Faye Murman gave up her comfortable New York photojournalist job to follow a nearly naked man around the world. If that sounds crazy to you, then you might not know Jim “Tank” Dorsey.
Luckily for you, Faye is working on a documentary about Tank, his friends, and the intense dedication they give to portraying their favorite Mad Max characters.
“In a nutshell, what this documentary is about is the world of Mad Max cosplay, which I didn’t know existed until I started this documentary,” she described to me in an interview we did for the Through the Aftermath podcast. “It’s about a global group of friends who are just so enthusiastic about this really specific thing, and it’s told through the point of view of Tank, who I would think most people would agree is the leader of this group.”
The feature-length documentary — entitled “Humungus: A Documentary” –is Murman’s first, and something that she believes is worth the sacrifice. “This has changed my life in every facet imaginable,” she revealed. “I knew that Tank was just as dedicated to this project as me, and that gave me enough confidence to jump ship and — to say a corny cliche — to follow my dreams.”
The Humungus documentary started filming last June, making the last 10 months something of a whirlwind adventure for Faye and Tank. Although she admits that she had no idea who Tank’s Lord Humungus character was when she first met him during an interview for her previous job, working on this film has quickly turned her into a fan of the franchise. During that time, she has filmed him at Dragon Con, Wasteland Weekend, and various Comic Cons around the country where Tank makes his rounds not only as Lord Humungus, but almost a dozen other characters. And Faye even talked about joining Tank in a few of his costume groups for Dragon Con this year.
A month-long trip to the Australian outback is what really turned the tide for Murman, where she admits that she found the voice and true vision for her film. Not only that, but the people of Broken Hill and the Silverton area where Road Warrior was filmed all seemed to have their own Mad Max stories, whether it was someone’s relative on the set construction crew or a paramedic on scene during the filming. “It was like shooting fish in a barrel, finding people with Mad Max stories,” Faye said.
But it was a surprise lunch with Hugh Keays-Byrne that really made the trip that much more remarkable. “When he walked in, I looked at Tank and said, ‘Oh my God, it’s the Toecutter!'” In addition to Mr. Keays-Byrne, Faye and Tank were also able to interview Bruce Spence (the Gyrocopter Pilot), Emil Minty (the Feral Kid), Vernon Wells (Wez), Kjell Nilsson (Lord Humungus), Virginia Hey (Warrior Woman), and a few other stunt men and people who worked behind-the-scenes on the films.
“The moment that Tank approached Kjell, dressed as Lord Humungus, that was the first time that those two had ever laid eyes on each others,” Faye described. “It was a moment that I stressed about for a month, and don’t even ask me how I slept the night before. Because if I screwed this up, how could go on with myself?”
Turns out, Tank and the original Lord Humungus really hit it off in what Faye describes as “the most wonderful bromance.” Tank even picked up on mannerisms and personality traits that linked him to the Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla actor himself. “I’m listening to him tell stories in his very animated way,” Tank recalled, “and the fish is getting a little bit bigger and a little bit bigger, and I’m going, ‘Oh my God, that’s how I tell stories!'”
All of these brushes with fame started to establish a level of attention for themselves. “We got treated like a bit of a celebrity while we were in Silverton,” Tank said. “We made the newspaper twice, we got on the radio twice, we were on the evening news one night.”
But none of this should come as a surprise to those who have had the pleasure of interacting with Tank. He has a certain element of charisma that combines well with his work ethic and attention to detail. “There’s something about Tank,” Faye mused. “People are just drawn to him and they come to him and they ask him these really sincere questions in earnest. They look up to him. It’s so honest, the look in their eyes. Tank has something that other people can acknowledge, whether it’s subconsciously or not, and whatever Tank has in him, it inspires. And I think that people see the work that Tank puts into this passion and I think they think, ‘Yeah, I have a costume but it could be ten times better if I changed X, Y, and Z. Let me step up my game here. Look at what this guy’s doing and look how […] successful he is.’ I think that bringing this movie to a wider audience, a global audience, hopefully sparks that same kind of enthusiasm and dedication to the audience that it does to people Tank comes across in real life.”
The documentary should take another year or so in post-production, plus Faye says that she wants to grab a few more shots at Wasteland Weekend in late September of this year. After that, it will be handed over to a few editor friends who are graciously volunteering their expertise to get this film done.
But there’s one scene that Faye has already dogeared as the finale for the film’s newly discovered vision. “There Tank was in all his glory, dressed up as Humungus, just living this moment, just reveling in this moment. His back was to the camera, and I’m not gonna lie, my eyes filled up with tears because in that moment I knew I had the closing shot.”
Dominique de Leon is well-known for her craft, but the 21-year-old costumer and prop-maker has some secrets about making a name for herself in such a short time.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about giveaways, it’s not about posting everyday, it’s about posting interesting, unique content and engaging with your fans!”
