Thomas “Cupcake” McElroy has been wrenching on cars since he was a kid, thanks to his father’s love of the classics like a 1956 Cadillac Coupe or 1968 Fleetwood. “I was more into the smaller, faster things like the ’60s Mustangs,” Cupcake told me. “I do appreciate the big stuff more now. Have two Cadillac Hearses now myself.”
McElroy says he got into the whole post-apocalyptic scene because he doesn’t believe that every single car is worth a frame-off restoration. “With a trailer queen car you don’t get to play with it once it’s done. I like cars I can take out and drive and not worry about a scuff on the paint.”
Some of Wasteland Weekend’s most iconic cars were built by Cupcake, including the 1967 Mustang Fastback 4×4 that Spud Innit citied as “the standard of post-apocalyptic perfection” in our previous interview with him. And although Cupcake acknowledges that his cars all seem to have a theme (rebodied onto a 4×4 chassis), he says that he’s been branching out more lately. “Most recently I took an old two-seater race buggy and outfitted it someplace between a bug-out vehicle and a military desert buggy.”
But it always comes back to those iconic four-wheel drives. “There was the ’99 Toyota Camry we put on a ’96 full size Bronco chassis for an episode of Top Gear USA. I heard that the Roadkill guys have it in their collection now. We built the video game Borderlands truck out of a mid ’80s Suburban for a live action commercial a few years back. Now owned by a couple of friends of mine. A long time ago I put a ’53 Pontiac on a full size Bronco chassis for a customer. Don’t know if that one still exists.”
And Cupcake’s favorite build is still that ’67 Mustang. “There is my everyday driver car, a ’67 Mustang fastback on a lengthened ’60s Bronco chassis. It’s been used in a couple of music videos and an off-color feature.” He names it his favorite build mainly because he built it 100% himself. “All the other builds were with friends or on a crew. Start to finish this one is mine. No one else had anything to do with it.”
With that Mustang being so loved by the Wasteland community, Cupcake repays the love with respect for a few favorites of his own. Lockjaw, Spud Innit’s ’57 Chevy Bel Air body on a ’96 Silverado chassis, strikes a certain nerve with Cupcake. “Something about a classic muscle car done up the way you want to. Not like every other tri-5 Chevy out there.”
McElroy is also a big fan of Ted Thompson’s latest project: a 50’s Cadillac sitting on a 6×6 deuce-and-a-half frame. “Can’t wait to see that one in person.”
At this year’s Wasteland Weekend, Cupcake hopes to bring a few new projects he’s working on. “Actually have three going on right now,” he mentioned.
“Proceeding slowly at best. Another 4×4 Mustang I bought that needs a bunch of work to make it safe. The work is really bad on it. A ’67 Cougar for my wife. Not sure how PA it will be. Maybe a PA street car of sorts. And a 4×4 Hearse that I had to lengthen a Chevy truck chassis over two feet.”
With all of these body swaps and monster builds, Cupcake is no stranger to making a badass car. While everyone has a different view of what actually makes a post-apocalyptic vehicle, it’s that classic car with big tires ripping through the desert sand that gets us right in the feels every time.
So what type of advice does a man with Cupcake’s experience have for the rest of us looking to get started? “There are so many places now to get inspiration from. And don’t be afraid to do something different. Do things you want no matter what others may think.
“This genre is not for everyone and there will always be someone that hates it no matter what you do. With that being said, I find there are 2 ways to build a PA car. Cheaper is either find a car (or your current ride) and do stuff to it. More expensive and harder are to build something specific. Like, ‘Hey I want to build a Mustang like yours!’ That (as well as trying to copy a movie car) can get stupid expensive. And don’t be afraid to talk to car builders and pick their brains. Most all of us are very open to share ideas and processes and even help on your build if it works out.”
But most of all, Cupcake wants to make sure, as a new builder, you don’t get overwhelmed with the tiny details that might be confusing in the beginning of each build. “There is no one answer that fits all the different builds. Learn and figure out things as you get to them. You will start looking at things differently, too. Like making that piece of discarded guard rail on the side of the road into a bumper, etc.”
Header image credit: Jeff Vaillancourt Photography, 2014
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.”
When I first hatched the idea of creating the Aftermath event website with helpful interviews featuring some of the most prominent people in the Wasteland scene, Spud Innit topped the list of car builders I knew I had to feature. He has built some of my personal favorites out at Wasteland Weekend, and has been an integral part of the annual California event itself.
Not only is custom car building a passion of Spud’s, but it’s also his career. Current owner of Lord Spud’s Motorcycle Emporium, and former owner of S&M Customs in England, Spud has been building Mad Max style rat bikes and vehicles since he was 17 years old.
“When I first started out all I really had to work with was a hacksaw and a hammer,” he recalled. “But I’ve gotten smarter about it now.”
Spud has been featured in Awol Magazine at the age of 18 with several other published features under his belt since. When he moved from England to California, he brought his love of all things ratty along with him. And then he discovered Wasteland Weekend.
