Friday, September 7, 2012

Dragon*Con 2012, Continued

(Read part 1 here, if you haven't already!)

We didn't bring the zoom lens to the Eureka panel, so even though we were less than half the distance from the stage as at The Guild's, my pics are blurry messes:
Blech. Sorry.

Colin Ferguson made the panel a non-stop laugh riot, though, and this was easily my favorite event of the whole con. If you ever get the chance to see him in person, GO. He's hysterical.  (Niall & Tembe are wonderful, too; just not as funny.)

At one point this elegantly dressed older lady stood up and thanked Tembe for setting such a wonderful example for other women, and women of color at that, by playing such a strong, intelligent character. Tia then immediately started talking about Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and what an inspiration *she* had been. It was a beautiful moment, and I know I wasn't the only one choked up by it.

Friday night we took my parents to Pittypatt's Porch, this fabulous Southern restaurant across the street from the Westin (try the pickled watermelon rind! Really!), and by some crazy random happenstance we walked in exactly one minute after the entire cast of The Guild. (!!) So, yeah, I may have spent the whole meal staring three tables over and being told by John to stop staring. Hee.

Saturday I decided to sleep in and skip the parade, while John went out and took pictures. I later learned he had a miserable time of it, though, since he emerged from the hotel into a solid wall of humanity, and it took over 45 minutes for him to navigate two block to the Press area - and once there he still couldn't see much, and then the Parade stopped moving for over 15 minutes while it backed up, and finally John admitted defeat and left. 

My parents also had a rough time: they arrived a full hour early to stake out a good spot, and at the last minute a big group of people elbowed their way in front of my parents so they couldn't see a thing.  >.<

Stuff like that makes me so sad and disgusted with people. I can only hope the rude ones were locals or other tourists, and not Dragon*Con attendees. Considering that most D*C folk are always amazingly polite, I really think that must be the case.
You can see from these pics just had crazy the parade crowds are. It's hard to tell where the parade stops and the onlookers begin!

I think from now on we're swearing off the parade, unless we stand at the very tail end by the Marriott - we've had luck there in years past.

In happier news, on Saturday I got a tattoo!!
Ok, so it's a Sharpie tattoo, but still.

This is the work of artist Jason Thomas of Red Rocket Farms, who I contacted ahead of time to demand/request one. I'm not sure he did any others the whole con, either, so here I am looking smug:
The rocket ship was my idea, but Jason came up with a second tattoo design on his own. I think you can tell he designed it just for me:

Actually, this is just an in-process shot; somehow we neglected to take a finished picture until that night when it'd started to fade (oops!):

A robot and cake - perfect, right? (Have I mentioned that Jason is a fan?)

As you can see, Jason's art and daily comics have an adorably twisted and often morbid sense of humor, so I'm pretty sure you guys will like 'em. ;) 

Plus Saturday night we got to see the premier of his new cartoon, Cradle Me, Sky, which looks pretty amazing. The fates conspired against Jason & his partner Jennifer that night, though, with a room change, disappearing equipment, and a host of other problems, until the delayed premier was to a much smaller crowd than they'd hoped. So do me a favor and go check out the nine minute premier. I, for one, can't wait to see the next chapters.

Also on Saturday we attended the Gadgeteer's Showcase, where steampunk builders and enthusiasts show off everything from jetpacks to giant wings to weaponry. Needless to say, it's awesome.

That's the builder/creator in the cap. He rode this...erm...vehicle? through the whole parade! And I overheard him saying he's worked for Disney for years as a prop builder. Makes sense, right?

 I still don't see how the giant wheel didn't scrape his head. o.0

This group was there showing off their awesome Avengers steampunkery:
I like Thor's hat.

Also there were the Apparition Abolishers, a steampunk Ghostbusters group kind of similar to The  League of Steam. And as luck would have it, I got a photo of the lady Abolisher who would go on to win Best In Show in the big D*C Masquerade costume contest:

 This is Leah, aka "Chloe Seachord," and the secret to her costume's success is all in those wings!

Here they are in action:

Amazing, right? She's using an iPhone to control the wings mechanism. Hit the Abolishers link up there to see lots of information on how the group built it all.