Dominique has been making costumes for almost four years, starting off in her parents’ basement, and recently expanding into a workshop in her own California home. When a friend invited her to FanimeCon in San Jose, she was hooked.
“The first costume I ever made was San from Princess Mononoke,” she recalls. “I thought it was the best costume ever, even though I was wearing blue jean shorts and Ugg boots. At the time, I felt like the coolest person ever! I was inspired by the other amazing cosplayers I saw there; some of them are actually some of my best friends today! I just wanted to learn more so I watched lots of Youtube videos and talked to other builders.”
Eventually, Dominique started building post-apocalyptic costumes based on some of her biggest pop culture influences. “If you look at my work you can tell that 90% of it is replicas from video games and 10% original designs. I am heavily influenced by Fallout and Mad Max. I have also made video game costumes from other genres besides post-apocalyptic, like my Daedric armor from Skyrim and Garrus Vakarian from the Mass Effect series.”
Interestingly enough, Dominique’s all-time favorite prop is also the same prop named as the favorite of Chris Hockett in our last costumer interview: the Multiplas Rifle from Fallout New Vegas. Dominique’s version was commissioned for a customer and it features 18 different LEDs and a super sturdy build that she was especially proud of creating. But it is hard to pick just one favorite when you’re as talented as Dominique.
“Another one of my favorite props was my Bandit Shotgun from Borderlands. I really love that piece because it looks like it is straight out of the game. My favorite part of propmaking is when I get to paint, and there was so much of it (on this one)! In order to get the cartoony look you need to know where to put the highlights and outlines.”
Her Borderlands paint work is not only exceptional on her props, but also her costumes. A now-famous selfie she took in a hotel bathroom at Dragon Con has become viral, garnering an untold number of shares and likes across Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram.
When it comes to new ideas for a fresh project, Dominique says that she is usually most creative when a subject is fresh in her mind. “Like a game that I just played or a movie I recently watched. For example, my next two big projects are Doom Guy and Trico from the Last Guardian. But sometimes it’s just my favorite all-time characters!”
She even comments on how much her technique has grown and evolved in those four short years. “I used to be limited by my skills and experience but after almost four years of practice and trial and error that is no longer an obstacle. I can make anything I put my mind to.”
Dominique and her fiance Zach team up to make costumes that they consider to be unique, most of all. While the focus is on detail and quality of work, Dominique also has a strong focus on making costumes that most people just don’t make for whatever reason. This is especially evident with her Enclave power armor. “Most power armor cosplays are Brotherhood. I chose to go with Enclave because I LOVED the design and no one else was doing it. I like to think that they are very in game accurate.”
Dominique is a regular at several fan-based cons around the country, showcasing her wide variety of costume genres, but her best post-apocalyptic work comes out at Wasteland Weekend every year.
“I have SO much fun at Wasteland. It’s my home away from home. I am apprehensive about making original designs but I am so proud of the few that we have made and I can’t wait to come up with more.”
Dominique’s Wasteland Weekend line-up usually includes her Borderlands and Fallout kits, but she enjoys original creations as well. “I get artist’s block quite often when trying to come up with an original design or concept, but I am particularly proud of my Fallout-inspired Enclave military wasteland jacket. It was my only original to date that I had a clear direction from concept to completion. I’m also a sucker for anything Enclave so it makes me happy that I could include that in the outfit without it screaming Fallout.”
When asked about any advice she may have for new propmakers and costumers, she had some pointers that are important in any situation. “First of all, make sure it’s something within your skill level. There is nothing worse than working on something that is too hard and getting upset with it. Cosplay should always be fun!”
References are also a key part of Dominique’s research for any costume or prop, as well as advice from those who have already been through the same trials and errors as you will be facing. “A lot of cosplayers would love to talk about their work with you. That’s one of my favorite parts of becoming a known cosplayer. I love helping people and giving advice. People are sometimes surprised then I answer their DMs because they think I’m ‘famous’ and don’t have time to answer their questions. The truth is I’m just a person. It makes me so happy that my silly costumes I made in my parents’ garage can inspire you! I am lucky enough to now have my own home with space for a workshop room so now I have even more time to devote to this amazing hobby that I love so much and is such a huge part of my life.”
But once you have your technique down, have created a few pieces that you’re proud to show off, and are ready to show the world, where do you take it from there? Dominique has some great advice for promotion as well.
“One of the biggest things I did for myself when I decided I wanted more traction to my social media pages was ask bigger pages to please share my work. I had interesting and unique content which I know was a big part of it. Having Bethesda share my Enclave power armor and the official Borderlands page share my Psycho and Kreig were huge honors and got me TONS of traffic.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about giveaways, its not about posting everyday; it’s about posting interesting, unique content and engaging with your fans! There is nothing more special then someone recognizing you at a con and getting to talk with them.