“When I first joined the event I was part of a very talented group of people building set pieces for the event, including the stage, main gates, Atomic Café, and Wastey the Crane. During the last few years I have had the opportunity to branch back into building vehicles and have done many bikes and cars.”
It’s these vehicles that have gained Spud more nation-wide attention as Wasteland Weekend’s – and the post-apocalyptic genre’s in general – popularity has exploded. So I asked Spud to describe his most notable vehicles that have been showcased at Wasteland Weekend.
“Screwloose: This massive people mover is a tribute truck built after Max’s camel truck in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” he said. “It started life as a 1987 Ford F250 diesel that was owned by our good friend Matthew Nelson, a member of Deathguild who approached us to build the truck in 2015. We stripped it of all the body work but the cab and set to work building a custom steel exoskeleton with long bench seats running down either side where the bed used to be. It has four removable steel ribs which support the canvas shade that covers the back of the vehicle, giving it that iconic ‘covered wagon’ look. We then found 36 15×15.5 flotation tires to carry this behemoth across the desert. This required extensive work on the truck to get them to fit. It is now an unstoppable, all-terrain people mover, and carries our camp mates across the desert at both Burning Man and Wasteland Weekend. Screwloose took “Best Survival Vehicle” at the Wasteland World Car Show in 2016.
“Rapture: What looks like an unassuming, flat black golf cart, is really a roaring beast on four wheels. Underneath the golf cart body work is the motor and full suspension of a Raptor 660 quad. The motor is held in place by custom fabricated motor mounts, and it may well be the fastest and scariest golf cart that ever was. (Seriously, somebody is probably going to get injured on this thing someday). Rapture also boasts a custom fabricated shifter by Cupcake and my own custom steering wheel and controls.
“The Widowmaker, aka Loophole: A two-person stand-up scooter with 25-inch ATV tires. It is run by an 80cc Honda Elite scooter motor, which has had the gear box removed, my own custom driveline, and has been converted to run on propane. (Dinosaur farts!) My wife did all the cosmetic welding, most notably the steel spider-webbed floorboard. An ammo can on the side provides counterweight against the motor for balance, and also holds the battery and propane canister, along with 2 spare canisters. Loophole took first place in the Puddle Jumper category at Wasteland Weekend 2016.
“Lockjaw: A 1957 Chevy Bel Air, which has been mounted on a shortened 1996 1500 Silverado Chassis. (We cut 26 inches out of it!) This rust riddled monster boasts 42-inch super swamper tires on the back, and 37s on the front, giving it an aggressive rake, reminiscent of the vehicles in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. We removed the trunk lid and welded in a reinforced standing platform in the back, perfect for screaming ferals to hurl thundersticks from, and threw a nice cushy futon in as a back seat. (Soon to be replaced by the bench seat out of an old Suburban). The electronics and fuel injection were immediately removed to keep it as simple as possible and replaced with a two-barrel carburetor and HEI distributor. This vehicle goes to Burning Man as well as Wasteland Weekend, and playa has a notorious reputation for ruining electronics. It also boasts twin vertical exhaust stacks, and a custom tunnel ram. Like Rapture, it has a signature custom steering wheel and shifter, along with a custom steering column and Blazer seats. We co-own this baby with Nathan Cox of Deathguild, and while she made her debut and was well-received at Wasteland Weekend 2016, we are not done with her yet. Lady Ares has been planning some aesthetic upgrades in conjunction with Nathan Cox, and plans have her completely finished by Wasteland Weekend 2017.
“The most notable bike would be Beastie, a custom GPZ700 survival bike built for my good friend Doug Corbin. It’s my signature style that has followed me from England, with wide bars, a huge fuel tank, low seat, and knobbly ATV tires. It is built to go anywhere, anytime, and has no issues with any kind of terrain. Beastie won ‘Best Technical Motorcycle’ at the first ever Wasteland World Car Show in 2016.
“Maggie O’Monster is a pair of Suzuki GSX600s welded side-by-side and electronically synchronized to power a custom-built dual-sport chassis. Nothing on this vehicle is stock. From the suspension, to the brakes, to the steering, every inch of this vehicle was fabricated from scratch. She seats two but does have a standing platform directly behind the passenger and driver’s seats. It was built in conjunction with Matthew Jane, who is also part of the Wasteland Weekend build crew.”
Despite these award-winning masterpieces, Spud plans to ramp it up even further for this year’s Wasteland Weekend. The agenda includes serious upgrades to the Mutt (a former Wasteland Weekend vehicle currently owned by members of the Deathguild), several new bikes (including one with a sidecar), the ultimate post-apocalyptic work truck made from his own “trusted and beloved” Chevy dually, and… a jetcar.
“The jet car is being built around a jet engine. It is a Marborough MK 5, which produces 880 foot-lbs of thrust at full throttle (also drinks 18 gallons of fuel a minute). Lord Spud’s Motorcycle Emporium: speeding through the apocalypse in style!”