Sunday night was the big night: the Mechanical Masquerade, and time for me to step out once again as Lady Vadore.

I was so nervous I had John loosen my corset twice, and even then I had to pace around the room a bit and take half a Xanax before I could don the mask and goggles. Once we left the room we discovered another problem, though: the dreaded elevator wait.

As anyone who's been to D*C knows, every host hotel has a LOT of floors, and the wait for elevators gets insane. At one point we talked to people on the 37th floor of the Westin who were stranded for over an hour, because every elevator that stopped was full. Even worse, the Westin forbade the use of stairs. Yes, really: an alarm would go off. (But we took the stairs anyway on checkout day with another large group. If we hadn't, I think we'd still be there!)

Elevators are another thing that trigger my anxiety; every time the doors close I have to suppress a moment of panic that we'll be trapped. When we checked in we initially were assigned the 40th floor, but after one shaky elevator trip up I made John get us a lower room. We ended up on the 16th floor, which was a vast improvement, but that meant getting down to the lobby could be a challenge: every elevator going down was already full. (There were 72 floors total.) So...we waited. And I paced. And we waited some more.

 Fortunately after only 10 or 15 minutes we were able to cram into an elevator and get downstairs. (Phew!)

As soon as people saw us and started asking for pictures, my nerves evaporated. Like most things, it's the waiting that's the hardest part. I think my parents were surprised by how many people wanted all of our photos, not just mine, but I was delighted each time to wave them over beside me. (John wore a cap, vest, and goggles, but still managed to duck out of most pictures.)

The Masquerade was getting a late start, though, so rather than stand around at the Westin we decided to trek down to the Marriott - you know, that pace where you have to trade places with people to move? - and wander around a bit.

 (There's that lack of peripheral vision again: could I....BE any closer? Ha!)

If ever there was a test for crowd anxiety, this was it. It was the most crowded night at the most crowded hotel, and I quickly discovered that the lack of movement (due to both the crowd & photo requests) caused my goggles to fog up. When I walk the cooler air gets in on the sides, so I hadn't noticed this problem before. My already limited vision got worse the longer we stood in one place, until I had to cling to John's sleeve to lead me through the thickest areas.

(See how much brighter my mask is here? That was after a quick battery change.)

I'm sure this sounds like some people's worst nightmare, but somehow the crowds at D*C don't really bother me. (Well, there was one point when we got caught right outside the main ballroom just as the Masquerade let out, and we literally couldn't move for about three solid minutes. That made me a bit antsy - but eventually we shuffled along to a slightly clearer spot, and all was well.) There's just so much to see, and overall you do keep moving. If I didn't have John, though, I could see it getting too much too fast.

And, surprise surprise, a LOT of readers found me in costume! Some were too shy to stop me, instead choosing to yell to the person next to them, "THAT'S JEN. FROM CAKE WRECKS!" Most stopped to grab a photo or chat (or attempt to chat, at least) for a few minutes, though.

Here's my favorite photo from that night:

Someone said they saw more kids in costume than ever this year, which baffled me, because I saw almost none! I guess that's because I skipped the parade and was mostly out in the later afternoons and evenings, but I was still pretty bummed I didn't see more. Anyway, aren't these two girls great? When they asked for a picture, I made sure John grabbed one with our camera, too.

After an hour or so we made our way back to the Westin, where we met a bunch more readers, including Little Girl Spock (aka Bryden)'s mom, Rachel! Check out how snazzy she and her guy Wade looked, too:

You can't really tell in this picture, but they're both wearing the coolest steampunked Star Trek insignias. Plus, Rachel was carrying the first steampunk prop I've ever seen that reduced me to a squealing fangirl. I WANT ONE SO MUCH, you guys:

 It's a steampunk tricorder. (!!) Wade made it himself! And it has switches! And different colored lights! AND I REALLY REALLY WANT ONE. (Oh, Joo-ooohn...)

The Mechanical Masquerade itself was nice, but held in a giant dark room that made photos almost impossible:

Plus the music combined with my mask made conversation extra impossible. So after making the circuit through the room once or twice to make sure we met all the readers who were looking for us, we headed back to the Marriott.