Christopher Hockett got into the post-apocalyptic culture just like I imagine the rest of us did: he grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. Mad Max, Waterworld, The Postman, Escape From New York, and The Day After are all movies Chris cites as influences for not only the way he was raised, but also his style of propmaking.
But Chunk-A-Nuke isn’t all about expensive materials and fancy technology; Chris prides himself on making the best props on a tight budget. “I just have this thing for repurposing,” he told me. “And the way the clothing, armor, and weapons have this grimy, rusty, and hastily thrown-together look due to using whatever you can find laying around to make what you’re crafting serve a purpose, even if it is not what that piece was originally intended for.
“I would have to say that I am a repurposer or just a Cheap-o,” he continued. “I don’t exactly have the money that other big name prop builders have and I don’t want to let that stop me from doing what I love, so I use trash, common household items, and freebies. I try to spend as little as possible. It’s a challenge but that’s how I like it.”
Chris also goes by the name LIBERTYprime (or, at times, L1B3RTYPR1M3) in most of his professional work, dating back to an old moniker he came up with for The Wasteland Outpost forum. That site and community helped him create his first build: a suit of T45d Brotherhood Outcast armor and matching Gatling Laser from Fallout 3. “I still have them both on display with my Fallout collection,” he said. “I don’t think I can ever bring myself to get rid of them as they hold a special place in my heart. I love just looking at them and remembering how it all started for me.”
But Chris admits that his technique hasn’t changed much over the years, aside from his painting style. “I still use trash and whatever freebies I can.” In fact, a Multiplas Rifle that he credits as his favorite work so far was built using electronics that Chris wasn’t sure would even work. “It was quite a challenge for me to build due to the overall shape and the electronics. I’m still surprised I was able to get the lights to work with the junk I used.”
Right now, the goal with these props and costumes is to have the largest Fallout prop collection anywhere. “I think I’m pretty close if not already there,” he said. But aside from the collection, he hopes to just keep making props that people will enjoy. “I really just want to inspire people to get out there and build something.”
That inspiration comes in so many forms with Chunk-A-Nuke’s portfolio, but the underlying lesson here is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make something memorable. “Don’t let funds, lack of tools, or your skill set get in the way of getting out there and just building something because there is always a way,” Chris offers. “Take as much constructive criticism as you can and don’t get upset when someone says that you can improve on something. It may hurt your feelings a bit when you spent so much time on something but I know it has helped me tremendously and I actually look forward to people pointing out the flaws in my work. Not everyone out there is trying to be a troll.”
An unfortunate fire accident and a love of Skyrim came together to help create one of the best up-and-comers in the world of post-apocalyptic propmaking: Deadbeard Props.
Owner and designer Schlieber Didl created the one-man shop back in 2014 as a hobby to build props and costumes he admired from movies and video games, but it was a clash with fire that led to the unique name. “I picked the name because I’ve grown my beard since I was a teenager,” the Austrian native told me. “So my friends joked about beards and names like blackbeard and metalbeard, because I am a metalhead (black and deathmetal).” A shop fire damaged his beard so badly that he had to shave it all off, and Deadbeard Props was born.
Self-described as a mix of “sometimes chaotic, complicated, and improvised,” Schlieber says that his style is also a healthy dose of accuracy with a keen attention to detail.
The 34-year-old currently works as a gardener for his family’s business, but spent 12 years building custom interiors and fiberglass body kits for cars. While he has had no formal artistic training, he credits the car customizing job as an inspiration for learning to do things by hand.
“I started out knowing nothing about propmaking but now I’m to a level where I can say that I can build nearly everything I want,” he described. “It took a lot of practicing, trying out material and learning how to use them, but that was the fun part. I learned everything by myself with tutorials and a lot of asking, trying, and listening to advice from propbuilder friends I met in the last 2-3 years since I started.”
Schlieber’s first build was from Bethesda’s Skyrim, but since then he’s enjoyed making masks, weapons, helmets, and other props from Borderlands, Mad Max, and Fallout. “I only build things from games and movies I like. Maybe if Bethesda would bring out a new open world game, I would build things from that game,” he joked.
When Deadbeard Props started, there were only a handful of propmakers out there making tutorials and videos, but Schlieber soaked them all up. “Thanks to Youtube videos from Punished Props, Volpin Props, SKS Props, Folkenstal, Jarman Props (and many more) for inspiration and motivation. And when I see something I like and want to own and place in my gaming room, I build it. Playing games and looking at other artists’ work is my inspiration.”
Out of everything he’s made since 2014, Schlieber names his NCR Ranger costume from Fallout New Vegas as his favorite. “It was my first helmet, EVA foam, and weapon build,” he said. “This was the point where I began to work on costumes and helmets. Helmets are my fav.”
