCultHQ: It’s nice that there is that in the community the cross-teaching, and training, and helping each other. That really gives it [cosplaying] more of a community feel.
Abby Dark-Star: It’s also not just us, it’s people in the industry are part of the forum. And they are getting inspiration from us. There’s so many prop and costumers that have spoken, and we’re learning from the costumers because for the most part in Hollywood, they only need a costume that can survive one take and then they load up the next. But we have to make costumes that survive TSA and travel and eating and sitting down and, hopefully, going to the bathroom. They’re taking a lot of keys from us because, okay… the whole foam revolution. That was on the cosplay side and now Hollywood’s using it for their costumes.
Keith Zen: One of the things that I thought was really cool too was Adam Savage from MythBusters, he’s a huge, huge fan of this stuff. And he loves costumes. Every con he goes to, he’s gotta wear a costume. He was able to get a ‘hero costume’ from the movie The Martian with Matt Damon. Part of the project that he’s doing is that they’re going to replicate the costume. So they have this screen-used hero costume and they’re taking tons of photos, tons of measurements, tons of notes, they’ve got 3D scanners that they’re going to run around and basically take scans of everything and now they’re going to turn around and make their own. Because Adam loves spacesuits. And he wanted one of his own so he managed to get a trade from the company. It was great advertisement for them because they can continue to get talk about The Martian. So all that’s up on YouTube as they continue to study the costume, breakdown and figure out how they are going to make it. It’s a great series and it’s going to be great to go back and watch because there’ll be a lot of learning available.
PopCultHQ: So with what you just brought up… with things evolving in technology and we’re getting into 3D printing and it looks like that may possibly be the direction we’re headed in cosplay, in creating the attire, whether it’s jewelry or certain props, where you can replicate that. Have you gotten into that process or looked into it? Is it really too soon to jump on that?
Keith Zen: 11
Abby Dark-Star: Oh 11 now, and she can’t even sleep without hearing the printers going.
Keith Zen: And she actually, a good example, she made an entire costume, a full-armored costume, she created it on 11 printers over probably a good couple of months, I’m guessing. A lot of manhours in sanding and assembling, the entire thing head-to-toe was 3D-printed. So we’re starting to see more of that but there’s still a lot of people that will utilize that for certain elements of their costumes or to create a prototype, which they can then use that as a master. Those technology tools are definitely being utilized.
Abby Dark-Star: And even if you don’t have that technology, there are resources and websites where you can find it, they’ll print it for you and send it to you. It’s called Shapeways.
Keith Zen: We’re working on a Red Sonja costume, that’s taking way longer than we want, but we’re also doing some video segments on some of the build, from beginning to end. So one of the ones I’m working on right now is making a master. So this part is a thigh band, or a thigh arm, and what I’m doing is I’m trying to show the different ways you can get to the same point. One of them is going to be a sculpted piece that will then take a mold. One of them is called a fabricated piece, which is kinda like this piece here [shows a piece at their booth] that’s craft foam and closet door sliders and you can take a mold of that. And the other one is 3D printed and you’ll take a mold of that. So it’s a way to show how you can how you can get to the exact same place using three different methods. Some of them are older school, but it shows you can still do things on a budget or depending what your tools are.
PopCultHQ: You definitely proved that last night when you brought up various things you could use around the house that you could turn into something. Just unleash that creativity.
Abby Dark-Star: It’s creativity. It’s thinking outside-the-box. It’s problem solving. I think’s that’s why I’ll probably survive the zombie apocalypse because we’re pretty creative and inventive and everybody else is like freaking out, we’ll be like, “we got this!”
PopCultHQ: We’ve definitely been preparing. I wanted to bring this up. I checked out your website KeAbtium, and the first thing I’m thinking [with regards to the chemical symbol used as their logo] is the first two letters of your name [Keith] and the first two letters of yours [Abby]. The 1138 threw me because the only thing I could think of was THX.
Keith Zen: That’s actually what it is. But that technically wasn’t our doing.
Abby Dark-Star: That wasn’t our doing. Someone helped us design our logo. But it’s actually going to be changing. The 1138 is going to be changing to the first date we met.
PopCultHQ: But it’s still going to have that chemical element of the periodic table look?
Abby Dark-Star: Yes. Well the joke began, Keith and I weren’t dating, we were long-distance, I was working in Miami and he was in San Francisco and we were on the phone one time joking about what our, because it was in the days of Brangelina you know, with the names. And I said “What would our name be?” I said “if we were going to be anything, it’d be a gassy element.” And the ‘-tium’ on the periodic table is gasses. So Ke-Ab-tium.
Keith Zen: So we’re full of hot air, essentially.
