Tuesday, September 10, 2013

John's Anniversary Present, With A Side Of Tiger-Mauling

John and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary at Dragon Con, which we kind of consider our anniversary gift to each other each year, but I also got him an extra special gift just before we left:

This is John, petting a bobcat so expertly that the big cat was purring loudly, forcing his big furry head into John's hand, and drooling all over his arm.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "I'd like to see some video of that."


Surprisingly enough, the bobcat love-fest was actually the side note of this particular anniversary present. The main event was Summer here:

 Who doesn't like looking at the camera.

You have to understand: all his life John has dreamed of touching a tiger. We go to Animal Kingdom and just camp out at the tiger enclosure sometimes, and we visit zoos and aquariums everywhere we travel, since we're both big animal lovers. John's desktop image is always a new tiger photo, and every other day he sends me a video link to some big cat cubs being cute. We've researched Tiger Island in Australia, and if there's one thing that pains me more than any other about my anxiety, it's that it prevents me from flying there for John.

Then, the week before we left for Dragon Con, we got to do this:

And this is John, PETTING A TIGER:

The organization that let us do this, Single Vision, Inc, is an "endangered species educational facility." They visit schools and community events, raising awareness of endangered species and also caring for a fair number of rescues at their ultra-remote complex out near Gainesville, Florida. I've been to a ton of zoos and reserves in my time, but I can honestly say I've never seen happier cats and wildlife than at this place. They all had huge enclosures, separate play fields, and were unbelievably affectionate with their caretaker, Carl. It was truly amazing.

I took this through a chain link fence, if you can believe it. We couldn't go in any pens with the larger cats, obviously, but they'd come right up to us and chuff (their version of purring) directly in our faces, before rubbing their heads on the fence between us.

I managed to capture the chuff-to-the-face in this video, along with my delighted laughter:

TIGER BELLY RUBS. Omigosh, you guys. Oh...migosh.

Here's Mohan, a white tiger rescue, getting a good stretch in while sauntering over to say hello to John:

Several of the cats have heartbreaking histories, and Carl told us it took over a year before he could even touch Mohan after he was rescued, the cat was so scared. Now, Mohan comes right up to the fence to greet visitors, rubbing his cheeks just inches from our faces, as curious and comfortable as our own house cats.

Summer has two adopted siblings, Leo and Bhutan, but they're too big now to interact with the public. They looked a bit jealous watching her trot out into the main yard to see us, though, don't you think?

This wasn't just a quick photo op with Summer, either; John and I got to spend a solid 30 minutes with her - just us and her handler - although most of that was spent watching her harass the ground's two area house cats, dog, and turtle:

"Plaaaay with meeeee!"

 "Come back!"

 "Don't you do ANYTHING interesting??"

Eventually the house cats retreated, leaving Summer with her next playmate/victim: Me. [gulp]


This is me, being mauled by a tiger. 

(I should start a list of all the wild animals I've been attacked by. First a flamingo, now this!)

I'm on my knees in that pic, btw, looking down my thigh. Yep, before escaping, I stopped to take a picture. PRIORITIES, people. I escaped with barely a scratch, though, and even my purse went unscathed.

As amazing as all that was, I almost feel bad admitting what MY favorite interaction of the day was:


He looks a little cranky there, but I assure you, these creatures were the sweetest, gentlest, most dainty grape-grabbers EVER:

They were also the softest things I've ever felt nuzzled up on my cheek before: like a cross between chinchillas* and cotton candy.

(*I had some as pets once - no fur coats here!)

Now he's looking all miffed, but really they look up to chew, so the grapes don't fall out. I promise I didn't insult his heritage or anything. (Although I WAS tempted to start singing "I Like To Move It, Move It." King Julian would be proud.)

I took turns feeding grapes to the one on my shoulder and several others. I found they were so gentle that I could hold out a tiny grape the size of my pinky tip, and they'd just lick my fingers with their little tongues while taking it from me. SO CUTE.

Well, that about wraps up our epic Anniversary experience. For the next week after this John and I kept turning to each other during odd moments and saying, "Hey, do you realize we petted a tiger cub a few days ago??" I think we still haven't absorbed it all - and John keeps watching and re-watching those videos I took with a hazy, happy look.  [dusting hands] Yep. I think I did ok this time.