Schlieber’s current projects include several of the most iconic props and costumes from both Fallout 3 and 4. From Fallout 3, he’s building the Alien Blaster, helmets for the Hellfire Trooper and the Mechanist (yes, the Fallout 3 Mechanist) which he hopes to eventually turn into full costumes. And from Fallout 4 he’s working on the complete version of the Mechanist from that game, plus the Thirst Zapper, the Super Sledge, and a collection of Nuka Cola bottles. “I want to own a complete set of all Nuka Cola in the game,” he said.
He has also very recently been getting into 3D modelling and printing, thanks to some help from his brother and 3D Fusion. “I don’t like 3D printing very much but for fasten up some builds it will be helpful,” he said on his website when he announced his adventures with the 3D tools. “Some tiny and rounded greeblie parts are too time consuming to build and this is why I decided to go the next step into future.”
But as busy as Schlieber is with these ongoing projects, he beams at the idea of passing on his own knowledge down to the next “generation” of propbuilders. “Try to learn everything about everything and don’t stop practicing,” he advises. “Don’t be shy to ask other propbuilders for advice and help, and always try to make your stuff as good and accurate as possible.
“Challenge yourself to get better and better. Build things you like, not things because other people build it.”
A big thanks goes out to Schlieber for doing the interview, and be sure to follow along with his work on his Facebook and Instagram pages. Next up on the agenda is Joe from Daedalus Cosplay, so look for that one coming soon!
If you’ve been following the current post-apocalyptic costuming and LARP trends, you may have noticed that the European scene is some serious business. No, really… they don’t mess around. Most notably is what’s going with the more hardcore events like Oldtown, Bunker Springs, Fate, Resistopia, and more. Germany has risen as a hub for the very best of this scene, in my opinion, and a couple of the recent stars to shine are Chris and Mika from Rad Roach Gear.
These two started the business in 2015 after attending their first post-apocalyptic LARP. “I came up with the name because i wanted it to sound interesting,” Chris told me. “And yet convey the message of something that is tough and has a relation to the trash we use to build some of our gear, while not sounding boring and standard.”
Being a huge fan of the Fallout series, I just had to ask if the name was inspired by the game’s squishy, mutated enemies, but Chris assures me that it’s only partially the case. “Rad is slang for radical but also means radioactive, so it comes in pretty handy. And as radroaches convey the feeling for me, we agreed to name our project Rad Roach Gear. So yep, it’s based on Fallout… kind of.”
But it’s where Rad Roach Gear has gone in such a short time that is most impressive, mostly proven by the photos in the gallery below. “Although it started with building LARP equipment, it quickly evolved into much more,” Mika said. “By now we have built show outfits, props, weapon props, decorations, and artsy shit in general. With RRG we take the freedom to create not only post-apocalyptic gear, but also stuff influenced by other genres like horror, dystopia, tribal, etc.”
In that short period of time, Rad Roach has developed a distinct style that American costumers like our previous interviewee, Larry Hastings of Vulture Production, cites as an influence. “Man, I should have made up a fancy and cool word by now,” Chris joked about naming their style. “But to keep it simple, I would describe my style as ‘art that you can wear.’ Although when I build props or decorations, I’d just say it’s ‘art.'”
Mika, on the other hand, does have a word for her style: “Fancy-shmancy raiderswag.” We couldn’t agree more.
And while it may be a lot of work for the two, Rad Roach Gear is not their full-time job. Mika is currently dividing her time among university study, work, and crafting while Chris has another job. “Building post-apocalyptic props is not really a thing that can make you a living because there is basically no market for it — even less so here in Germany. I studied Graphic Design for two and a half years, and after that i worked as a painter and decorator. But to be honest that doesn’t really matter as people who build postapo kits can come from any background whatsoever. You have lawyers, construction workers, chefs, students, etc. Basically, anyone who loves the genre can join and be creative.”
Chris’ graphic design background did help with the interpretation of his vision for RRG projects, but he cites tabletop gaming and painting miniatures as an early inspiration for what colors to use and learning how shadows work on a real 3D model.
Mika has always been interested in art and has several outlets for her creativity. “Next to costumes, I create a lot of jewelry, synthetic dreads, and anything else that comes into my mind,” she said. “For example, I sewed a harness last year.”
Although her post-apocalyptic work is quite amazing, she says that it’s a general direction for her that can lead to other ideas. “It can be influenced by sci-fi, tribal, military, haute couture, and much more. I’d love to do some dystopian/dark futurestuff sometime.”
You can’t just throw some random shit together and call it a post-apocalyptic outfit.
But it’s the improvements to her techniques that Mika hopes to use on these new projects. “I’ve learned different techniques to weather different materials and I’ve learned to find the proper order for the single steps while creating an outfit. But I still tend to get carried away with sewing and end up thinking, ‘Shit! You should have weathered the fabric first…’ Also, I had to learn that good things take time and that quality goes over quantity… and to not force a creative process (at least not too much!) Mistakes were made!”