Abby Dark-Star: We poke fun at ourselves.
PopCultHQ: Yeah, I love it. I saw that and I was like, “Yeah, that’s kinda clever.” Well we’re definitely going to be plugging the site. So two more quick things… I guess something that raised my curiosity, as I think others would, how did you two meet? Were you guys already cosplayers when you met, or did this evolve afterwards, and what is it like being coupled with someone that shares that same passion as you?
Keith Zen: So there’s a website called OKCupid.com.
Abby Dark-Star: (voice raised) Stop that!
Keith Zen: No, no, there’s not, but there should be.
Abby Dark-Star: We were actually both costuming before we ever met. We were on costuming forum boards. Back before Facebook was a thing, we had met and we had seen each other and we had really clicked. Then afterwards, it just started snowballing from there where we were costuming together.
PopCultHQ: Like showing up at the same cons? Intentionally?
Abby Dark-Star: I actually flew out to do a charity event with him, we went to a hospital visit as Iron Man and Black Widow so we got to visit the kids in the hospital and encourage them. Then we met up at a couple of cons, you know, and one thing led to another. It’s amazing having someone who share your passions, it can be infuriating at times too when you’re both like it’s 11th hour. You’re in the shop, you’re just done, you want to go to sleep, but you have to get the costume done. But I think our creativity feeds off one another. We encourage one another, often for better or for worse, depending on our moods (laughs).
Keith Zen: I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the show, that no longer around, Heroes of Cosplay? It was a show on SciFi, people either loved it or they hated it. It had introduced to a lot of people, who had never seen cosplay or conventions, to that. A lot of people here today are a result of watching that show, a reality show about cosplay. A couple of our friends were on it, and you see them bickering and they’re like, “So, um, do they edit you guys? It seems like you were fighting with each other all the time.” And Victoria’s like, “No, that’s pretty normal. When you’re under stress, that’s pretty much what it looks like.”
Abby Dark-Star: But it’s also amazing because you get to share these awesome moments with each other. You get to experience something you love and you can share it with someone you love. He’s introduced me to a lot things that I wouldn’t have done, like the zombie genre. I used to be terrified of zombies and because of his encouragement by having me read The Walking Dead before it was a show, I got over that fear. He got me into horror movies, where I was like, “Nooope.” And at the same time I’ve helped get him more into anime and some video game stuff where I’m like, “You shall be this person from this game for me. Thank you.”
PopCultHQ: And I’ve noticed that. You guys cover a lot of genres. It’s not just comic books, it’s movies and tv and sci-fi, you cover this wide spectrum. It’s great. So as a final question to you both… If money, time, and resources weren’t an obstacle, who would you love to cosplay? Who can you envision this dream image of you on display?
Abby Dark-Star: Well, that a hard question. It depends on the mood. Like some moods I want to be Smaug. I want to be a dragon. I’m going to run around and be a dragon. The things I’d love to build are the crazy armor costumes. I’d love to do a crazy Pacific Rim costume. I want to make it happen. Other times I just want to do elaborate pieces like Phantom of the Opera or these amazing costumes that take hours and hours.
Keith Zen: I think kinda the same vibe. Neither one of us is a huge competitor. Some people like that. I would rather watch it or host it. I’m not a super big fan on judging it because I don’t like having to nitpick people’s stuff. A couple of the ones I’ve been wanting to do and have been thinking about, but I know they’re going to be expensive and involved, I want to do Geralt from The Witcher 3, I’m considering The Comedian from Watchmen, and people keep bugging me about doing a character from, what is it Warhammer?
Abby Dark-Star: No, oh that was something we were going to do together. Uh, (Sarah) Kerrigan and (Jim) Raynor from StarCraft.
Keith Zen: It’s a fairly big suit, so I think that would be pretty neat. The idea of doing it at a convention sounds horrible, but doing a full photoshoot would be really neat.
A huge thanks to Keith and Abby for not only taking there time out to speak with PopCultHQ, but for what they do for the cosplay community in general. From attending cons, taking photos with fans, teaching others the ins and outs of cosplaying, and their charity work, they truly exemplify all the great things that cosplay can produce. They bring a touch of class, style, and professionalism to an entire new level. This is cosplay!
Be sure to follow both Keith and Abby through their website KeAbtium as well as one of their many social media outlets:
- Facebook: facebook.com/KeAbtium
- Twitter: @thekeithzen
- Instagram: instagram.com/thekeithzen
- YouTube: youtube.com/user/KeAbtium
- Facebook: facebook.com/abbydarkstar
- Twitter: @abbydarkstar
- Instagram: instagram.com/abbydarkstar
- Twitch: twitch.tv/abbydarkstar