Never Underestimate The Power Of The Nintendo Fandom
One Snowflake Can Start An Avalanche
Like many things at Make Them Awesome sometimes it’s just one small thing that will get the machine running and lead to the creation of a project.
Last year during a Nintendo Direct video for New Super Mario Brothers U Deluxe it was revealed that Toadette was able to acquire a power up that would turn her into a version of Princess Peach. I mean why let Mario and Luigi have all the fun of being able to turn into different characters?
But then there was a moment that just completely took the internet over.
An artist by the name of Haniwa posted a four panel comic that was a play off of Super Mario Odyssey and the Super Crown idea… and the internet just went completely batshit over the concept. Lots of really good designs and memes (plus the expected Rule 34 material) came about because one person had a dumb idea and ran with it. The artist was eventually given a trophy by Pixiv and NicoNico for the whole idea.
The cosplay community was completely enamored with this concept and many jumped on that hype train and pretty much immediately started making costumes. We were into it as well looking out for really good designs. Though at the time we all agreed that doing something right away would not be a good idea as we would get buried with everyone else. It wouldn’t quite work for the level of quality we aim for.
Everyone quickly figured out which characters they wanted to be: Allybelle would be Chompette, Mermaid Child would be Boosette, and Tacocat would be Bowsette. Now it would just be a matter of what designs to possibly try.
Allybelle was actually the first one to decide on a design for Chompette. Ann4rt came up with a design she really liked. So that one went on the list. But we still hadn’t settled on a design for Bowsette or Boosette. At the time we were bouncing around ideas for doing something with the concept in November (since we already had our October plans locked down) or even as a Valentine’s Day project of some sort. There were a number of projects in the works at the time so at that moment we wanted to work around them.
Then Hannah Alexander would release her versions of Bowsette and Boosette. Both Tacocat and Mermaid Child were both like WE WANT TO DO THOSE! So the design choices were in place… now it would just be a matter of when.
Originally there was one project that Tacocat wanted to do as a cosplay contest entry for Ikkicon. But then in mid-November she decided she wanted to change it out for Bowsette and Boosette instead. Since Allybelle was also going to Ikkicon she also decided to work on Chompette. At the time we already had our November and December photo projects in place so we figured we could do a shoot in January.
Unfortunately Allybelle was not able to make it to Ikkicon so she spent her energy getting Chompette ready for the January project. But Tacocat was full speed ahead on getting two brand new costumes ready for Ikkicon in the span of a month and a half. Especially with an eye for entering them for contest reasons. Not long before this she had acquired a 3D printer so that helped with some parts especially for Bowsette. And holy shit she pulled it off.
Mermaid Child and Tacocat ended up getting the award for Best Walk On at Ikkicon. Which was amusing since we were discussing the idea up until a couple of hours before the contest. We had a loose idea of what should be done but nothing yet that would make for a good set up to the joke we wanted to pull off. Thankfully I was able to use my Quirk of I Know People and was able to borrow a GameBoy Pocket because our friend Tien was vending for Game Over Videogames was nice enough to lend us one. Otherwise the joke probably wouldn’t have gone over as well.
Utilizing History and Technology
Speaking for myself: I grew up with the Mario games. Going through my gaming history up to that point would make this article much longer than it is. But the main point is I was there when Mario Mania hit. So I fully understood the historical and cultural importance of these characters. So for me to have that understanding really gave me some space for creative interpretation. Especially compared to others on the team. Hell, Mermaid Child had never played a Mario game in her life. I did buy an NES Classic with the intention of at least having her play Super Mario 1 and 3. Though maybe I’ll be a real asshole and get her to play Ninja Gaiden as well.
One space I had been exploring with photography is with regards to light painting. There’s lots of info about the subject out there so I won’t explain the concepts for now. But I was really interested to see how we could utilize it in our work in a meaningful way. Part of the reason for this was that some photographers in our space like to add effects during post production. But in many cases it would end up looking distracting. Especially when you can tell when lighting wasn’t taken into consideration. Say if a character has some ability like throwing a fireball or lightning or whatever. If a character can do that then by way of physics we should we should be able to see how the light will affect clothes and skin. Not many do that so it ends up looking out of place. I’m also a huge fan of doing as much ‘in camera’ as I can so I really try to think through how this could be done. Which really has been a great mental exercise for me during my research on the subject of light painting.
I’ve been having a lot of fun just experimenting what could be done with light painting. And there’s lot of really inexpensive ways to do this. Anything from fairy lights to LED strips and so on. I’ve learned quite a bit just playing around with these items and my camera at home. But there was one tool I was really interested in seeing what I could do with. It’s called the PixelStick. Essentially it’s a strip of 200 RGB LEDs that will allow you to draw an image in mid-air. I knew about it’s existence for a while now that I was in a place to possibly do something with it I was very interested in getting one in my hands. Originally I had plans to use this on a specific project but since shooting Super Crown ended up happening sooner I was like “Why can’t we use this here?”
As I thought about how we could use the PixelStick for this project I got to thinking about those Super Mario games and how there were certain bits that really gave me that HOLY SHIT moment. Like when you first encounter the harder versions of Bowser in Super Mario 1. The Chain Chomps in Super Mario 3. The Big Boo and Ghost Houses in Super Mario World. The HUGE Chain Chomp in Super Mario 64. I knew these were moments that I wanted to see if we could pull out of people when they looked at our images.
