In this edition of Community Spotlight, we take a moment to chat with Brandi “Py” Wilson—the BlizzCon 2014 Costume Contest winner. Py’s epic cosplay of Grand Empress Shek’zeer was truly a sight to behold—but never made it onto the stage that night. Though only a handful of people were able to see the costume live at BlizzCon 2014, the story of her visionary work and heartbreaking backstage fall was covered by popular game sites such as Polygon and Kotaku.
BlizzCon costume contest participants wait backstage until it’s their turn to walk, and must go up a ramp to make their way onto the stage. When Py’s time to shine onstage came up, a long day and exhaustion took its ill-timed toll, causing her left ankle to give out under the weight of her very heavy costume. With nearly 75 pounds of batteries, wiring, metal piping, and other rigging material attached to or hanging off her—not to mention the short stilts she had to balance on—the fact that Py made it through 90% of the day is remarkable. Sadly, she was unable to go on stage in the full costume, so viewers at home and those in attendance missed getting to see her remarkable creation walk the stage.
Even though it’s been a few months since BlizzCon, we thought it past time to delve into the mind behind the costume and learn more about Py. Behind the knitted cloth and intricately detailed Worbla is an artist with a lot of talent, a firm grip on what geek is, and a genuine love for the WoW community.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m just a video game lover living life in the Pacific Northwest—though I’m a SoCal native. I’ve been playing videos games for as long as I can remember; all kinds, but especially fighters, RPGs, and MMOs—duh! My day job is in software technical support—snooze—but I’ve always been really crafty. I knit, sew, garden, cook, bake, and do a little bit of cosplay too.
What inspired you to start doing cosplay and costume design?
In 2009, my husband and I had just started playing WoW regularly and we were really excited to order the BlizzCon Virtual Ticket. That first night, we watched Lorraine Torres take first place in the Costume Contest as the Mistress of Pain. I grew up in Southern California, where the cosplay scene was well known. I always wanted to go to a con and dress like my favorite characters, but I never got around to it.
When we got our tickets to BlizzCon 2010, I just knew that I wouldn’t be doing BlizzCon my way if I didn’t cosplay. That’s when the Sprite Darter costume came into existence. Since then, my costumes have gotten more technical and more ambitious, a feat that could only be accomplished with my awesome husband/handler/engineer/cheerleader Logan.
Looking back over the years, which costume are you most proud of and why?
It’s cheesy, but they all hold a really special place in my heart. The Sprite Darter was my first costume, my first corset, and my first real conquering of my social anxiety. I was terrified walking to the con that morning, but I did it, and I’m so happy I did. My Season 11 Warlock is the fastest I’ve ever done a costume. I decided one month before the MoP release in Irvine to make the costume and buy tickets to fly down to attend. It was close, but I even got to go on-stage for a short interview at the event!
And then, there’s Grand Empress Shek'zeer. I mean, how could I not love her? (Oh trust me, there are plenty of times I haven’t loved her.) It took a lot of perseverance to finish her—twice!—but again, ultimately, worth all the tears and heartache and love that we put in to her. For me, it’s important for my costumes to challenge me and test what I think the limits of my abilities are. Sometimes, it’s a recipe for failure, but usually, it makes me appreciate them as individual works for what they meant to me at the time.
What inspired you to take on the ambitious task of creating Grand Empress Shek’zeer?
As we prepped to attend BlizzCon 2013, I found myself in the unusual position of being completely uninspired by my cosplay choices. Finally, we threw caution, reason, and ultimately sanity out the window and committed to Shek. I’ve always been fascinated by mantids and I’ve even had them as pets (R.I.P Zora). When the model for Shek was released, I instantly fell in love, but in that “this is completely impossible” kind of way. Logan and I had a big discussion about logistics before we decided to give it a go. TL;DR: We’re dumb. :P
How long did this particular costume take you to build?
There are two numbers that circulate when you read about what happened with Shek: 6 months and 2 years. Technically, they’re both right. When we decided to take on Shek, we did a ton of pre-planning. There were lots of cardboard and PVC mock-ups along with endless sketches and logistical meetings. We put 4 to 6 months of planning into her before we even started. Then, we built her for BlizzCon 2013. It was a hard push, but we mostly accomplished what we wanted to.
As I was putting her on for judging that year, the PVC cement that connected one of her legs to my belt popped.
...the PVC cement that connected one of her legs to my belt popped.
We didn’t have enough time to let it set and get me to judging. I watched the costume contest from the audience that year and cried the whole time while I cheered for all of my friends. It wasn’t the best night ever.
I had a pretty rough winter that year, but we did a lot more planning on Shek and decided to tear her down and make her better. We redid almost all of her accessory pieces in one way or another. We were able to apply a year’s worth of new techniques to clean her up and make her better. We took the legs back down to the skin, refinished them to make them smooth and beautiful, and redid her paint job. I spent many months in the gym weight training to bring my strength up to the task of carrying her. It was another intense run-up to the con and we still had a couple of friends helping us on Thursday night to wrap up the loose ends.
Where can people follow you? Do you have an official Facebook page or Twitter account?
I have a Facebook page that I try to stay active on: www.facebook.com/CosplayPy. I have a Twitter account that’s used pretty sporadically (@CosplayPy), and I have an Instagram that’s a jumble of real life, food, my animals, and occasionally some cosplay: NoPyForYou.
What advice would you like to give to people who might be thinking of trying their own cosplay creation?
Do it! No, really! The BlizzCon cosplay community especially is a really amazing and special group of people. They are some of the most awesome, creative, helpful people I’ve ever met, and I’m so honored to call so many of them my friends. They’ll be there to celebrate your crafting victories and help you through those inevitable road blocks. They’re super supportive of people new to the craft and have assembled a compendium of tutorials, walk-throughs, and blog posts for just about everything. You don’t have to do something as complicated as Shek. (Please, for the love of the old gods, don’t do something as complicated as Shek, LOL!) Everyone’s been asking me how I’m going to follow up Shek at the next BlizzCon and my answer is—I’m not! This year, I’m all about making a pretty dress—robes and cloth all the way—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Come find us; we’ll help.
As a prize for winning the BlizzCon 2014 Costume Contest you received an in-game character. What do you think of your alter ego?
I mean, who wouldn’t love it? Seriously! I cried, more than once, as I read through the write-up on it. Having such a rollercoaster with Shek over the last two years, I absolutely love that the sha-touched sprite darter to Grand Empress transformation really captures how bittersweet Shek has been for us. She’s an amazing accomplishment, but I wish the ride had been a little smoother.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. We hope we’ll see more of your work in the future.
*You can visit Py’s character now along the shores of the Orunai Delta in Talador.
BlizzCon 2014 Costume Contest winner Py surrounded by plush Faerie Dragons.