Hope you enjoyed our little trip to Wild Kingdom, guys, and stay tuned for my third and final Dragon Con photo post!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dragon Con '13: The Best Cosplay, Part 2!

Time for more Dragon Con insanity!

But don't worry; it's always GOOD insanity. 


Like that.

Tell me this next girl doesn't make you want to stand up and cheer. TELL ME:

Hope for humanity... growing...

And then there's this adorableness:

It is SO DARK on the bottom floor of the Marriott, but luckily these girls' natural geeky brilliance manages to shine through. (They weren't even together, either; they just found each other in the crowd!)

I'm almost afraid to ask, since I feel like I SHOULD know (it's a cartoon character, right?) and because I know the first 10 comments are going to tell me, but... who is this?

[UPDATE: "Your unknown purple monster is Eduardo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends." Thanks, Molly!]

I don't know if these two were posing or legitimately konked out, but either way, this is how you feel after a full day (and night!) of DC:

And now, the kind of cosplay mashup genius only Dragon Con seems to bring:

 Harley Wendy with a Joker Ronald McDonald. 
GENIUS, I say.

Oh, hey, looks like I DID get a shot of those Spartans:

If you listen closely, you can almost hear their abs rippling.

This robot was massive - nearly 10 feet tall, I think? - but I couldn't seem to catch him standing still:

 I'm sure this must be the same builder responsible for the trio of robots last year, but I like how he gave it a coppery steampunk vibe this time. The purple lights were perfect with it, too. (You can embiggen any of these pics by clicking on them, btw!)

Some amazing armor:


A super sweet Vanellope:

And a massive Versailles-style gown:
There were three other ladies in gowns like these who entered the costume contest Friday night. They were themed to the seasons, and just as stunning. I'll have pics of them in my next post, so watch for that.

And now, I give you: JEDI DISNEY PRINCESSES:

This is probably based on one of the many Jedi Princesses art pieces out there, but I can't figure out which one. Anyone know? [Update: from Jedi Ariel herself, they were inspired by Pushfighter's series on DA. Thanks, Ariel!]

I initially chased down these Dandelion girls thinking they were from Pushing Daisies, but it turns out they're from the movie Epic - "but the same idea," they told me:

From the neck up they really are identical to the girls from Pushing Daisies, right down to the petals used for eyelashes!

I wonder what they used for the head stalks? I can't tell from the photo.

Next up, if you recognize these three then you must be a child of the 80s like me:

Lady Lovely Locks! 

(Sorry 'bout the awful pic - it really was the best I could do! :/)

Oooh, now I want to see a group do Rose Petal Place. (Anyone remember them? Kind of the poor girl's Strawberry Shortcake?)

I saved my two favorite cosplay shots for last, since I had so much fun editing them. First, a fantastic Booker:

In the madness that is DC it's often impossible to get a good one-on-one shot with a cosplayer, much less several. If you stand on the center bridges from the main floor to the elevators in the Marriott, though, there's enough breathing room to line up some nice shots without blocking traffic. I camped out there for a bit, darting into the fray to recruit cosplayers passing by to follow me back for a photo. Anyway, I was lucky enough to catch this guy walking through, and he was a real pro at posing:

I made sure to get the back of his hand in at least one shot, because look what's carved there, Infinite fans! (LOVE.) It's so much fun doing shoots like this, I can't even tell you. I wish I had three minutes with proper lighting & space with every cosplayer.

And finally, hang on to your socks, because... SPOCK!

I was positively GIDDY taking this shot, since he was taking a break on the stairs in perfect posing position. It's a good thing he was seated, too, because I saw him standing later and he is reeeeally tall. (Ok, so everyone is tall compared to my five-foot self, but still.)

Anyway, is he not Leonard Nimoy's doppelgänger?

That shot is my favorite by far, but I also skipped up the stairs beside him and grabbed this profile angle:

At this point I reached my photo-editing capacity and had to take another breather, but I think I'll be able to squeeze the rest of my favorites into my next and final DC post. [Home stretch - phew!]

I'm also not posting everything here - just my favorites - so if you want to see ALL of my shots just head over to my DC Flickr gallery

Many thanks to all of the cosplayers here for letting us share in the fun! Oh, and if you spot your photo here, please say hi in the comments - ideally with a link back to your own site or photo album!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Mounted Mechtorian Head

Hey guys!

