Weaving Together The Threads Of History
Note: this is going to be a really long article so if you want to jump straight to the pictures go here.
How We Even Got Here In The First Place
So some time ago I started playing a mobile game called Fate/Grand Order. Since I had really stopped playing console and PC games all of my gaming switched to mobile. I wanted something different than the games I was playing at the time and one of the forums I do visit recommended FGO. I was only vaguely familiar with the Fate/Stay Night universe through some art I had seen in the past and a bit of messing around with the fighting game Unlimited Codes. But some of the game mechanic ideas behind FGO struck me as intriguing. So I downloaded it and tried it out. And I was in.
As I was playing there were quite a few character designs I really liked… Scathach and Martha in particular. I really thought that Allybelle could do both of those characters really well… so I shared the art and she really liked them. But at the time I couldn’t think of who Tacocat and Mermaid Child could be.
Important thing to call out here: this was very early in my time of playing FGO. This will play a part later.
Going further into the game I thought to myself that this universe could make for a great photoset. Especially one particular story chapter in the game that I would still love to pull off as a passion project. But I really still had to figure out characters for the rest of the team.
I started discussing the idea with the rest of the team and showing them the art of some of the characters I had encountered when both Tacocat and Allybelle realized something: they were familiar with these characters. From the Fate/Stay Night animated universe. Mainly Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero at the time (Fate/Apocrypha had just started airing around then). We ended up having more connection to characters than we first realized.
Slight aside: Allybelle had no idea that Fate/Stay Night originally started out as a hentai game. It was funny to go through the whole ‘Servants getting mana from their Masters’ bit there.
As time went on we were bouncing around some various Fate ideas… and through some really random happenstance I ran into art for Martha in a formal style cheongsam kind of outfit. Apparently it was art for a Craft Essence that was part of an anniversary celebration for FGO. Such an outfit would be perfect for Allybelle.
I researched further… and found out there was one for Scathach. Which would also be perfect for Allybelle. Then we found out one of Jeanne d’Arc that would be great for Tacocat. After that we found Nero Claudius that would work well for Mermaid Child.
We knew right away we wanted to do a set with these versions of these characters.
And there were costumes available to purchase. Which was great given how crafting bandwidth was taken up by other things.
Now the question was just how exactly we’d present things.
Pulling History Into This
During the time we were putting all of this together I became really interested in studying the portrait work of past photographers. Especially in the realm of fashion photography from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. People like Richard Avendon, Irving Penn, Melvin Sokolsky, and a French photographer named Phillipe Pottier who sadly I can find little information about. There was something about presentation styles during that time that just grabbed me. A lot of it was how the people and the fashion could just be so elegant while introducing elements you may not immediately attach there.
One bit that really got my attention was having primarily simple shapes as picture elements. I think it was something about ornate and ‘flowy’ clothing being presented with such stark lines and shapes that I was really interested in.
With the characters only having representation of them in these dresses in some sort of red ballroom we already knew trying to replicate that was out of the question. So what if we presented them in a style that was already recognized to be elegant?
And everyone was into it.
I ended up doing a lot of hunting for items that would really fit this idea. I spent a lot of time looking at places like Target, Ikea, Michael’s, JoAnn, Ross, Lowe’s, and et cetera to find elements we wanted. I do like going to these places randomly to find things to give me ideas in general so I always have a running list in my head of bits that could be interesting. Since I had focus here I could go for items that I knew already existed while still having some room for things that could grab my attention and could fit into the overall theme.
Let’s just say it was a lot of items.
And we had them before we had the costumes.
Which went against our plans.
Shifting Pieces Around
Originally we were only going to do Jeanne, Scathach, and Nero. But I had some images in my head where I really wanted Allybelle to be Martha. We talked about that… and in the end she was like “Fuck, I’ll be both Scathach and Martha, why not?”
So I ordered Nero from CosplaySky, and Jeanne, Martha, and Scathach from EZCosplay.
We had originally planned to shoot this set in late April. And I set up my orders for Scathach, Jeanne, and Martha to support this.
This ended up not happening as we wound up getting delayed on the construction of Martha. By a month.
Nero actually got here first. Though after getting Mermaid Child to try it on as a test fit we didn’t quite expect things to be so… accurate to the Craft Essence art. And there was a bit of a sizing problem as where the dress zipper was placed had issues dealing with the size of Mermaid Child’s rib cage. So Nero would need a modification to support a lace up corset style in the back.
