Adam Savage

What follows is an explanation of cosplay as shared by Adam Savage during a TED Talk. I found this little gem on Imgur and simply transcribed it. If you’d like to see it with the images, you can find it here. If you’d like to listen to the entire TED Talk, that’s here.

This beautiful exploration of cosplay gets to the heart of what fiction – what art – is all about.

I never truly understood Cosplay until Adam Savage explained it for me.

It’s not called “costuming” at conventions. It’s called “cosplay.” Ostensibly, cosplay means people who dress up as their favorite characters from film and television and especially anime, but it is so much more than that.

These aren’t just people who find a costume and put it on. They mash them up, they bend them to their will, they change them to be the character they want to be in those productions. They’re super clever and genius. They let their freak flag fly, and it’s beautiful . . .

So I put together a No-Face costume [from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away], and I wore it on the floor at Comic-Con. And I very carefully practiced No-Face’s gestures. When people asked to take my picture, I would nod and shyly stand next to them and they would take the picture and then I would secret out from behind my robe a chocolate gold coin and at the end of the photo process I’d make it appear for them, and people were freaking out.

“Holy crap! Gold from No-Face! Oh my God!”

This is so cool. I’m feeling it. I’m walking the floor and it’s fantastic. About 15 minutes in something happens.

Somebody grabs my hand and then puts a coin back into it and I think maybe they’re giving me a coin as a return gift, but no, this is one of the coins that I’m giving away. I don’t know why. And I keep on going and I take some more pictures and then it happens again.

Understand, I can’t see anything inside this costume. I can see through the mouth. I can see people’s shoes. I can hear what they’re saying and I can see their feet. But the third time someone gives me back a coin, I wanna know what’s going on, so I sort of tilt my head back to get a better view, and what I see is someone walking away from me like this…

Walk Away

And then it hits me.

It’s bad luck to take gold from No-Face. In the film Spirited Away, bad luck befalls those who take gold from No-Face. This isn’t a performer-audience relationship. This is cosplay.

We are, all of us on that floor, injecting ourselves into a narrative that meant something to us, and we’re making it our own. We’re connecting with something important, and the costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other.

I’ve been away too long. And yet, it’s justifiable. Even understandable.

My schedule is packed, juggling a full-time gig, a graduate program, freelance writing, and trying to maintain at least a little bit of balance for downtime. Something had to give, and lately it’s been my writing here.

But the site hasn’t been abandoned. I will post when I can. I can’t and won’t promise the kind of consistency I had for years – not until school is done in January, at least. But I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve just taken off.

Not at all.

I’ve been working my way through Creativity, Inc. Written by the president of Pixar, Ed Catmull, the book chronicles the rise of the animation giant. Pixar is known for top quality films and an unrelenting passion for high-quality art. Catmull is central to Pixar’s story, of course.

He has a lot to say about the concept of ego, but most of it can be boiled down to the statement above.

A big part of Pixar’s culture is rooted in candid feedback, regardless of rank, department or involvement in the specific project. Basically, everyone there is committed to making the best films possible. Constructive criticism is a necessary part of that process.

As he tells Pixar’s story, it’s hard not to think, “Well, yeah. Obviously.” And then someone reads something I wrote and points out a potential weak spot, and I immediately think, “Hmph. Clearly you don’t get it.”

But in those moments, I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Do you want your art to be great? Do you want to produce the best stuff you can possibly produce? Then you have to be okay with candid feedback. In fact, you need to seek it out.

Don’t just ask for feedback from people who will tell you your work is amazing because, of course it’s amazing. You did it. Don’t seek out consistent nay-sayers, either. Seek out people who aren’t shy about giving you frank reactions.

What do they like? What don’t they like? What feels right? What feels wrong?

And whatever they say, put your ego on the shelf. Listen and then, from a non-defensive place, consider their input.

Candid feedback is the only kind of feedback that helps artists grow. If your ego can’t handle that, it won’t invalidate your talent, but it may keep your talent from developing further.