Chris, however, approaches his technique from a different angle. “To be perfectly honest, my techniques really did not change that much, but I learned that you need to be patient and that a proper kit requires time and preparation. You can’t just throw some random shit together and call it a post-apocalyptic outfit. Of course, I learned to apply different techniques more properly over time, but that’s just the natural development when you learn a new skill.
“Nowadays I draw most of my inspiration from people in the community building awesome gear,” he continued. “To namedrop just a few, Aesthetic Apocalypse, Radioactive Armory, Wasteland Pirate, or Dust Monkey for example. Also the usual influences like movies or games — basically anything that makes me go, “Wow, now that’s cool. Let’s try to build something similar!”
Mika finds most of her inspiration from fashion, be it extravagant haute couture, fetish gear, or even sci-fi costumes. But she says that there’s also an equal part from tribal and native cultures, as well as ancient religions. “Honestly, I feel this question is hard to answer because I, too, have the philosophy of ‘That looks cool, I’m gonna make my own version of it!'”
Mika and Chris are proud members of an elite group of European post-apocalyptic costumers known as the Wasteland Warriors. Chris describes the group as more of a German/International post-apocalyptic act. “We met the Wasteland Warriors at the Roleplay Convention in Cologne in 2016,” he recalls. “After that we became members and met a lot of awesome and talented people. A highlight was working at the world’s biggest metal festival, Wacken 2016, with them as part of a booked walking act. It was hard work but lots of fun!”
Since Rad Roach Gear was started, the two have created several props, accessories, and full costumes. Chris says that his favorite kit would have to be his Wasteland Warrior Riot Gear that’s based on an actual chest protector from the ’80s. “Over the last year i added tons of cool stuff to it and I kept the pieces modular so i can interchange equipment. Last summer i realized that my head got sunburned so i added a hood, for example. The process of building gear is a continous development. In Germany we have the saying, ‘Your gear is NEVER finished!'”
“I have the feeling that I always like my latest stuff the most,” Mika adds. “I get tired quickly by my own stuff. But if I had to name something that I like the best it would be my Motocross helmet and my plateau boots, because in combination they give you strange proportions and make you look creepy! A few things i am working on right now seem to turn out pretty decent, so stay tuned.”
Completely intrigued, I asked about those current projects. Just what are Mika and Chris working on? “I am working on a postapo tribal/voodoo/bellydancing outfit with an elaborate headpiece and some basic stuff for a few LARP events in 2017. I have tons of unfinished smaller stuff like masks, jewelry, or gloves in my room, so these things are finished spontaniously. I often create things that aren’t postapo-related at all like dreamcatchers, decorations out of bones, dreadjewelry, etc.”
“I’m working on a mutant costume for an upcoming LARP event in May 2017,” Chris added. “Also, I’m experimenting with casting real animal skulls in resin so you can use them with gear more easily. Other than that, there are tons of different small ideas I am working on: hats, gloves, an acidthrower prop, goggles, different modded Nerf guns, a vest and a jacket just to name a few.”
Chris says that his process involves taking a step back and refocusing when he runs out of ideas. This helps him regain energy and try something different. “I don’t believe forcing creativity works when you’re shooting for the best result.”
This advice directly carries over to those looking to get into the hobby for the first time. Whether you’re an established artist looking to branch out into costumes or a veteran costumer looking to get into the distressed and weathered post-nuclear side of things, it’s all about trial and error. “Don’t try to be perfect at your first try,” Mika advises. “I like the creation of postapo-style clothing because it unites many levels of different crafting types. You are going to have to sew, to age, to design, to screw, and to collect and use materials you never used before. It takes time to become familiar with it. So take your time but don’t settle for mediocrity.
“You have the chance to build something amazing out of scratch and are only limited to your imagination, so please don’t settle for mediocrity. This way your clothing can reflect who you are as a person and an artist and you’re never gonna want to take it off!”
Another important tip from Mika is about comfort. “Try to make your clothing as wearable as possible. Even if that means you have to wear parts of it for a few hours in your room. Nothing sucks more than spending a tremendous amount of time on an outfit you don’t wanna wear.”
Chris agrees, adding that you should always start small and not overthink what you’re trying to make. “Be prepared to scrap entire projects because you realized that what you had in mind doesn’t work. If that happens, take a step back, disassemble what you built and start new. The good thing when building postapo stuff is that you can’t really fuck it up by destroying your piece. The more you destroy it, the better it will look if you reassemble it because any scratch and hole you made can be repaired and makes your work more believable.
“Start small to save money. Develop your own style. Crafting props isn’t something that can be done one way only, and what may work for others may not work for you!”
