Cosplay: The Rise of Ugin


Mastery of the Unseen (Ugin’s Fate promo) by Daniel Ljunggren

Every once in a while, a supernatural deigns to land on the blacktop and bestow special powers on one of us humble mortals. In this case, I believe that’s what happened with Ugin and cosplayer Cat Ward. Cat, seemingly possessed by a creative anima that mandates building larger-than-life Magic cosplays, recently made a huge splash in the name of Ugin at Canadian con Anime North.


Haven of the Spirit Dragon by Raymond Swanland

You may have seen Cat’s work before without realizing it. If you’re one of the Magic cosplay fans who’s ever randomly Googled for new costume photos, you might have come across a huge Sliver Queen cosplay from last year. Yep, that’s Cat’s work, too. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about—even better!

Ready to surprise your eyeballs? Gigantic spirit dragon incoming in 3, 2, 1 . . .


Ugin touches down at Anime North 2015 and takes a leisurely stroll through the parking lot. Ugin cosplay by Cat Ward.

Yep. That’s. Ugin. Mind a little blown? It should be, by the sheer scale of this costume. Cat’s sincere love for Magic and costuming is apparent in every carefully crafted curve and angle. You can especially see Cat’s passion in the sculpting of the headpiece; Ugin’s facial features and expression perfectly captured.

I had the chance to throw a few questions Cat’s way and see what went into these amazing Ugin and “Queenie” (as Cat affectionately calls her sliver) builds. Read on to meet this super-nice and wonderfully talented member of the MTG cosplay legion.


Cosplayer Cat Ward hails from Toronto

Your cosplays have made a huge impression the community and that's great! Do you play Magic, and if so, what formats and decks do you enjoy?

I do play Magic, and I used to play casual sixty-card decks, and now I'm almost exclusively casual Commander.

How did you get into cosplay? What pushed you into actually doing it?

Not sure. I was invited to Anime North by my friend in high school ten years ago, and I guess decided to dress up because it was what a lot of people did there. I can't remember my motivations beyond that. I'm pretty sure, though, that a big factor in continuing to do it is that it's a way for me to be expressive and showy in ways that I normally wouldn't dare do the rest of the year.


“Nicol Bolas isn’t at this con . . . right?” Ugin cosplay by Cat Ward

You seem to gravitate toward large-scale, high impact projects. Artistically, why is this? And how did you choose Sliver Queen and Ugin as cosplays?

Queenie and Ugin are actually very different than my previous cosplays, which were mostly small, forgettable things. I don't actually have much confidence in my abilities (this seems to confuse people, but it's true); I consider my techniques to be very simplistic. Paper-mache armor and no experience with fabrics made most of my cosplays really mediocre, and I wanted to stand out since Anime North was my one weekend to just let loose and have fun. The only cosplays of any importance to me from previous years were my Double Rainbow Robot Unicorn one I did as a joke, and people thought it was hilarious, as bad as the actual cosplay was. And the other would be my first Magic cosplay as Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, which I actually liked the result of.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Sliver Queen
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

I had wanted to do Sliver Queen for years before I did because I wanted to do something that would really stand out (and I love Slivers, Queenie more so), and so when I finally determined to try her, I decided that my way of having fun would be to match the sheer skill and awesome techniques of the other cosplayers I see every year with sheer scale. I like to entertain and surprise, and I wanted to do that for a lot of people at the same time. So I worked on Queenie so that people would have one more thing at North to point to and go, "Wow! I am entertained," about.

Later, I chose Ugin because I had always wanted to do wings and be a dragon (I love dragons), and Ugin was humanoid and new, he had wings, and he looked so completely cool. I don't entirely know why I chose him past that since my choice to cosplay at all this year was rather sudden (which is why I didn't even have enough time to grab a weekend pass). It was very spontaneous.


Bow down to your queen! Sliver Queen cosplay by Cat Ward

What was the most challenging part of Sliver Queen?

Well, I can think of two things off the top of my head. First, I cosplayed as Sliver Queen in 2014, but I started working on her in 2013—two weeks before the 2013 con. This is a bit of a trend with me, and so my first challenge was building myself up for an experience that was literally impossible to achieve within the time I had set. One week after I started, I had her basic foam body and a mock of her head, and then I realized she was going to have to wait for another year. The second challenge was building her to be light enough to wear, but strong enough to hold. I had ended up hollowing her head out so much at one point that I lost quite a few days re-solidifying and bracing it back to strength. However, through that happy accident, her neck actually articulates, so there's that.


“Anybody seen Sarkhan? I need a Mountain Dew.” Ugin cosplay by Cat Ward

And most difficult about Ugin?

Oh god, the wiiings. The wing skeleton was too heavy from the get-go and was a constant puzzle to try and keep it strong but light. The frame is bamboo, and the feathers are insulation foam, held together with duct tape and metal wire. They fold inward and over again for transport, which also owed to their riskiness since a solid frame would have held better, but I don't have anywhere to put twenty-plus-foot wings. The wire (I started using wire when I worked on Queenie) is always a painful friend to my hands, the feathers took forever to arrange, and I was always racing the clock (my second challenge here is time again), so I didn't get to do something I would have actually liked (like stitching with fishing wire), so they are actually stapled together. And this means they are delicate and temporary. Also nothing adheres to them, glues don't stay on, and neither does paint (though I didn't have much time to experiment outside what I knew).