In the end we stayed out 'til 2AM in costume - a new record! - and John and I were both nearly crippled from all the walking. Ha! Not to mention the gouges on my face from the mask & goggles took nearly two days to fade completely.


Ben Franklin, Cat Woman & Harley, and a steampunk lady Vader - only at Dragon*Con.

Speaking as a cosplayer (and who knew I'd ever be able to say that?), I have to say I preferred Star Wars Celebration to D*C, even though I had my photo taken far more at D*C. Less crowds actually means more people can see - and therefore appreciate - your costume. As John pointed out, I'm so short that many people never saw me in the masses until I was right next to them. Plus the teeming crowds pushed people past so fast that often they'd only have time for a quick picture; no time to stop and chat. In fact, I think part of the reason Dragon*Con is known for the big spectacle costumes is just because that's the only way you can guarantee people will see you. You know, like this:

I guess it's just a quality-time thing for me; I'd rather have the option of chatting with the person who freaks out over my costume, instead of standing stock still while a steady stream of people file past and snap pics along the way. But that could be just me. (And it was still fun, so don't think I'm complaining!)

Now, speaking as a cosplay photographer, I'll take Dragon*Con over any other con all day, any day. You just can't beat it. Wait'll you see my next posts - you'll see what I mean!

And now, my friends, I will end this insanely long post, because it really is getting insanely long. If you're still reading this, thanks for making it this far! I hope you've been able to enjoy Dragon*Con vicariously through my ramblings. 

Next, stay tuned for the best Dragon*Con costumes! (And watch my Flickr account for all the pics I don't post here on the blog; I'll be updating it as each post goes up!)

Dragon*Con 2012: THE BEGINNING

I'm going to ration out my D*C coverage into two or three posts, so as to not completely overwhelm you guys. This one will be more about my personal experiences at the con, and the next one or two will be all costumes. So get comfortable, and let's get to it!

John and I drove up to Atlanta on Wednesday, a full day early, figuring we'd beat the crowds and get a nice leisurely start to the weekend. It worked like a charm, and I *highly* recommend it if you're able. By Thursday afternoon all the host hotels were backed up as thousands upon thousands of geeks attempted to all check in at once. Parking garages were shut down, lines were long, traffic was awful, and we smugly breezed by it all to go grab our passes feeling nice and refreshed. ;)

Thursday night is when we first met Renee (who made that amazing Epbot plushie) and her posse from DCTV. For those who've been to Dragon*Con, this is the group that makes those hilarious bumper videos playing before each panel. They lured us to a room party with promises of fruity drinks and celebrities, and while Colin Ferguson never showed (we love you anyway, Colin!) they still didn't disappoint:

This is Garrett Wang, who played Harry Kim on Star Trek: Voyager. He had to leave before we could get there, so they made him take this picture for me as a consolation prize. (Garrett also included a coupon for a free hug. I still have it. I may frame it. WHAT.)

Renee's husband Alex and his best friend Stephen (aka "the bald guy" on DCTV) have a podcast called Disasterpiece Theatre, and somehow they managed to get me and John tipsy enough with fruity drinks to agree to be on it, right then and there, in the hotel room, with about 20 people crammed in the one room listening to us. o.0 Like all recordings of myself, I will never listen to it, but I'm pretty sure I said nothing even remotely interesting. But the guys are awesome, so you should go listen to the show they did with Colin, 'cuz that one is hysterical.

To give you an idea, this happened during Colin's show last year:

...And it was Colin's idea. (Coolest guy ever? YEP.)(That's Stephen & Alex, btw, and the gorgeous gal is Brooke, their show producer.)

Also on Thursday I got to play photographer for my friend Christie, who was swimming in the Marriott pool in her brand new mermaid tail. Definitely one of those "only at Dragon*Con" kind of things: there was a mermaid in the pool!

This one was taken with my phone and Instagram'd.

And these were taken with my 7D:
The distortion from the water makes her hand and face look really creepy here - but I kind of like it.