Another piece of helpful advice from Chris comes in the form of the old time/money/quality triangle that service professionals and craftsman have been reciting to their customers for years. “You can’t have all three,” he points out. “If there is little time or money, then quality will suffer. The more time and/or money that is available to the project, the higher the quality can be. This theory perfectly applies to building your own postapo gear. If you search for good materials at fleamarkets and yard sales, it will take time. If you dont want to spend this time you will need to spend money for a quality build.
“And for the love of all that is high and mighty, weather and distress your gear! And don’t be afraid to destroy something! The destruction of perfectly good items is part of building postapo gear. A lot of beginners have a fear of ripping apart ‘that new jacket they bought,’ just to end up with a jacket that looks only halfway done. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Immersing yourself into a post-apocalytic atmosphere only works when your gear looks old and used, so do not just throw on some fetish gear and assless chaps. A bit of dust is not enough weathering to look like proper post-apocalyptic gear, at least in my opinion.”
Be sure to check out the work of Chris and Mika at the Rad Roach Gear Facebook page and support their art by throwing a like their way.
Next up we have an interview with Deadbeard Props, so look for that one coming next week!
His name may not be a household fixture just yet, but if you’re any fan of sci-fi or fantasy pop culture, you know his work. Mark Cordory has been making magic behind the TV, film, and music industry scenes for over 30 years now, but it’s his most recent incursion into the post-apocalyptic costuming scene that really caught our attention and the attention of the unwashed masses hungry for the genuine article during this tidal wave of popularity for the genre.
If you do a search for “post-apocalyptic costume” on Pinterest, you’ll notice that the top hits are usually Mark’s masterpieces (go ahead and look, we’ll wait). And this isn’t a coincidence. Mark’s talent, combined with his experience and awareness of current trends, has driven him straight to the top.
I was honored to chat with Mark about his work, for one, because I’m a big fan of Torchwood and Doctor Who in general. Mark worked on props for both Torchwood and the Doctor Who TV series from 2005 to 2007, in what he modestly describes as an extra dash of luck. “Obviously as someone who grew up watching Doctor Who through the ’70s and ’80s I’m immensely proud to have been able to work on the production when it returned to our screens with Christopher Eccleston and later David Tennant,” Mark said. “I was fortunate enough to be working in the right industry in the right city at the right time and when I heard it was returning I was determined to be involved. The fact that I ended up running a whole department for the production will always be a matter of pride and I think we did some great stuff with remarkably limited facilities.”
Mark has always been interested in the artistic side of life, although it wasn’t a simple or easy path growing up in the UK. “Art classes were always my strong point throughout school and so once I left I was always going to try to find a degree course that was artistically based,” he recalled. “Back in the late ’70s, early ’80s there wasn’t really much choice in the UK for courses that provided any specific inroad into TV and film work, though. Theatre Design was pretty much the main option, so that’s what I chose. However, since graduating I’ve worked pretty much full time in the TV and film industries in the UK until I took a conscious decision a few years ago to cut down my workload in that area. But during that time I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some fantastic productions.”
And those production are indeed quite fantastic, spanning everything from children’s puppets to a heavy metal icon. “I guess a lot of things I’ve worked on will only really be known to those who’ve grown up in the UK,” Mark pointed out. “But among the most notable were probably designing and sculpting the dragon ‘Smirkenorff’ for the popular UK TV series Knightmare (a UK children’s game show that utilised really early blue screen, puppets, and computer graphics which ran from 1987 to 1994). I’d also add working as a props maker on the BBC series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, and designing and building Eddie for Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark album and tour. And, of course, being Head of Dept for Props Fabrication for the Eccleston and early Tennant era of Doctor Who and Torchwood.”
But Mark isn’t only proud of his professional industry work, he’s also pleased with his freelance creations, including his “The Scourge” pirate goblin puppet that currently acts as his company logo, as well as his post-apocalyptic LARP kit. In fact, Mark is an avid LARPer, having enjoyed what he calls “an abiding passion” for over 33 years now.
Mark started Mythlore LARP back in 1985 and continues to create some amazing costumes, props, and scenic FX for all genres of LARP events all across the UK. Sometimes it’s these individual projects that really keep Mark’s creativity flowing. “I guess you could call pieces like these ‘vanity projects’ or indulgences, but sometimes it’s good not to be constrained by things like budgets and to really let yourself experiment since the things you learn in the process will always feed back into your regular work and help improve it so everyone benefits in the end.”
