Saturday 8 October 2016

Working for Disney...well...almost!

OK so that title may not be quite right but this is the closest I've gotten to working for Disney!

So let me explain. From my previous posts you may be aware that Simon and I have ventured into the world of cosplay and have become official members of the Mandalorian Mercs Costuming Club. Now just to bring you up to speed Mandalorian Mercs are based around the Star Wars character of Boba Fett and Simon, over the past 18 months, has created costumes for us both. This culminated with us becoming official members in June of this year closely followed by our first outing at Star Wars Celebration London in July.

Since July we took part in a comic-con at York and then we spotted an event that we just couldn't resist. To mark the launch of the new Star Wars Rogue One toys the Disney Store in the UK were on the look out for costumed characters to help with their promotional events. Disney Store contacted the Mandalorian Mercs and other costuming clubs looking for volunteers and as we are fortunate to live close to the Disney Store in Nottingham we put our names forward.

So on Sunday 2nd October we got our kit together and headed off into Nottingham and the Intu Victoria Centre. I must admit rolling a rather large storage trunk through the centre's car park and into the mall area was a bit strange...especially when bumping into an old work colleague while waiting for the elevator. And I'm not really sure what our teenage daughter and her friend thought to it all as they had taken advantage and joined us so they could go shopping!

Thankfully we hadn't got far to go between the elevator and the Disney Store and at 10.30am on a Sunday morning it wasn't too busy. As this was our first 'troop' like this we really didn't know what to expect but on arrival the staff couldn't have been more welcoming and pleased to see us and completely put any nerves and apprehension to bed.

So going behind the scenes or 'off stage' as I think it's referred to in Disney speak, we were shown to a very small staff room where we could get changed. Abi and the team were very intrigued by our costumes and we explained how we had become involved with the world of cosplay and how Simon had created the costumes, which inevitably led to the trying on of helmets!

Now to change the pair of us into Mandalorians takes about 45 minutes...there are lots of parts to each of our costumes that have to be put on in a certain order, especially when helping each other at the same time! But once in costume we made our way 'on stage' (otherwise known as the shop floor) but not before the store manager changed the video that was playing in store to a Star Wars themed one!
Front of store!

We then spent the next four hours camped out at the front of the store welcoming guests of all ages. We had some great interactions with lots of 'high-5's', 'fist bumps' and photos...lots of photos! The reaction from the public was often that of surprise but always with great humour and a want to get involved from the very young to the not so young! We had lots of photos taken that were accompanied by 'I need a photo for my boyfriend/husband/dad etc', 'he'll be so jealous'. We even had a few 'Snapchat' moments and one guy who filmed us for his vlog! But it was the reactions of the children that were the best and we had some very special interactions that obviously meant the world to some of the younger guests.
One of many, many photos taken
And I even got to have a photo with a little girl who used to attend my pre-school. Thanks Imogen for stopping by to see me :)
It was lovely to see you Imogen!
Mickey Ears were of course worn - how could I not?!

By the end of our day we were exhausted, a bit achy and very aware that despite wearing helmets for the vast majority of the time we hadn't stopped smiling all day.

A big thank you has to go to Abi and the girls at Disney Store, Nottingham for looking after us, making us feel so welcome and their generosity of magic!

Thanks Abi & Maya
Can't wait to do it again!!

Thursday 22 September 2016

Disney Inked

One of the ways that I keep my love of Disney going, as well as expressing how much Disney means to me, is through my tattoos.

Every tattoo that I have has a bit of Disney thrown in somewhere...some more obvious than others!

It all started a fair few years ago when Simon & I became intrigued with the world of tattoos after watching a number of 'ink' related TV programs. We loved the artistry involved and the stories behind the tattoos and soon we were talking about getting our own and what we would have done and why.

My reasoning was very simple - it had to combine the loves in life (family and Disney) as well as be designed by Simon.  The thought of having a piece of his art on my body was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned.