Furthermore I wanted to see how maybe if there was new ways to represent these older games that meant so much to me. It would be one thing just to emulate a flat 2D surface like a TV screen. But what if we could do so much more? What could we do if we had the right tools at our disposal? One place we had looked at was to actually use two PixelSticks at the same time to really play with depth of field. Another way would be could we take some of these 2D representations and show them off in a 3D space that had barely been seen before?
Now the ‘depth of field’ part was easy. Just took some thought of what images to use and some planning. As for the latter… not so much. I wanted to try to use 3D renderers to build the scenes I had in mind. Let’s just say that with the assets I had available I kept running into issues that were not easily resolvable. And this was more due to the software I had available and not the assets I had at hand. So I had to dial that back a bit.
But we had quite a bit to take into the shoot that would make it into our own.
Since we were going to be doing some light painting I knew I wanted to use a place that was well suited for it. So we booked some time at Soundcheck. The funny part was that it was the same exact room we shot our Halloween Love Live set in. And our bags of ice that we brought for that shoot were still in the freezer in there. I have to wonder if it will be there for our next set.
Going into this utilizing two PixelSticks and a lot of fog/haze effects I needed extra help. So along with Luis I asked Dry Light Photo if he could assist (FYI: some material there may not be safe for work). We had actually known each other for damned near twenty years due to an anime website and forum he ran for a long time that I was a part of. Some years ago he actually moved to the Austin area… and somewhere in there he picked up photography. He’s a talented photographer so I knew he could certainly help us here.
Which was good… because we did run into a number of unexpected problems.
The first one didn’t really come to mind until we were actually on location. We needed a room with dark walls for light painting which was why we chose Soundcheck in the first place. But what didn’t click until we were actually there was how we were going to shoot Allybelle as Chompette. Since the design was mostly black with dark colors it took us quite a while to figure out how we were going to separate her from the dark background. We tried a number of different lighting setups but thanks to Dry Light’s help we figured out we would just have to shutter drag. Not my first choice but it was the only way to solve our issue.
There was one great bit with Allybelle. One photo idea I had was her leaping at the camera in the same way a Chain Chomp would at Mario. I had a pretty good idea of how to set up the shot. We would have her crouch on a small step stool and then leap off like she was going after Mario. We did some test jumps to get some idea of where she would land. I set up my focus for that distance of where she tended to hit… had her try it… and somehow we nailed it on the very first shot. That’s super rare to do such a thing in photography.
The second would be with the PixelSticks… though completely not in a way I would expect. I had purchased two PixelSticks to make some of my depth of field ideas easier to achieve. But for some reason one kept giving me a bit of image corruption. At the moment I’m not sure if this was due to the files copied to the SD card or something else. So I primarily worked with the one that I had done most of my at home experimentation with since at that time there was a higher chance of it working correctly. Which we’re glad it did.
One other thing we discovered with the PixelSticks is that there needs to be more consideration with what images are loaded onto it and how the settings can mess with the image quality. There’s more testing I need to do there though I have some ideas on how to solve for them. That alone will be an article itself once I do more research.
The final problem we ran into… quite a bit of it had us laughing pretty fucking hard the whole time.
Since Mermaid Child was going to be Boosette I wanted to make some attempts to get shots as if she were flying. A posing table would work here but the cost wasn’t feasible for something that I could only consider having little utility at the time. Plus with how I wanted to use it the hard edges would probably make her more uncomfortable. So I ended up getting a padded drum throne as it could serve our purpose. And as far as the initial idea went it was the right choice.
For how the costume itself was constructed… maybe not so much.
Considering the base of the costume was a body suit it had pretty limited movement. And given that I wanted her to lay on the drum throne for the shot ideas it damned near removed any possibilities for movement at all. Any attempts at adjustment on the throne (along with her particular physical configuration) ended up moving her body suit lower and lower. Let’s just say one wrong move and we would have been in $100 Patreon tier territory.
There were two ways we ended up fixing this particular problem: unsnapping the crotch of Mermaid Child’s body suit (no, I’m not kidding), and lifting her legs up so we could shove sofa cushions under her (still not kidding). At least this way she would be comfortable, she could adjust her pose, and we wouldn’t have to bust out all the modesty nuggets.
Creative problem solving at it’s finest.
This was a project that came about a lot earlier than we initially thought… but we certainly did everything we could to step up our game on multiple levels.
There were some aspects we couldn’t quite achieve in terms of imagery. But on the whole when we consider everything that we took on prior to and during this shoot we would have to say we got some really good pics even with the issues we had to deal with.
There were a lot of learning experiences with this project. And we will certainly remember those going forward.
As the ‘old school gamer’ in the group it was interesting for me to go back and look at history to see how we could make images relevant to today. With the research involved there were things I never realized as I was playing these games years ago. And it gave me more of an appreciation for the game design I experienced when I was younger. So hopefully that comes through in what we did here. For those who may have had the Mario experience in a different time frame we hope that you get the same out of the work we did here.
The underwater levels will still be the bane of our existence though.