Once we got our EZCosplay order we found that Jeanne was mostly fine minus some odd small design decisions. Scathach would need some alterations as the cups were much bigger than anticipated. Which was funny since Scathach isn’t a particularly “boob-tastic character”.
Martha… on the other hand.
Was just straight up unusable. Even after some attempts at modifications. It would look out of place compared to the rest of the costumes. So Martha was dropped.
Not particularly thrilled with that… but sometimes you have to realize that you can’t force something.
Ever plan out something so much… only for a bunch of OTHER shit to go wrong?
First off: I knew I wanted certain colors to use for this project. So I dyed some muslin backgrounds to use for this. I knew we would possibly have to steam them when we were on site prior to use. Which was fine since Waveform had a steamer available.
So we get there, bring some stuff in, hang up one of the backgrounds, fill the steamer and plug it in… and just hang out for a bit and talk through how things would progress for the day. We were also going to use this time to take some new shots for our website so no one was in costume yet.
After a while we noticed the steamer wasn’t ready yet. And we were all “What the fuck?” We had used it before so we thought we were operating it correctly. But we had no idea why it was not working the way it should.
So we started talking about if we just needed to go buy a steamer especially since we wanted to use one of the backgrounds for our website shots. At the time the receptionist at Waveform was not around. We figured he may have ran out to grab some food or something. Then Mermaid Child suggested using their seamless paper to at least get through our website shots. Luis and I set up some gray seamless so we could take those pics.
The receptionist did show back up… and let us know that the steamer they had was having a ton of issues. Thankfully our friend Justin was helping out to do BTS video so I sent him out to get a steamer from Target. I knew I needed to eventually needed to invest in one… just didn’t expect the immediacy of the purchase. Meanwhile Allybelle, Mermaid Child, and Tacocat would go get changed into their costumes.
Then we discovered another problem. For Mermaid Child the combination of the Nero costume and shapewear she had was doing some unflattering things to her body. So we had to figure that out. One idea even considered packing tape (no, I’m not kidding) so we sent Justin out on another run. Eventually we determined that any of our current solutions were not workable and we’d really just have to pose Mermaid Child to mitigate for those.
Now by this we had burned through over one third of our studio time just trying to solve issues.
So we went through one planned set which did go a bit longer than originally planned out. No biggie. We talked about it and decided we’d drop the last setup since originally it was centered around Martha.
I started putting together the second setup together while the rest of the team took a break. Got the second background set up… and then went out to my truck to grab the props we’d use for this. Which was some garden trellis I had purchased from JoAnn Fabrics and modified to stand on their own. I also made some custom weights to help with this.
When I went to pull the trellis out of the truck… I found out that some of the supports had broken off of one of them.
We tried to fix that in the studio. But nothing worked. So we actually had Luis lay one the floor to hold one leg (he used the cushion we had brought for one of the setups so he was comfortable) while we took photos.
Because of all of the time we had to spend on solving problems we only got through two out of the four setups we had planned out.
Did we get some good shots even with all the shit we had to deal with?
Yes, that we did.
Did the project come out like he had envisioned?
Yes and no.
I think for me having to so much problem solving took me more out of ‘artistic mindset’ than usual. There’s always things we have to figure out during a shoot but this was probably the most we’ve ever had to deal with during our sessions. So it took me longer to get back into thinking through poses, expressions, and shot composition than I would have liked.
The big piece that was really obvious was that it was worth the time and money to go invest we wanted to use for this. While we didn’t get to use most of them what we were able to use worked really well here. For some time now I’ve been picking up background items and props kind of on a random basis that I thought could be useful for a future project. This was the first time we went out and purchased items that not only could be used for this but others in the future. They did add our element of Plus Extra for this project that we couldn’t have achieved relying on just what was available at Waveform.
I’m glad that we’re all really good about working through problems so we can get through our session. With all of the bullshit that we had to endure other people might think about calling off the shoot to come back at another time to get all of the pieces figured out. Considering our lives that’s hardly ever an option. And I think that along with all of us being creative and resourceful individuals is why we can power through whatever crops up even if it may mean not being able to fully do everything we had in mind.
Overall we were happy with the pics that we did get. Plus we were finally able to introduce some characters from a universe a lot of us enjoyed. We’ll be working on more Fate material in the future… including a couple of cosplays for myself.