I'm taking a breather between Dragon Con photo posts, since my eyes may LITERALLY fall out if I look at Photoshop for one more minute. Plus I was feeling a little craftsy-antsy today. (You know that feel? Like, gimme something physical to do or I WILL explode? Only no housework, because, c'mon. Really.)

So, here's what I did for my super-quick craft of the weekend: 

I bought the little robot/Mechtorian head on the right from Doktor A at Dragon Con, knowing that I had JUST the frame for it. I've been saving that mini painting for ages now - it was an $8 find at Big Lots. (CLASSY SHOPPER, RIGHT HERE.)

The Mechtorian head is resin, I think - it's quite heavy - but the finish was a little dull compared to the frame. So I rubbed on a layer of shiny metallic Rub N' Buff, and then also added clear plastic lenses to the eye sockets, cut from a thick report cover.

Next I painted over the froofy grandma painting (love ya, Grandma!) with a stippled black and brown, screwed a screw in, and...


It's like he's peering down at us!

I thought this idea might inspire some of you vinyl toy collectors out there, since there are all kinds of possibilities here. I could see a whole wall of small frames filled with various blind-box toys  - which would be a really stylish way to show off your collection, too. You could mount the toys with clear fishing line punched through the backer board for a non-permanent option, or glue them with epoxy if you don't mind "ruining" them.

K, that's all for now. Hope you guys are having an awesome weekend!

PS - During my Sabbatical I decided I will TRY to get more comfortable with quick posts like this. It's my blog, right? So if I just want to pop in all quick-like and show off something small or just say hi, that's cool, right? (Don't answer that. I'm just talking here. ;))

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dragon Con '13: The Best Cosplay, Part 1

I'm sorting and editing my DC photos in order, so here are my favorites from Thursday and Friday!

(Thursday is the new Friday at Dragon Con, by the way; more and more folks arrive on Wednesday now, so Thursday has plenty of pre-con parties and cosplayers out and about!)

My first cosplay shot of the weekend: my friend Christie as a mermaid!

(I've had a few people ask, and yes, that IS a Mertailor tail.)

This female Hellboy (Hellgirl?) and Abe Sapien absolutely blew me away:

Their costumes were stunning, and it was nice to get the chance to chat with them and grab a few close-ups. After Thursday getting more than a half second to snap a photo - much less TALK to the cosplayer - is a rare luxury.

I really like the way Abe's shot turned out; her pose is awesome. I'm trying to step up my game with cosplay shots, get some more interesting angles when I can. It's tough since most of these are night shots without nearly enough light (and I don't use flash), but I'm having fun trying!

Obligatory memes:

I love punny cosplays, so I'm ashamed to say it took me a solid 10 second to "get" this one:

Do you get it? Huh? DO YA?

(It's a clockwork orange!)

It can be a bit dizzying when you're crushed in a sea of people in the Marriott lobby, so if you ever start to feel claustrophobic, just look up:

Then you'll feel REALLY dizzy. :D
Oh, and if you enjoy the tickly feeling of your brain dropping into your stomach, then I highly recommend riding one of those glass express elevators up to the very top. (My knees very nearly gave way when we did a few years ago. HEAD RUSH!)

This guy was carrying around a steampunk Kermit, but I couldn't catch him from the front:


And this grumpy Tink is ridiculously adorable:

Coulson lives!

I spotted two fantastic Wonder Woman variations on Friday: the first was this Masquerade style:

How great is that mask?

And the second was this sensational Western Wonder Woman, who even talked the part with a drawled, "Thank ye kindly, ma'am."

 This is actually one of my favorite cosplays from the whole con; so original, and perfectly done.