Shoots like this make me daydream about being a professional portrait photographer. I'm not saying I have the skill for it, but I just love it SO DARN MUCH. I could take pictures of people and play with them in Photoshop all day, every day. Besides, it's fun ordering pretty people around. "Now give me 'playfully mischievous.' Thaaat's it. [click click click] Now growl. You're a tiger. YOU'RE A JUNGLE TIGER."


Ok, back to Dragon*Con.

My parents arrived on Thursday as well, and my mom came prepared with a different steampunky outfit for each day of the con. Of course, my mom's version of steampunk is anything but drab:

Isn't she cute? Plus my Dad looks super spiffy in a top hat - he's just not wearing it here.

The fact that my parents come with us to Dragon*Con is one of the great joys in my life, and the fact that they enjoy it as much as they do never ceases to amaze me. They go off to panels and events on their own, and then tell us all about them at dinner. Plus every time I think the crowds and mayhem MUST be making them miserable, I turn to see Dad beaming at the people around us and remarking how wonderful it is that everyone there is so nice and polite, and how beautiful all the costumes are. The crowds did start to get to Mom a little this year, but she's a trooper, and she loves posing for pictures and excitedly pointing out that I'm her daughter every time we meet a fan. (Um, thanks, Mom....)

This year I decided to cut down drastically on the amount of panels we'd see to give myself more time to relax and wander. It worked, but I think I may have cut down TOO much, since John mentioned he'd have liked to see more. Maybe next year I'll hit the right balance. Anyway, the panels I most wanted to see were The Guild and Eureka, and for The Guild we discovered one of our Press pass perks was that John and I were allowed to stand in the back of the massive auditorium, as opposed to sitting with the crowd.

This was perfect for my anxiety (middle seats make me crazy), and also perfect for us to test the HUGE zoom lens my Dad had rented for the con. Seriously, this thing was a monster. It had to be a foot long, easy. And the room seated, what, three thousand people? But I managed to get shots like this from so far away that the people on stage were nothing but tiny blurs:

I post this pretty picture of Felicia to make up for what I'm about to post, which is the most epic "DERP" face I have ever seen:

Hee! Sorry, Felicia. And Robin. :D

The panel itself was quite good. It's always tough with that many people on stage, and I don't think Robin said more than three words, but there were still plenty of great moments. Like when Amy innocently asked, "Wait. What's a 'taint'?"


And here's where someone's phone rang, and Sandeep made her bring it to the stage so he could answer it:
Good times.

Yowza, this post is getting kinda long, and I'm only about half way through! So I'm going to break here and post the rest later today, k? Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

DIY Easy Hip Bag Mod

I mentioned a while back how much I've been digging Fiona's leather hip bag on Burn Notice:

(I've had minor lower-back issues since college, so I only wear cross-body bags these days - but I know a hip bag would be SO much better on my back.)

Since then I've seen one or two crafty bloggers convert a regular purse into a similar style bag, and I've been itching to give it a try. Essentially it's just a regular purse with the strap attached to the sides of the bag instead of the top, so really the hardest part is finding a purse style that will work best on your hip.

As luck would have it, I had this small cross-body bag from Beya (which cost a whopping $10) already tucked away in my closet:

Technically you could take a bag like this and just slide the strap over your waist, but I wanted something a bit better.

First I ripped open the seams on the side buckle straps:

Once I removed the square metal buckles, I glued the small straps back in place to cover the unfinished side edges, where you can see the yellow lining poking out.

Next I cut two three-inch pieces off the purse strap and (messily) hand-stitched them in place on the back of the bag to form belt loops:
(I passed the edges of each strap piece over a flame to melt/seal them and keep the fabric from fraying.)

If you make these loops between 2.5 and 3 inches long, then you'll have the option of wearing your bag on your own belts, in addition to using the existing bag strap.

Another lucky break: I was able to put the the two square metal side pieces together to make one D-ring clasp/buckle for the bag strap:

This essentially gave me a long canvas belt with a square D-ring clasp, which makes the "belt" adjustable.

So now I have a hip bag I can wear two ways: with the canvas strap over things like skirts or dresses, or on my own leather belts when I wear jeans.

I've already used the bag a lot more than I expected, and it was a minor life-saver at Dragon*Con, where I initially planned to only lug around a giant leather messenger bag. (John brought a backpack, so some days I got away with just wearing this!)