But it’s that distinct Mark Cordory style that really makes all of his creations stand out. The attention to detail, the application and realization of what real weathering looks like, and the variation of materials all come together to make truly inspirational pieces. “There are a lot of talented crafters out there in the post-apocalyptic genre and it’s a constant drive for me to ensure my own work remains recognisable and distinct from other peoples,” he admits. “…Especially since this isn’t just a hobby or a job that’s in addition to an existing wage. I need to make my living off designing and making props and costumes both for industry jobs and private clients, so I need to make it worth while for clients to choose me over all the other crafters and makers out there who are also producing great pieces. I think we all have our own approaches, and mine’s certainly informed by my experiences within the industry. You pick up tips and techniques that maybe aren’t widely known, certain ways of using materials and little things that you can build on and develop into different approaches to finishes, etc.”
While Mark acknowledges the hundreds of helpful online tutorials for post-apocalyptic propmaking, he stresses the importance of trying something different. “Personally, I specifically try to avoid some of the more common techniques since they create a very specific finish. Concrete, for example, is often used for dust ageing but I try to avoid using it if at all possible simply because I want to try to make my work look different. There’s no right or wrong approach to designing or ageing items or kit, but as I said, I’m constantly experimenting and working to develop new techniques to try to make my own pieces stand out in terms of style and finishes. I’d hate to think that everyone’s work eventually looked the same because we all took the same approach to designing and ageing our work.”
Of course, Mark’s work wasn’t always so refined. “The great thing about my business is that there’s rarely ever an instruction manual for what you’re making, every job poses new challenges and requires new approaches if you’re going to get the best out of it. My techniques have changed beyond all recognition from when I first started, and yet at the same time many are still based upon skills I learned early on in my career, you just keep pushing them and adapting them and trying new things with them.
“Back when I was first training I was given the task of ageing items that I’d made and the idea of breaking down these things that had taken me days or possibly weeks to make felt like sacrilege, but now, years later, the whole process of ageing and distressing items is quite possibly the most enjoyable part of the creative process for me, especially when it’s applied to my post-apocalyptic work.”
It’s this unique approach to his work that inspired Mark’s new SALVAGED line of costumes made specifically for post-apocalyptic fans. “Initially, the post apocalyptic work was only a fraction of my work output, but as it increased I realised I needed to ‘brand’ it beyond just my name, and the SALVAGED title just seemed to sum up the way I was working: taking old discarded items and re-purposing them into something new. […]But it’s rapidly become my main passion and I think I get the most pleasure out of making kits for this genre.”
Mark also jokes about the importance of truly repurposing materials, which is perfect for this style. “I also like to think it’s a little bit of payback for my years in an industry that generates quite so much landfill and waste. Many of the materials we use like fibreglass and polystyrene will be sitting in landfill for generations to come, but now I’m taking things that would’ve otherwise just ended up there and giving them a new lease of life. It’s a small spit in the ocean I know, but it feels better than filling up a skip every couple of weeks.
“But in all honesty, SALVAGED has come about simply because I love the work and want to do more of it and thankfully it’s leading to some really interesting commissions and collaborations. In 2016 I launched the SALVAGED line and got some lovely commissions including being invited over to work on a post-apocalyptic escape room in France. This year I’m collaborating with festival organisers, musicians and bands, film producers, new escape rooms and LARP groups and it’s all post apocalyptic work, it just seems to keep growing. I’m also appearing at the large SciFi Weekender convention in the UK in March as part of the Doctor Who panel but I’ll be trading there too. There’ll be a few Doctor Who themed pieces but predominantly it’s going to be my PA work.”
Mark also offers practical advice for those looking to get into an industry that works almost exclusively with plastics, rubbers, and paints. “One important thing I would say though is to always make sure you have a good health and safety regime. Always wear appropriate filter masks and eye protection whenever necessary. Use processes and materials sensibly. I can’t stress this enough: you only get one set of lungs and eyes, make sure you keep them!”
What was once left to Hollywood pioneers like John Mollo, Tom Savini, and the late Dick Smith has now taken on a new life of its own in recent years. Propmaking and cosplay is enjoying an amazing new level of respect in modern pop culture thanks mostly to resources like YouTube, social media, and our desire to work with our hands again.
The majority of propmaking and costuming seems to focus on two main topics (high fantasy and video games), but we’re more interested in those that specialize in the post-apocalyptic sub-genre. From Nuclear Snail‘s now-infamous weathering technique of dragging a leather jacket behind a car to the plethora of Fallout weapons made from resin casting, post-apocalyptic propmaking has gained a solid foothold in the industry.
So for this inaugural interview, I sat down with Larry Hastings of Vulture Productions to talk about his inspirations and what got him started in the post-apocalyptic costuming game.
“I originally got started in prop making by constructing my own mandalorian costume,” Larry told me. “After a while I felt the need to branch out and try some other things. Not knowing where to go, I stumbled upon some post-apocalyptic costumes on Google one day and figured I’d give that a shot.”
But it was the German scene that really affected Larry the most. The Wasteland Warriors group has a style that Larry saw as more advanced than anything he’d seen before. “Their costumes are extremely detailed and everything is busy with just the right amount of rest areas in between,” he said.
