If you see cosplayer Jesse Lagers roaming around a convention floor these days, you may not recognize him. He's likely to be dressed as a stormtrooper or in another realistic costume that makes him look like he could have stepped right out of a movie. It's all about realism, said cosplayer Lagers, one of the heroes of Syfy's new docu-series, Heroes of Cosplay, which premieres next Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
“I have learned a stupid amount of stuff of how to cast things, how to properly sew things,” said Lagers. “I picked up leatherworking just to make sure that my outfits have the right bits. I didn't want to pay a leatherworker to do it. I decided that I was going to start figuring out how to make leather and then how to properly craft things out of leather. That's been a recent thing. Couple years ago, I started that whole adventure, learned new casting techniques for making hard armor and making plastics and build my own vacuum core machine to make plastic armor, like the stormtrooper armor and things like that. Every new costume is definitely a learning curve on new technologies, new ways to build these costumes.”
Several years ago, Lagers joined the 501st Legion, a group which cosplays as stormtroopers from Star Wars. “Vader's Fist, is what it's called. It's a for-charity group of stormtroopers, of Star Wars re-enactors, basically. That's where I first cut my teeth really in professional costuming. So we would do charity events. We would do Salvation Army bell-ringing for Christmas, and we would go stand out on the street corners and go visit the kids in the hospital. Anything like that to [make] money for charity. It was really cool to see that side of the world,” he said.
The Portland, Ore., native works by day as a systems administrator for a software company and has a side business building custom costumes and props. True to his realistic cosplay style, he even adds dirt and grit to his battle outfits to make them authentic.
“That's my point on things. I like to take a step further. Not make it look like a costume piece, like a Halloween piece that you would buy off the shelf. I like to make everything look as real as possible. Out of the movie, out of the show, out of the videogame. Out of that world to the point where you're like, okay, that's no longer a costume, that looks like you stepped out of that actual game. There's the dirt on you. There's all these little levels of detail that a lot of people miss that just pop the rest of the costume. Just makes it over the top,” he said.
While stormtroopers and battle costumes were his big entry into costuming, he also has a passion for pirates.
“We do pirate re-enactments. I have a crew and everything else like that. A bunch of scalawags. We try to relive the golden age of piracy. We try to bring as many actual details as we can,” he said.
Those details are especially important when it comes to the costume contests. Heroes of Cosplay follows Lagers and eight other cosplayers as they travel around the world to different comic-book and genre conventions to compete in costume competitions for prizes and glory.
“They're an immediate point in time where all eyes are on you. You get immediate judgment on your outfit. You get everybody in the audience, the judges, everyone to just watch what you're doing. You have that five minutes ... that's a little exaggerated,” said Lagers with a laugh. “You have that couple minutes to show up onstage and it's all eyes on you. You get comments all day long, like, 'Hey, I like that.' 'Hey, that looks really good.' But the costume contest, it's all about you at that moment.”
The new series is “a good avenue for what I want to do. I don't want to build Halloween costumes for people. I want to make my work available, my level of detail available to everyone. I want to market me and my costumes to everyone. The costume competition and dressing up and going to the con is like knowing your target audience. It's getting out there in front of them and showing them exactly the work that I can do and go, 'Hey, if you're stuck on a costume, come talk to me. Let's build something,'" said Lagers.
Check out the gallery below for some of his favorite costumes.