The only issue with wearing the bag on your own belt is that it's then fairly high up on your waist, and if you tend to wear longer t-shirts it will make them ride up:

Shorter shirts are perfect with it, though, and it's not so bulky that you can't wear an over shirt with it, too, if you slide the bag forward a little more:

(Here I've got the bag loaded up with my iPhone, wallet, gum, pill case, and lip gloss. It's *just* big enough for everything I need.)

Of course you could also use the canvas strap to wear the bag lower on your hip, if you don't want it it up so high. The only issue I found there is that the bag wants to slide forward over your crotchal region as you walk, which is super annoying. I fixed this by clipping an extra long bobby pin to the strap right in front of the bag, to keep it from sliding. For a more permanent fix, you might try stitching a small square onto the strap that the bag can't slide past to keep it in place.

I'm still on the lookout for a nicer, leather bag that I can convert into a larger hip bag - maybe one I can even add a leg holster strap to, like this:

Blaster 3.0 Brown, $269 from JungleTribe

Or I'd also like to try adding two hanging straps to a small messenger bag, kind of like this:
Purse Wallet Hipbelt, $120 from stashpack

If you make the hanging straps into two big loops, then you can use your own belts *and* have the bag hang much lower on your hip.

So many fun possibilities!

Well, I hope this helps get some of your creative juices flowing! And if any of you end up modding your own hip bags, please, send me a picture - you know I wanna see!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I'm Baa-aaack!

John and I got home in the wee hours this morning from Dragon*Con, and I can now say for sure that two huge conventions in two successive weekends is not the best idea.  I'm exhausted and a bit sick (curse you, Con Crud!), but absolutely ecstatic over the fabulous weekend we had.

I've already been at my photos, sorting and tweaking and dancing in my seat with excitement over all the goodies I have to show you guys, but you'll have to bear with me while I catch up with my day job (the one with cakes) and try to rest up a bit. I may also space out my Dragon*Con coverage with some regular posts, if you don't mind, since I don't like overwhelming Epbot with all con photos for weeks at a time.

In the meantime, though, a few highlights:

I finally got that photo with Steampunk Boba Fett I wanted:

And then we danced. :)

(I also fixed my cane; see how much brighter the lights are now? Tutorial coming soon!)

This was my first Dragon*Con using my new 7D camera and 17-50 lens, which we purchased with D*C specifically in mind. (We needed a high ISO and a fairly wide angle for up-close, low-light conditions.) Overall I'm really pleased with how the pics turned out. I thought this Daft Punk cosplay shot was especially nice:

I'll never admit to purposely stalking Felicia Day (AND YOU CAN'T PROVE IT), but I will say that I found myself within five feet of her on several occasions throughout the con, and never ONCE worked up the courage to say hello.


The absolute best part of the con was all the readers I got to meet, though. Every year more of you find me, and every year I'm astounded by how many of you do. I thought I over-packed pins, but we kept running out! I like to joke that I only started the "find Jen" game on Twitter because I was lonely and wanted people to talk to me, but really, Dragon*Con wouldn't be *nearly* as fun without being stopped every hour or two with a random, "Jen? Are you Jen?"

I also love that so many of you are willing to hang out and chat for a bit - or in some cases, hang out for several nights in a row while fixing me & John ridiculous fruity drinks with umbrellas and gifting me with the most amazing plush EVAH:

Renee, you rock. 

I'm going to wrap up this "super short check-in post" (riiiight) with what turned out to be the best unintentional photo bomb ever.

First, let me say that I've seen a ton of Jessica Rabbit cosplay in the past, but never one that truly approached her ridiculously cartoony proportions until this:


Anyway, it wasn't until I was going through my pics last night that I realized I'd accidentally captured the most perfect photo bomb:

The lady carrying the Roger Rabbit balloon just happened to be walking by - my other pics only have the tip of his hand bobbing past. Best shot ever? I'm thinking YES.

I hope you all had equally fantastic holiday weekends! Stay tuned for another book review, a quick hip bag tutorial, and of course TONS more cosplay shots from Dragon*Con!