Finally, they were so big that their own weight wasn't the biggest issue—it was the wind. I had had enough of the wind while making them—since it was blowing the feathers all over the place—but the actual finished product is like a sail. Any strong gust of wind is hazardous since the wings catch it and try to blow back. Had my third level of feathers been connected rather than freestanding, they would have been completely unusable outside, so I'm glad I foresaw at least that much. But time was always a big enemy; I feel that I needed another week to finish Queenie properly, but Ugin should have had a month, haha! He had a third challenge, and that was making a support in his tail that was supposed to emulate what I did with Sliver Queen, but instead of her balance-oriented focus, I switched to weight-taking instead, and the result was a shaky mixture of the two at like 30%. But I didn't wear it out, so it worked enough to get me through my run.


Reality Shift (Ugin’s Fate promo) by Howard Lyon

Tell us some of the materials you used in these large builds that other cosplayers might find useful if they were to attempt similar projects.

Ugin's wings are made of bamboo, which is light, strong, and flexible. I thought of using plastic tubing, but what I found is either too heavy or too flexible. I use bamboo inside anything that needs support, too, like fingers and horns to arms and such, like an actual bone for strength. To tie things together or make them really impervious to accidental bumping or other stresses, I use metal wire.

Sliver Queen is actually laced with hundreds of feet of metal wire, and because of it, her parts can't easily separate or break, even her dozens of long thin spikes. I like to tip everything pointy with wire doubled back so nothing can get crunched back. The big, bulky pieces of both costumes are foam boards from Home Depot that were Gorilla Glued into huge blocks, which I then cut and shaved down. Ugin was more carved, and Queenie had a lot more of what I call "styromolding," which is a mix of water, flour, and the dust from carving styrofoam. It makes a crude sort of foam clay that's heavy and takes a long time to dry.

I also sometimes use just straight flour and a bit of water with flour dusted on my hands like I'm working with pizza dough for small details that need to be molded strong. Both this and the styromolding dry like cement.

Finally, I use Crayola 3D Project Glue to coat paint so that it's impervious to minor scratching and somewhat water-resistant, and it gives a lovely sheen. Parts of Sliver Queen have this, and the rest of her and all of Ugin were out of time to receive a coat, but I would have liked to. I also use this glue to paste thin fabric pieces ("fabric-mache" if you'll excuse my lameness) onto clothing or such to make stiff, but flexible body pieces, which merge shirts to spikes and dresses to ridges. Sliver Queen's body segments are flexible because of this being used to bind them. It's rather crude-looking up close though. Everything pretty much gets either paper mache, fabric mache, or paper glue mache.

My key materials for building:

  • Foam boards from Home Depot (and the resulting foam dust)
  • Gorilla Glue from Home Depot/Canadian Tire
  • Crayola 3D Project Glue from Walmart, Canadian Superstore, Michael's, etc.
  • Bamboo from Canadian Tire, Walmart, etc.
  • Flour/water mixed to different thicknesses

Wildcall (Ugin’s Fate promo) by Adam Paquette

What's next? We're dying to hear what's on your to-do list and see what you come up with! Eldrazi for BFZ, perhaps . . . ?

Well, if I had the opportunity to do another big cosplay (and I really would love to if I have the space and funds and assistance again), I'd do something that lets me emote more and have better mobility and that doesn't have as many challenges in terms of where I can go and how much assistance I need. I would like to be surprising and interesting in my cosplay's actions rather than just appearance—to put on a show as I go essentially. And so far, I am playing around with the possibility of trying again for next year or the one after, but it depends on my living and financial situation.


Progenitus by Jaime Jones and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon by Chippy

And to the degree of just playful musings, I do have one candidate so far, which comes with a funny story. I was chatting with my dad after the con on the phone, and we were discussing me doing another cosplay. I still wanted to do something Magic-related, and maybe on the more well-known side like Ugin is. But it has to be something I really like. I mentioned that I would love to have wings again but without such weakness to the wind. So I said something with skeletal wings would be better. Maybe some kind of creature or dragon that has skeletal wings. Then my eyes flew open, I looked down to my desk (covered in a month's worth of neglect), and I swiped my arm across the surface to reveal one of the play mats I have tiled across the wood and revealed . . . Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon.

But I'll have me a whole list of possibilities to think about before long. So who knows really. I've already cosplayed as three of my favorite types of Magic creatures, and I still have snakes, hydras, and artifacts to consider! If I ever had the space and funds to seriously try for something that could rival Ugin in size, I would definitely consider Progenitus.


Ugin was attacked by a group of would-be dragonslayers. FYI, y’all gon’ lose.

Where can fans find you?

I'm trying to be more accessible since I would like to seriously look into prop/costume design, and I need a lot of work to reach a usable level. So I can be found on Facebook as Cat Ward, on Twitter as Cat (clawsandtalons), and on Reddit as clawsandtalons. I will soon have a Tumblr account, too. I don't plan on attending any events since I spent all my money on Ugin, haha! However, my friend has been mentioning a big Magic event in one of our neighboring cities and said we should ask the coordinators if they would allow/sponsor a visit from Ugin, and though I doubt it would happen, that could be a possibility!


Hope that Ugin might land at a Magic event near you! Ugin cosplay by Cat Ward.

 


Cat is not only an inspiring cosplayer, but also just a really down-to-earth and sweet person. The MTG community is awesome because we can count players, artists, and enthusiasts like this among our number. Let’s keep growing Magic strong, positive, inclusive, and artistically badass!

Hope you enjoyed the interview—I know I learned a lot from hearing Cat’s methods, and I’m anxious and motivated to get started on some wings of my own.

Till next time, may Magic be your spirit’s crucible and haven.

-MJ


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