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Masquerade Judging – How to be a Seam Flipping Pro!

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Costume and Play talks about the fulfilling experience of judging and pre-judging and breaks down the judging categories to help nail that pre-judging and masquerade competition!

We’ll Start with Pre-judging, often viewed by many as a very daunting task, it is there to allow the judges to see the finer details of a costume you wouldn’t notice while on stage. As it starts to slowly make its return to the UK after a series of competitions removing the aspect, we’re here to reassure you and explain why pre-judging is a huge benefit to Cosplay, not something to be scared of!

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Pre-judging is often instilled into competitions where the prizes are weighted at a higher end than other competitions, in the UK this ranges from all expenses paid trips to other UK cons, to trips to Japan! For this reason it’s important to gather more details about the costume that is being presented to the judges.

Pre-judging can be one of the most fulfilling experiences you have as a Cosplayer, this is your time and moment to present your character to a team of skilled professionals, better still to spend time with those professionals and talk about your passion!

The judges will be just as excited viewing your costume as you are to show it off, so make sure you are able to really capture your enthusiasm for the elements that make up your cosplay.

General judging also takes place at most Masquerades you’ll attend, all of our masquerades carry a ‘list three points about your costume’ section on the form. This is aimed to guide you to provide details of your costume based around the three judging areas which is then checked during line up.

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here’s our personal judging categories broken down and explained;

 Craftsmanship – The quality of costume, props and accessories; and how well these elements are made.

Very obviously this focuses around the techniques you have used to construct your costume and how well these techniques and elements come together to form the entire piece. To aid with this make sure you know how you made each element of your costume, bring a reference picture and book with examples and materials with you as this can be extremely helpful! Perhaps you avoided satin and choose another material? This is the time to express why you did that, perhaps you spent hours individually placing feathers or rhinestones onto your Cosplay, let the judges know that! Perhaps your prop has been weathered identically to the character you are playing? yep, let them know that as well! Focus on the positive elements of your costume here.

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Character Concept – This category is judged based on the execution of your character concept, be it a creative interpretation (e.g Steampunk Harley Quinn or cross play.) or character likeness. If you are presenting your original interpretation or character this will be marked based on likeness to information/concept provided to us. This is based on how well you are able to articulate your choices during pre-judging, through the design itself and while on stage. (Basically why you have chosen to do something a particular way and your ability to present this.)

Sometimes there may be a category that is unique within a masquerade, so it is always worth checking the ruleset! This category focuses on clearly defined choices, it is there to be that ‘why’ for both the performance and the craftsmanship categories. We all know that we Cosplay for fun, but look deeper and you’ll often find your choices can have a lot more consideration behind them than you first thought, and this is a great way to get you really thinking about that. This is a category also prevents a sway towards original interpretations or screen accurate characters and allows the judges to consider both with equal merit. covers the character interpretation itself and helps aid your thinking while speaking about performance choices and craftsmanship choices.

We’ll break this category down to the character itself. While you may have performance techniques when on stage, why have you made these choices? If you are going to bend down and remove the sword from the sword in the stone, what is the character thinking when you go to make this powerful action and why are you showing this in this way? Or if you are cross-playing, presenting an original character or have added unique elements to an existing character why have you done this? Perhaps it is to emphasis a particular aspect of the character you feel drawn to and wish to portray. Characters are multi dimensional beings with history and personality, this can be shown through multiple facets even through the choices with prop on stage.

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Performance – Takes into account use of general performance conventions and how you interact with the audience; for example your mannerisms, movements and generally how you present yourself. (E.g. use of diagonals, use of emotion, stage technique etc.) 

The performance category comes into effect during the masquerade itself, if you’ve nailed the concept behind your character you’ll likely find aspects such as mannerisms will follow on naturally. To refer back to our ‘sword in the stone’ reference, when the sword is first approached, my personal interpretation of the feelings of the character are excitement at the possibility of doing so, but mainly doubt. It is not until I have pulled that sword that I am rushed with the emotions of accomplishment and power. The gesture I would accompany with this would be to throw the sword up in the air with a big grin on my face.

Performance also contains elements that are unnatural however, which serve numerous purposes, with the sword up in the air I now choose to pause (which can also be known as a beat.) this marks the iconic moment (and also adds in a great time for the photographers to grab photos of you!)

Another example would be if two people were engaging in conversation, naturally we would turn to face each other to engage in this, but that means elements of the face and body can be lost, so we perform these conversations on a diagonal. It is important to remember that while on a stage, you are creating a small piece of theatre and focusing on the use of theatrical conventions alongside your character will really aid in portraying that character.

The key thing to remember about judging is the judges are not there to catch you out or make you feel bad about your costume or performance, while they may do things like view your work up close and check how elements of your costume are made, or badger you with the question of ‘so why have you chosen to do this like this?’ the main thing to remember during this is they aren’t there to focus on the negative – they want to view the hard work you’ve put in over the months you’ve made the costume and practiced your performance! The main fear here is that the stitch you dropped or a loose end will be found out and you will receive negative marks, or you will fluff up an element of your performance. – everyone understands weather a celebrity or Cosplay judge, that mistakes do happen when making costumes and performing.

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Ultimately, we are all here to enjoy costuming and cosplay, weather you win or lose you’ve still created a costume, character concept and a piece of theatre! That is something to be proud of regardless and will stay with you for a long time! During Pre-judging, the feedback you receive from the judges, be it praise or advise, can be taken and used to continue to improve your Cosplays – and having the ability to grab that advice or praise is well worth it. It will be more valuable to your cosplay passion than any prize won. Lastly, judging competitions is an extremely hard endeavor for the judges themselves! It’s often that catch 22 of ‘well how can I judge this fantastic worbla cosplay against this brilliant fabricated one?’ An element of subjectivity is also present when judging because of this.

So to sum up? Don’t worry, prepare well, come into the pre-judging room with your head held high, proud of your creation, take any advice offered to you (and indeed even ask them once you have finished the masquerade!) have fun and feel proud of what you’ve achieved, whatever the outcome!