It’s that German style that Larry still draws from today, with the German Wasteland Warriors even learning from his style. “That’s insanely amazing to me,” he tells me. “They’re the reason I started doing this to begin with. It’s an honor to hear that. It’s like I pulled inspiration from them and now they do it from me. Everyone helps everyone with what they make.”
But Larry’s style wasn’t always so detailed and inspiration, he confesses. “Like most people I started off using dirt. Now for my weathering I use paints, dyes, and a ton of other things — sometimes even rust powders.”
Larry describes his first piece as “a mess” compared to what he has now, although it’s something he can’t part with. “I don’t keep it around because I don’t think I couldn’t get rid of/sell it, but to remind me of the progress I’ve made in the past few years… which has definitely been evident.”
And it’s that progress that Larry is most proud of, although he admits that he doesn’t currently have a definitively favorite piece. He is, however, proud of a set of heavy armor he built from real steel, leather, and durable plastics. It’s a set that was inspired by one of the Wasteland Warriors and has become his latest signature costume. “Thus came my honor Vulture gear,” he described. “The one with the big gun I carry. God, I love that whole outfit, although most of the armor pieces can be used for other costumes.”
With that peer inspiration comes other forms, mostly from Fallout 4. “When I can’t figure anything custom to build, I play Fallout… like, a lot. So I built my heavy cage armor from Fallout 4.” Other inspirations include historical references, like those of World War I. “Currently I’m working on a trench soldier wasteland costume. I’ve always been in love with the trench warfare look and I figured it’d be awesome to mix that with wasteland costumes.”
Larry and the rest of the Vultures (a group of friends and fellow costumers who make up Vulture Productions) were recently hand-picked to help with the Southeastern Commonwealth movie being filmed in Florida. The Vultures packed up their best gear and braved the 13.5-hour trek from Ohio to the Sunshine State to help with props, costumes, and even a bit of acting.
“Everything about that trip was kick ass, except the 13.5-hour drive,” Larry joked. “But no sooner than we arrived in Florida we were put in a hotel then Frank (Bowen, creator and actor on the indie film) was going to his workshop to finish up some things. As dreary and sleep-deprived as I was, there was no way in hell I was gonna skip that. So needless to say for the first two days I was up 35 hours. Just pure excitement.”
Larry and Frank met during a photoshoot for Fallout costumers at Dragon Con this last September. The Southeastern Commonwealth webseries is set in the Fallout universe, based on the collection of states in the American Southeast known by the same name. The first episode, “Will to Power,” was released late last year with Larry and his crew being featured in the second episode. “We worked on a lot of stuff and shared stories and had some good times,” Larry recalls. “The filming was insanely fun, also! There was some damn good times down there and more will be had soon as no sooner than we finished the filming we were already talking about an episode three! So keep an eye out for that as well.”
While Larry is currently at the top of his game, he says that he wouldn’t mind going professional with it, although it’s not a hard and fast goal. “I’m not really attempting to make anything out of what I have. I have, however, met an amazing group of people. There’s Steve, Danny, Nikki, Frank, Josh, Nathaniel and so many more people than I know I’m forgetting to mention. But I love all those guys (and gals). Maybe in the next few years I’ll meet more people like them. That’s all I could ask for, however I wouldn’t be upset if I got offered a job to make costumes for movies, shows or just general costume production. That’d be pretty awesome also.”
In closing, I asked Larry what advice he’d give to those looking to get into this field. Thanks to helpful YouTube tutorials, propmaking is more accessible than ever, but Larry believes that it still comes down to hard work and plenty of practice. “It’s a learning process,” he admits. “Like most things you aren’t going to do the best just starting out; you have to commit the time and energy to it. Many a time I’ve bashed my head trying to figure out how to make this and that fit together and also look good, so you just have to stick with it. Find what makes you happy and make it post-apoc. Don’t listen to anyone who throws your ideas down, you can literally make almost anything fit into the genre so long as you apply the time and effort. Look for inspiration, talk to people who inspire you.”
And most importantly, don’t be intimidated by the big leather-and-spike-clad Wastelanders who dominate this hobby. While Larry describes himself as a “post-apocalyptic, town raidin’, whiskey drinking, cigarette smoking, irradiated wasteland badass” on his Facebook profile, he’s a genuinely good guy. “You’d be amazed how many of us are fun and friendly people who just love to talk about our work with fans. Just keep at it!”
I’d like to thank Larry Hastings for the interview and encourage you to check out his work at Vulture Productions as well as on The Southeastern Commonwealth webseries. If you have a post-apocalyptic propmaker you’d like to see featured here, shoot me an email and let me know!
Next up on the interview agenda is Mark Cordory of Mark Cordory Creations! Look for that interview coming soon!