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San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest and best pop culture celebration in the known universe, roared into the San Diego Convention Center July 20-24, 2011, for another great show of comics, movies, anime, television, costuming, games, and basically anything cool! This was my second year at the show, so I knew what to expect, and my expectations were very high, but I'm happy to say Comic-Con was even better than last year!
If you've never been to San Diego Comic-Con, then I must try to communicate the vastness of this particular show. Over the course of four days, over 100,000 people jam into a convention center (it's great but a bit "small" in this context) to soak up everything they can about their particular area of interest in pop culture. Although the show started over 40 years ago as a meetup for comic-book enthusiasts, it has expanded to cover so many areas that no one could possibly see it all. Some people come for the vendors on the main show floor, selling everything from comic books to T-shirts to steampunk accessories to figurines to original art. Some people come for the "panels" which are presentations/discussions held in dozens of meeting rooms above the show floor, and these can run from anything like "How to make a costume" to live question and answer sessions with cast members from the hottest shows, like Twilight and Glee. Other people come to network for jobs in the pop culture production fields, since there are so many top writers, producers and artists available for consultation and advice!
What do I go to Comic-Con for? The costumes, oh yes, the costumes. One of the greatest traditions of Comic-Con is cosplay, the art of wearing and possibly even designing and building your own costume and fearlessly wearing it in public. This was a great year for cosplay, there were more fantastic costumes than we could ever hope to photograph, I'm happy to say once again the cosplayers were incredibly nice and patient about photos, we were only turned down once in hundreds of photo requests, but I'm willing to assume that one lady did not hear us asking as she walked by. I can imagine it can be very frustrating for the people wearing costumes, since the floor is so crowded and there are so many people excited to take pictures of them that they literally cannot walk ten feet without being stopped for another picture! I would like to personally salute the Comic-Con cosplayers for being so understanding of photographers' needs, and especially the wonderful cosplayer kids and their parents!
Every year I try to get a little bit better at photography, this year I was using the Nikon D7000 digital SLR camera, with the 17-55 f/2.8 DX, 10mm DX fisheye, and 70-200 f/2.8 VR II lenses. Almost all the cosplay photos here were with the 17-55, since it was the most versatile with the ability to get wide enough for full-body and group shots, but with some zooming power for head and shoulders looks. The fisheye was used rarely for some figurine and kid shots, and the 70-200 was used occasionally for tight closeups and the Masquerade. With the show floor being so crowded, the ability to shoot wide-angle is absolutely critical, since I just can't get back far enough from people to get clean telephoto shots. For lighting, we were using two SB-900 flashes, one of them in an Orbis ring flash attachment surrounding the lens, and the other inside an Aurora Firefly Beauty Box held on a monopod off camera to try to achieve the "loop" lighting pattern with a soft shadow to the side of the nose and cheek. The flashes were controlled by the new Pocketwizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 radio triggers, but we did switch to the built-in Nikon light-based Advanced Wireless CLS at the end of the day when the Pocketwizards ran out of batteries. I think the gear worked pretty well, but by far my biggest upgrade this year was the addition of a lighting assistant, the lovely and talented Melissa Case, who not only capably held the heavy off-camera softbox, but also roped people in for photos and got their contact information and character names! Melissa, thank you for doing a great job and helping make our pictures the best we could do! Next year I'm tripling your salary!
From looking at our photo gear, many people assume we are professional photographers but I am actually a computer programmer in the video games business, so of course I had to check out the video games area. Unlike other shows like E3, which are all about video games, they are just one small section of the show floor at Comic-Con. Most of the larger companies were present, like Activision, EA, THQ, Capcom, and Ubisoft, showing games like SSX, Just Dance 3, and Saints Row. BioWare built a pavilion outside the convention center at the Hilton Gaslamp hotel across the street to feature its upcoming games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3, and they also had fun activities like a BioWare costume contest, and a Mass Effect march through the streets that collided with a Zombie Walk for some tense sci-fi/undead conflict! High-profile costumers Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan were on hand to present their new Garrus costume, completed right before the show, and to announce that the female version of Mass Effect hero Shepard will be appearing on promotional materials for Mass Effect 3!
Speaking of famous people, Comic-Con does indeed attract celebrities who are usually promoting a new movie or book. The problem with celebrities is that there just aren't enough of them to go around, so they tend to avoid the show floor due to the crazed crowds who will simply overwhelm them on sight. Most stars tend to remain above the main hall and instead participate in the panels to meet and talk with more controllable numbers of their fans. Although it would be fun for me to do this, there are massive lines for most high-profile panels, and I just can't afford to waste hours standing in line for the chance of getting a good celeb shot, so I avoid panels entirely. However, I did get to see Rob Lowe on the show floor, and I actually spoke with Blizzard art legend Samwise Didier, who was very nice and interested in meeting fans.
Most of the biggest Western cosplay stars were on the floor, including Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri, Adrianne Curry, Leanna Vamp, Annissë Damefatale, Anna von Winter, and many other fantastic costumers whose names I don't know. My only disappointment was I could never find Linda "Vampy" Le, who has done great video game cosplays and is a big Dead Space fan. We looked and looked, but could never find her on the floor. I did find Ejen Chuang, who has been tirelessly photographing cosplayers at dozens of shows a year for several years now, and he was very courteous and he even mentioned he noticed me and Melissa working with our relatively complex lighting gear! I bought his book "Cosplay in America" and he signed it for me, we read it on the plane (it's in Japanese but it's mostly about the pictures) and we loved it!
The most popular new costume this year was definitely the characters from the movie "Sucker Punch", especially "Baby Doll" and an "Amber" or two. Also "Game of Thrones" was very inspirational for a lot of new cosplay. Slave Leia, which is traditionally the most popular female costume but has gotten some bad press recently, was still quite popular, and I saw at least ten different ones. Lara Croft, which at one time was by far the most common female costume, is now quite rare, and we really had to search for Laras but eventually found a few. For male costumes, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wans of various ages were popular, and the new Captain America movie brought out some very nice Captains.
Sideshow Collectibles and a couple other sculpting companies always have wonderful arrays of figurines and models on display. This year they were featuring a fantastic Isaac Clarke from Dead Space, plus many great Star Wars and Predator pieces among many others.
San Diego Comic-Con 2011 was a great show for cosplay, and we had a lot of fun taking photos and meeting people. A hearty "Bravo!" to all the fabulous cosplayers, your work makes the show fun! We will be at Dragon*Con in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend for the first time, and then we will be attending BlizzCon in October! Hope to see you there, and until then I'll be imagining what costumes people come up with next!
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