Friday night there was a steampunk party in the Aether lounge, but it was so dark in there pictures without flash were nearly impossible. I geeked out when I spotted this steampunk Hatter, though, since I was drooling over his costume over on DeviantArt just a few weeks ago:

The hat has a lever on the side that operates the hinged opening and lifts out a teacup. SO COOL. His brass mouse toppled off his shoulder just as I was about to take his picture, so I got to pick it up - and I was THIS CLOSE to making a run for it with her. ;)

I spotted three or four Sherlocks over the weekend - at least one of which was running around in just a bed sheet, which was hysterical. (I heard on Twitter that he kept approaching people dressed as Bilbo and saying, "Oh, I thought you were someone else." Bwahaha!) These two made a great pair; you can just tell they're handcuffed together:

This astronaut looks like he robbed Cape Canaveral. Seriously, the suit and flag were that perfect up close:

Pretty girls in armor:

The one on the right has a color-changing orb floating above her hand - and I'm still not sure how it was attached.

This young fellow is actually an Epbot fan; he and his mom flagged me down in the Hyatt lobby:

The whole suit is articulated beautifully, and it was fun hearing them explain how they did it all together!

(Oddly enough, I actually had more young boys than girls track me down over the weekend - all with their parents, of course. Overall there aren't a huge amount of young kids at DC, though, except for the parade on Saturday.)

Had some fun playing with the lighting on this one:

 It's easy to get jaded about amazing cosplay when you're at Dragon Con - easy to forget these are fans just like you and me, making art and learning new skills all out of love for their passions. It's inspiring, really.

 Another reader, rocking a fab femme Riddler costume!

(Please forgive me for not listing names, guys; next year I need to carry a notebook! o.0)

I was surprised I didn't see more BioShock Infinite cosplay this year. I saw more Bookers than Elizabeths, and no other characters from the game at all. I'm desperate to see someone do the Statue of Liberty ghost soldiers - if I weren't so short I would be ALL over that.

Anyway, major props to this Booker for bringing... a major prop:

And now a blurry shot of some flawless body paint:

She must have been airbrushed. There wasn't a smear or streak on her! 

This gal wins most creative Doctor Who cosplay:

She was kind of like a walking parade float; the three pieces attached to a backpack behind her, and she tells me she made them mostly from foam and fabric. (The Ood is my favorite!)

Some Disney princesses:

And Dug from Up!

Not sure who this is, but I wouldn't want to cross her:

[Per the comments: "Looks to be a Femme Kabal from Mortal Kombat." Thanks!]

And this is one of my favorite cosplay groups:

SO PERFECT. And I love the girl Indy!

Just a few feet away was this group from Middle Earth:

Check out the Rider!

I think this next one needs a caption:

"Hey, man, we said no corporate sponsors!"

This group had color-changing weaponry, and if you look closely you'll see the pink-and-white one is Hello Kitty themed:
[Lydia in the comments just pointed this out: That's HALO Kitty! AAAAH, SO AWESOME!]

Adventure Time prettiness:
It's hard to tell with the poor lighting, but their skin really was painted pink and orange.

This is our new friend JJ, another DC volunteer we first met on the media tour Wednesday night:

I snapped this in the vendor hall with a white column behind her, and now I wish ALL my shots had white backgrounds. (Also shows what a difference better lighting can make!)

This guy was stationed right outside the Vendor building, delighting all us passers-by:

I think you need a little video to really appreciate him, though, so here's a Vine I posted:

Talk about dedication; he has both arms inside the puppet.

And while I'm at it, here's another of three costumes I didn't get still photos of:

Ruby Rhod is da bomb. Love him.

Go, Go, Gadget Girl!

On a technical note: many of these shots were taken in shadows and dimly lit corners, so John suggested I put up a comparison so you can see how I'm adjusting them:

I've found that the Lighting Effects in PhotoShop (under the "Render" toolbar) are my new best friend; they can make a back lit subject like this Red Sonja pop forward without blowing out the background. I also use the Dodge tool to further lighten the faces, and then add a vignette. I'm just playing with sliders 'til I think it looks right, though, I really have no idea what I'm doing. ;) (And I've only adjusted about half of these photos in PS - the rest I just brighten up in iPhoto.)

Oh, and since I'm usually asked: I use a Canon 7D with a 17-50 lens for all my shots.

And finally, this steampunk Cyberman actually won one of the categories in the big costume contest, and it's easy to see why!
The detail on this costume is flat-out ASTOUNDING, and I can't even begin to guess how he made the rubber under suit with all the wires and tubing. Absolutely gorgeous.

Ok. So... that's Thursday and Friday. 0.0  Hope you guys enjoyed, and stay tuned for more!