At this point, I asked Spud about Wasteland cars that he admires but didn’t build himself. “It would have to be Cupcake’s Banshee,” he told me, referring to Thomas “Cupcake” McElroy’s 1967 Ford Mustang. “That Mustang is the standard of post-apocalyptic perfection. Everything from the build quality, to its functionality, reliability, and aesthetic appeal, is the example I give everybody who asks ‘What makes a good PA car?’ My wife affectionately refers to it as ‘sex on wheels’ and drools over it constantly.”
And with all of his years of experience, knowledge, and creativity in this field, I just had to find out what kind of advice he would give to others looking to turn their own car into something worthy of the apocalypse.
“If you insist on turning your daily driver into a wasteland vehicle, my advice to you is this: think practicality, both for the future apocalypse and now,” he advised. “For example, keep your vehicle road legal. This eliminates having to haul it to events on a trailer, which after a while can get very, very tedious. And probably most importantly, keep the doors on! It’s the apocalypse. What better way for a raider to steal your ride than to shoot you right through the side of your open vehicle? Doors also provide valuable protection from the elements, which believe me, you won’t realize until they are gone.”
I want to give a special thanks to Spud for this wonderful interview, which I hope helps a few of you with your own vehicles. Next up on the car-builder interview agenda is the Godfather of the Wasteland himself, Ron Griffith. Look for that interview coming soon!
Don’t be content to just find a garment and use it ‘as is.’
Tear off the sleeves, rip out the lining, add patches, cut one pant leg short. Add pieces of your profession, tools, weapons, pouches, war trophies, bones, feathers, animal furs or skulls.
Don’t be afraid to make pieces unique and unusual. Tie it to a rope and drag it behind your vehicle, tear all the stitches out of the seams and sew it back together with something weird, stain or custom dye it, cut or tear off the cuffs, collar, pockets etc.
The world of the Aftermath is one of scarcity and want, finding a matching pair of anything would be nearly impossible. Consider wearing mismatched gloves, two different boots, adding an odd sleeve onto a garment that obviously doesn’t match.
Scarcity should be the rule of thumb in the wasted world.
You don’t necessarily have to be armored from head to toe like a tank, but you might consider having a few strategic pieces here and there to protect you. And remember, armor doesn’t just serve to protect, it can also serve to strike fear and awe in the hearts of your enemies!
You’re a survivor in the Aftermath, sometimes you have to make due with things you can salvage. That means, make use of things in ways they weren’t intended to be used.
Make an elbow pad into a knee pad or a mask, use a leather garter belt as a bra, use a grimy dishrag as a scarf, make some slotted spoons into protective eyewear, tear up an old tent to make a jacket. Be creative!
WEAR & TEAR
The most important part! The Aftermath is a rough and tumble place full of hardscrabble survivors, your clothes should reflect that idea.
Sure colors existed before the end came down on us, but in the Aftermath, everything has gotten so filthy and grime coated, you can hardly tell red from brown these days. Be sure to keep your colors muted and dirty. The Aftermath is not a day-glow rave or a brightly colored affair.
Everyone’s occupation and environment will wear their clothing in different ways. Be sure that they have an appropriate level of damage, wear, weathering and grime to reflect WHO you are and WHERE you come from.
Remember, everything you wear and carry with you has been touched by the filthy world that is the Aftermath.
We want to see the best and most original version of your post apocalyptic self.
Please don’t show up as the Post-Apoc version of your favorite comic book character, or the PA version of your favorite cartoon/video game, or the PA version of your favorite sci-fi show character, that’s like painting the rebel flag on your Stormtrooper armor and showing up at your local Civil War reenactment; it makes no sense.
Save those PA hybrid costumes for your favorite con. Instead, we urge Aftermath participants to create their own unique and original looks.
TRY NOT TO KILL ANYONE
While weapons seem like a given as part of any realistic post-apoc impression, safety should be the first order of business around other people or at events.
Any guns you bring as part of your outfit should be painted up toy guns or weapons that have been rendered non-firing. Likewise, bladed weapons should stay sheathed or blunt enough not to hurt people.
Additionally, no one wants to run into you in the Aftermath and get their eye poked out or tetanus from the sharp pointy bits on your costume. Design your outfit to have the post apocalyptic aesthetic, but with real world safety in mind.
THINK ABOUT WHO YOU ARE
So much of your outfit will create itself if you just give some thought to who you are supposed to be in the Aftermath and what you do to survive.
Are you a fast-moving raider who has to travel light and hide his identity? Are you a black finger who stays greasy and carries all his own rusty tools? Are you a grizzled gun-for-hire who needs to be armored up? Are you a member of a cult whose robes are emblazoned with the symbols of your beliefs?
Giving a little thought to WHO you’re supposed to represent on the front end can make putting together your outfit easier in the long run. Your clothing should tell the story of who you are as a survivor in the Aftermath.
For more examples of what type of costume you should bring to Aftermath, check out our Pinterest page.
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!”