Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on San Diego Comic-Con, came and went without much fanfare. It was a portmanteau documentary, telling a handful of stories about people attending the convention for various reasons. It did a few festivals and conventions before opening in limited release and VOD on the same day.
The subject who stood out the most for me was Holly Conrad. She was running a costume workshop out of her garage, creating an elaborate set of Mass Effect costumes for the Masquerade at Comic-Con. Her team wound up winning the judge’s award for their execution and innovation.
Holly stood out from the other subjects in the documentary because she didn’t view the convention in the same way. With a dry wit and a laser focus on one aspect of Comic-Con, she was not the typical comic fan you would expect in this kind of documentary. Obviously she’s a fan. She was just really focused on showcasing her work in that contest.
Holly Conrad now runs Crabcat Industries with Jessica Merizan, the person who never left the sewing machine when Morgan Spurlock filmed the workshop. The duo now have a costume and fabrication how-to show on the Nerdist Channel called Try This at Home with Crabcat Industries.
The first episode showed a clear direction for the program. Holly and Jessica have fun doing this work. They also have really sarcastic personalities and love a good awkward moment.
The first episode focused on setting up a workshop. They ran down their recommended safety equipment and tools before they really start fooling around with their friends/coworkers. Since there’s no right way to set up a studio (other than what works for you while still being safe), the episode doesn’t focus too much on how this team set up their studio. You get enough shots of their shelves, wall units, and hanging system to inspire your own set-up without dictating what you have to do.
Try This at Home is a very relaxed DIY show. Fabrication and costume design are wide fields with no definitive solution to any challenge. Aside from the tools (heat guns, sealants, vacuum forms, sewing machines, rotary tools, etc.), all you need to declare success is a safely completed finish product. Whether you do it in foam, recycled materials, or latex casting, all that matters is that finished product. Does it look good? Is it durable? Does it do everything it’s supposed to? Then you’ve succeeded.
The second episode focused on creating an Infinity Gauntlet (a super-powered weapon wielded by Thanos in the Marvel universe) and is a fast look at fabrication. Holly drafts a quick paper pattern, then cuts away at foam until she has something resembling the Infinity Gauntlet. Then it’s all carving, gluing, sealing, and painting from there.
At first, I questioned whether going through the steps so quickly was a wise decision. If someone wanted to make the exact same Infinity Gauntlet featured in this episode, they would have to watch a few times and parse out some of the unnamed extra steps. The edit assumes that someone who wants to do this project has a good sense of intuition.
Then I realized that, with editing for time, this became a sort of introduction to this style of fabrication. Holly runs down all the equipment she used to create a metallic texture on the foam. It’s up to you to follow the product directions and experiment with application techniques.
As I’ve learned from a lifetime of ceramics and crafting, there is no one right way to create a fake finish. This show is telling you what you need to get to experiment with this method. Do you want your gauntlet rough or smooth? How much gold is enough gold for your design? Do you want to do the bulk of your work in carving or painting the piece? Those are the choices you have to make when doing any kind of DIY project.
The important takeaway for me with Try This at Home is the no stress atmosphere. Making things is frustrating. The last thing you want to do is be so serious that you lose out on any fun in the process. You’re making costumes and props. It should be fun. You should be able to fool around with your friend and get the job done.
If you have any interest in design and fabrication, it’s worth checking out Try This at Home. It’s a fun introduction to how his process works.