Here are some tips about how to prepare and what to think about when entering cosplay competitions. In this section I’ll write about what judges typically look for in your costume. However, the show part may be just as important as our craftsmanship and I’ve written a bit about that here.
The judging panel:
A judging panel should most likely consist of cosplayers with cosplay and competition experience themselves. Normally there are 3-5 judges depending on what kind of convention and how big the competition is. Every judge has their own areas of expertise, whether it is seamwork, painting, makeup, armor or props, and all these areas should be represented on a panel. All judges are fully capable of evaluating every area, however if in doubt there is always a security in having at least one with a certain area as their expertise.
When the judges evaluate the participants, it is important for them to focus on just that one cosplay no matter what else they know about that cosplayer or other information outside the competition. It should not matter who the cosplayer is, what they’ve done earlier or how well the judges know that person or character. In a small country such as Norway, almost all cosplayers know each other. You will eventually have to judge your friends and perhaps even family, which makes it even more important to be very clear about your assignment. With that I mean you’re supposed to only focus on THAT one cosplay on THAT particular day, and not any other knowledge of the cosplayer. This is about integrity as a judge. In my experience it is totally possible to set aside friendship and kinship when judging, and in all juding panels I’ve been we’ve managed this pretty well.
Judges are not scary. Most judges accept to be on the judging panel because they love looking at costumes and enjoy meeting fellow cosplayers. In my opinion, a good judge should be able to make you relax even though you’re nervous, and make you feel good about your costume when you are done with your evaluation.
What do the judges look for?
- Likeness to original and how you have modified the costume to fit you.
- Innovative ways to bring “not realistic” features of the costume into a real life costume (hidden zippers, fabric choices, magnets, mechanisms).
- Craftsmanship in all areas of the costume; paintjob, seams, props and so on.
- Also, how many crafting areas can you demonstrate in one costume? A costume that has clothing, armor, props and a lot of wig styling and SFX makeup shows the cosplayers has a huge arsenal of abilities. If this cosplayer masters all these areas well, then that may be a huge bonus compared to a costume that only shows half as many abilities. So in choosing your costume to compete in, it is smart to choose one that shows of as many of your abilities as possible.
- Realistic effects. An anime character may not have dirt on their clothes or any sign of wear and tear after a fight. However, making your costume “weathered” is going to make it look more realistic. There is a fine line here. Some costumes are better of not weathering because of the style of the character and where it’s from, but more often than not a little bit of weathering is very smart. And “less is more”. It doesn’t have to be excessive to be impressive.
- Attention to detail; how well have you studied the costume and is every detail present in your costume?
- Finish and “the whole picture”. After looking closely to every single thing, it is nice to step back and take in the whole costume. Who is this character we’re looking at? Does anything “stand out” in a good or a bad way?
- Degree of “following through”. Take for example the lining inside clothes, or the color behind your armor. The inside of your costume doesn’t show normally, but more often than not the judges will ask to see behind or inside. If you painted the inside or made a lining in your clothes, this will show you’re committed and it will always give you a bonus.
- How well done is the costume? If you did a perfect job with the seams on one part of the costume and then a bad seamjob on another part, this will stand out. Or if you did a great paintjob on your armor, but a poor paint job on your prop, the judges will notice this very quickly.
- Judges can ask you why you chose this fabric instead of another, or why you chose to do something like “this” instead of “like that”. This does not mean they think you made a wrong or bad choice. It is an opportunity to show them that you’ve actually thought this part through.
(this may not be a complete list, mind you)
What should you do when you meet the judges?
- When meeting the judges, smile and be proud of you creation. Even though you know there is a seam you missed or that the color is a little bit off on your cape – don’t mind that. Project your pride of what you have created. Think to yourself; “Dude, I totally made this” and if your smile reflects that thought, then that is what you’ll be telling all the judges without a single word. Please rehearse what you want to say before the competition day. It will make you less nervous and less likely to forget anything of be cut off because time is running out.
- More often than not, all judges will not know your character or the universe it comes from. Prepare a short and easily understandable explanation of who your character is and why you chose to cosplay this character.
- Explain every part of your costume; how you made it and what you’re proud of. Start at the bottom or the top and work your way through every part of the costume with 2-3 sentences. Have a list with you if that helps. If you did something extraordinary that is hard to show or explain, then you can have a picture with you as well to better show the judges what you did. However – mind that the judges have limited time and that they would like to ask their own questions as well.
- Be prepared to show the judges every part of your costume. They may want to see inside and under stuff, so try not to “hide away” anything when you’re making the costume.
- Be polite and accommodating. The judges should be the same.
- Whatever may be a flaw in your costume, you can make up for with a kick ass show! So make sure your show is 100% either way. If you and another competitor is tied, then the performance may be the tie breaker. Read some tips about making a good show here.
Also, it could be a good idea to read the rules for the competition before you go. It may say something specific about the time you have with the judges (it may be just on stage or a prejudging). Use this to plan how you are going to explain your costume. And remember the judges will want to study your costume and ask their own questions as well, so make time for that.
Also, Chrix design has written something about this as well, so you should check out her blog post.
Winning or losing – remember this:
It is understandable that you may be upset if you don’t win of place in the competition. Please remember that this does not mean that your costume was bad, it only means that on this exact day there were one or more costumes that were evaluated to be better. In this one competition. In the next competition you may even win the whole thing with the same costume! It has happened 😉
Also, it may be hard to understand why your favorite participant didn’t win. Remember that a costume may look amazing when you’re in the audience looking at it from afar, but it may look very different when you’re close up and studying it in detail like the judges are. The judges are not only examining it down to every seam and brush stroke, they are also interviewing the cosplayers about their costumes. And like I’ve outlined in the descriptions above, there are a lot of things taken into consideration that you as an audience will not be able to see or hear. So before you get upset about who won what, please take a moment to consider this.
If in doubt – ask the judges! If you are open to constructive critisism, the judges may give you some really good feedback that will help you grow as a cosplayer and a competitor.