Welcome back! For the past two months, we've talked about time management and fabric drafting. This month, we're going to talk about drafting props out of foam. I say foam because I think it's one of the best materials to work with for cosplay, but everything I cover in this article can be applied to just about any material you could want to use.
Drafting can be very frustrating, difficult, and sometimes feel like it's unnecessarily time consuming, but it's a very important step when making a costume. Your draft is going to be your instruction set for how you make your props, and it needs to be very precise, because every mistake here will be amplified in your final project. To start drafting, I recommend looking into third angle projection and even isometric projections. You can search YouTube and Google for some practice models and teach yourself how to read and draw basic drafts for props. Having a clear understanding of what your final project needs to look like in three dimensions will make your drafting much easier and more accurate.
Once you have a solid understanding of what shapes look like in three dimensions, you need to find reference images of your prop. These can be screenshots, 3D models, concept art or even fan art if you're okay with a few variations. While researching, I also recommend looking for purchasable patterns, just to see how much they cost. If you can find a pattern you like, it can save a lot of time. If you decide to purchase a pattern, just print it out and you're ready to go, but if you can't find one you like, or want more practice you can move onto my second method, Tracing.
For this method, you need to have a high quality reference image that has a clear front on view of your prop. Without a clear view the prop will come out warped, and look like you're always looking at it from an angle. Once you have this image, you can pull it up in a Photoshop-like program, and then just trace the lines onto a second layer. This second layer will become your pattern. For projects like this, I typically use paint.net because it's free and I'm familiar with it, but Kamui and her husband use AutoDesk, as seen in this video. AutoDesk and AutoCAD are expensive programs, but learning to use them (and being certified) is a marketable skill. If you attend a university with an engineering program, there should be labs on campus where you can use this software for free. Be sure to make your pattern for 3 or more views of the prop so you have a complete pattern. Once this is done, I print out 1 copy and then color code the different parts by height and the materials I'll be making them out of. Below is an example of the Samus pattern I had traced. I made a few mistakes while color coding it, but you can see which foam each part will be made out of. After you have a color coded version, I print out more copies and cut out each individual part to then transfer to my materials.
If you can't find the reference materials necessary to do either of the methods above, then you can always freehand it. Freehanding patterns takes much more time and are far more likely to be inaccurate, but sometimes you just work with what you have. I suggest drafting these on a grid paper, with a ruler and straight edge, but again, whatever you have available is fine. To freehand a pattern, start by drawing a mini version of it like we did in the planning step. Then you'll need to measure out how tall the prop needs to be in proportion to you, and then mark the dimensions on your paper. Below is an example of how to do the calculations for the dimensions of your prop. In this example, I've labeled Nautilus at 10 units tall, and his anchor as 7 units. I want to scale this prop to be the same size in relation to me, so for the easy of calculations I'll do my height in inches. I've also included a beautifully drawn summary of my drafting process.
Hand drafting takes a long time, and there are a lot of benefits to drafting out a 1:1 scale of what you'll be building, but sometimes just straight winging it works, too. When winging a project, I still measure out how tall or wide a prop needs to be, but I use a lot more guesstimation than when I properly draft. Here are some examples of some costumes and props I made without any patterns at all (excluding my Valentine dress). Please keep in mind that freehanded patterns are much more likely to have mistakes. Under the images I have a picture showing the large indents on one of my Samus shoes that were the direct result of a lack of patterning.
There's plenty of ways to draft, and I only included the ones that I'm most familiar with and have done myself. Each of these methods takes a varying amount of time and money, and produces different levels of accuracy. If you want to use another way that I didn't mention, but that works for you... DO IT. No one way is the correct way to draft when you're cosplaying, there's just the method that works best for you. Now remember, get out there and make some mistakes!