We got the chance to interview the lovely Avada KATavra Cosplay, aka Rachel "Kat" Miller and she let us in on some fun costuming secrets and stories!
What sparked your love for costuming?
My parents instilled in me a massive love for Halloween at an early age (and they aren’t even geeks!), so creating unique costumes was a huge part of that. My mom would often sew and craft the creations that my older sister and I would wear. She would show me sewing tips along the way, while my dad would add more “techy” aspects to the pieces. I remember one Halloween in particular that my dad completely blew my five year old mind by transforming a plain store bought costume into a scary, seven-foot tall monster of the night! Using parts from in our garage and a local Radio Shack, he added red lights on a dimmer switch and a creepy sounding voice modifier to his mask. He spray painted and nailed giant wooden blocks to an old set of dark boots, shredded/stained/burned some old clothes, and finally, topped everything off with a large costume robe. The neighborhood kids were all completely terrified (as were some adults)! I was in awe of my dad. My parents participation in costuming slowly began to lessen as I got older, but not for me! I am hooked on costuming for life!
How did you get started?
I actually stumbled into cosplay in 2007 due to an extra credit opportunity for a film class I was taking in college. My instructor, Mr. Gregory, suggested going to Dragon Con (our local Atlanta convention) to get some footage for a project we were working on. I had a good friend who was big into cosplaying at Dragon Con at the time and she convinced me to dress-up (thanks Hollis!). So at the last minute I ran to my local costume shop and pieced together some accessories with a rental costume for the convention. After my first con experience in costume, I fell in love with this new-to-me thing called “cosplaying,” and I began making and/or up-cycling all of my own costumes for conventions from then on.
What was your first costume/cosplay?
My first cosplay (the rental), was very random and quickly thrown together. It was my take on the aristocratic lady with poodles from Interview with a Vampire that Louis dines on at a party. It was a bit of a stretch, especially since I didn’t have the poodles. But a few people at the con put together the vampire victim look plus eighteenth century look, and asked if I was dressed as someone from that movie. I call it a win (even now) if just one person among thousands gets what I’m going for!
Can you describe your process for making a costume?
My creativity usually happens in spurts. First, I pick a character that is usually in one of three categories: funny, dark/evil, or an original concept. Then, I put the idea in the notes app on my phone under ‘future cosplays.’ Later I will look back at my ideas and decide if I can create one (or more) of them before my next cosplay event or convention. If so, the brainstorming/research/planning phase begins. Next (with some luck) I find materials I can use on the cheap at my local Goodwill, then I tend to store all of my awesome finds all around the house and procrastinate for a lengthy amount of time (just being honest). When it comes to crunch-time, I like to meetup with other cosplayers to get moving on my costume or prop progress. Their rush to finish helps motivate me. I may or may not stay up several nights in a row before the event finishing up while watching Netflix. Every project is slightly different and sometimes I even finish things months in advance. No matter what, I am always sure to finish my goal on time. That way I don’t have to worry about crafting while in transit, or when at the hotel of the event, because that’s my fun cosplay time!
What is your favorite costume that you have made? Why?
In my opinion, the best costume I have ever made was Barfolomew a.k.a. “Barf,” Lone Starr’s loyal half man/half dog companion from the movie Spaceballs. I love choosing characters that have a bit of silliness to them, but that also have unique props or costume pieces. Barf’s costume itself is merely a Ghostbusters type khaki jumpsuit with different patches. However, the furry dog tail took some work to engineer into the costume. The tail had to stay lifted without outward support, yet still seem to be attached to my lower back/bum naturally. I created this costume as part of a Spaceballs group cosplay. For our photo shoot I also made Princess Vespa’s matched luggage to carry with Lone Starr, and I made Dark Helmet’s mini toy figurines of Princess Vespa and Dark Helmet. I love making those extra details that fans of the movie will appreciate.
What is your best or favorite experience at a cosplay event or convention?
Oh my goodness, I have so many!!! I’ve been going to Dragon Con for 10 years now and I’ve seen so much! I adore the costumed throngs of people who randomly break into songs and dance around the hotel common areas; those who share drinks and play trivia games with strangers for hours while in line for panels. I love bumping into actors and chatting with them like I’m not fangirling out (but I totally am)! One of my many favorite Dragon Con experiences actually happened at the bar in the Marriott Marquis when my friends and I were dressed as pirates. We were waiting to be served when a gentleman walked up to us and paid us a lovely compliment on our costumes. When we turned around to say ‘thank you,’ we were all immediately excited to find that we had just received the compliment from a fellow pirate...Mr. Lee Arenberg! You may recognize him from his work as the pirate “Pintel” on the Pirates of the Caribbean films or as “Grumpy/Leroy” from ABC’s Once Upon a Time. He was super nice and hung out with us for a bit while getting drinks and even took some pictures with us. It was pretty awesome and even better because it was so unexpected.
What advice would you give new cosplayers who may be shy or nervous about starting?
I think if you have even the smallest desire to cosplay, then you should do it! Cosplay is for everyone, period. There is no wrong way to cosplay. It is about the love of the fandom, not about your personal ability to sew works of art or model or become a cosplay superstar. Now if those are your goals-that is great. But in my opinion, you’re not required to have any other goal than having FUN! If you are new to cosplay, and perhaps a little unsure of yourself, my best advice would be to get help from others. You can do this through internet forums and social media, but I really think in-person interaction is the most helpful. Especially when it comes to making or buying your costumes/props. If you already know someone who cosplays, ask them for help to get started. If that’s not an option, try linking up with groups in your area that enjoy the same fandoms and geeky things that you do. More likely than not, you will find people who cosplay within these groups. (Pro Tip: If you're in the Atlanta area, check out ANY event by Markster Con! You'll love it, I promise!) When I started cosplaying I already knew some veteran cosplayers, but later on I joined a local group I found on meetup.com (thank you internet!). The wonderful people from that group have really enhanced my cosplay experience over the years. I would also suggest joining a local cosplay volunteer group if you like volunteering and really want to jump into cosplay. You will need a completed cosplay to do events, but everyone I know from groups like these are generally very kind and may be willing to help you create a costume or give you tips on where to buy one.
What costume or project are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on a Valkyrie costume for a group cosplay I’m participating in at Dragon Con. My character’s name is “Siegrune,” also spelled as “Sigrứn,” from Norse mythology. This is my first time working with EVA Foam and Worbla, so it has been a real learning experience. I love figuring cosplay things out for myself, but in this case it has been EXTREMELY helpful to have experienced foam-smithing and Worbla-crafting cosplayers around me. I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned from this particular cosplay build to hopefully one day create a full set of cosplay armor on my own!
What other things do you fangirl or geek out about?
I absolutely love movies (of all genres) and ‘geeky’ shows. Since Georgia has become the so-called “Hollywood of the South,” I’ve been able to do a lot of background work. It has allowed me to physically be on set and see how random shots come together to become amazing scenes in different films and TV shows. I always keep it professional, but in my mind, I often fangirl out when I see certain directors or actors I’ve grown up watching on screen. Even more so if they are from one of my favorite fandoms! Speaking of fandoms, here are some of my favorites: Harry Potter (from which my cosplay name was born), Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Firefly, Archer, Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Teen Titans, 80’s cartoons, vampires, and so many more!
You can find more Avada KATavra Cosplay on Instagram.