So the first tattoo I ever had was at the base of my spine. It spans across my lower back with a tri-circle Mickey at the centre; this was designed by Simon, and tattooed by Gray Silva at Rampant Ink Tattoo Studio. It also incorporates Simon’s initials and those of our two children (if you know where to look!)
Photo taken at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Dinoland USA after riding Primeval Whirl, 2008
My next tattoo carried on the Disney theme and once again incorporated the classic tri-circle Mickey at it's centre.  This was designed by Simon along with input from tattooist, Rachel Huntington who also worked at Rampant Ink Tattoo Studio.
Photo taken at Disneyland, Sleeping Beauty's Castle, 2010
My third tattoo is around my ankle and foot and has flowers with tri-circle Mickeys at their centres flowing off an abstract tri-circle Mickey.  This time I took Rachel some designs of tri-circle Mickey’s that I had come across on our previous visit to Disneyland, explained where I wanted the tattoo and that I wanted cherry blossom type flowers as well.  I told her all about ‘hidden Mickey’s’ and love the fact that she was able to get so many into one tattoo; between the main ‘Mickey’, the flower centres and tiny hidden ‘dots’ there are 11 hidden Mickey’s!  I also love the fact that those in the know see the 'Disney' element straight away but for others I have to point it out, and when they realise they are completely awestruck!
Photo taken at the Magic Kingdom, Main Street USA, 2011
My next tattoo was based on a drawing that Simon completed as part of his 365 Mickeys Project; the drawing celebrated the day I got my original foot/ankle tattoo!
Simon's 365 Mickeys Project drawing for 8th July 2011
The tattoo version is almost the same but with an extra flower and a total of seven hidden Mickeys. This tattoo has since had a small star added to represent my mum who recently passed away.
Freshly inked Tattoo by Rachel Huntington - May 2014
So what to do next....well it's true what they say that you can never stop at just one tattoo and the idea that started bubbling away in my head was that of a full sleeve...a full Disney sleeve of course.

So in February this year the first part of my sleeve was begun. Now this sleeve is still a 'work-in-progress' and will contain a mixture of images of all different kinds that help to signify what Disney is all about for me personally; favourite movies, characters as well as representing my Disney home - Walt Disney World. The tattoo was started initially by Rachel while she was working at Rampant Ink. We started with Cinderella's castle (to represent the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World) and then the rose and bell jar from Beauty & The Beast as well as Scrump from Lilo & Stitch... came some words, colour and a classic Disney blue bird...

...this was followed by more words, tinkerbell and some fairy dust...
 ...oh and the genie's lamp from Aladdin.
Now this is where I had a change of artists as Rachel decided to take a break from tattooing. Luckily for me Rampant Ink also employs the amazingly talented Simon 'Saint' Heywood who agreed to take on the rest of my sleeve for me. My first 6 hour session with Simon included lanterns from Tangled...
 ...colour and enhancements to the rose and bell jar as well as filling in around some of the words...
 ....there was also the apple from Snow White along with Cinderella's glass slipper...
...and then moving onto my lower arm...
 ...a movie clapper board to represent Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.
I have now had my second 6 hour session with Simon which has resulted in seven new pieces to my sleeve. So continuing on my lower arm...
...on the front I have Figment, the purple dinosaur from the attraction Journey Into Imagination which represents Epcot. I then have the Simba cave drawing from the movie The Lion King which represents the Animal Kingdom. So that's all four main parks at Walt Disney World represented!

On the back of my lower arm there is...
 ...Mrs Potts, from Beauty & The Beast, and of course that means that...
...Chip had to be included too! Also on my lower arm there is...
...a classic Disney butterfly as seen in the likes of Bambi. Moving back onto my upper arm there were a couple of smaller pieces added...
...a silhouette of Mary Poppins and a couple of 'Mickey' balloons which are synonymous with any visit to the Magic Kingdom!

But I still have plenty of space left to fill and plenty of ideas of what I'd like to fill those spaces with...but I won't spoil the surprise and will leave the reveal to another post after my next inking session later this year!

Thursday 18 August 2016

WOW! What a Weekend - Final Day!

Well after an amazing couple of days we made it to day number three and the last day of Star Wars Celebration 2016.

The day started with a hearty breakfast which kept us fuelled for the day ahead.

It was then time to get dressed Mando style! Here's just some of our kit laid out prior to getting 'kitted up'!
And today was chance to get out those Mickey ears. These were detachable as they are not strictly 'official' Mandalorian armour; Simon had craftily fitted extra strong magnets to the helmet and ears so they could be secure yet easily removed and attached. Pouches that are attached to my belt became handy 'ear holders'.

Once ready we headed out to the Excel Centre but we had not even made it out of the hotel car park before we were stopped for our first photos of the day. But by now we had a plan...each time someone wanted to take our photo we asked if in return they would take a photo of us with our camera!
And then we managed to get one of just us (this photo would come in rather handy later on....)
And here's just one of many taken at the entrance to the Excel this time with a young Star Wars fan..
And once again the walk into the centre and through weapons check before entering the main exhibition halls was staggered with photo opportunities.

But this morning we had a job to do as we had offered our services to help out in the Star Wars Celebration Family Area. This was an area set aside with space for families to sit down and take five minutes as well as some fun activities for the younglings. Within this area various groups had agreed to help out and provide activities over the weekend. The Mandalorian Mercs had agreed to be part of this and as such had a number of slots over the three days and the Sunday lunch time was our slot!
Mando selfie at a very busy Star Wars Celebration Family Area
Our job was to help the children make their own set of Mandalorian armour by way of some colouring sheets!

Not looking bad!
Although I think in some cases the dad's were more interested than the children!
Simon introducing a dad to the real armour - possible new recruit?
After an hour it was time to pack away our crayons and head over to the Mandaorian Mercs booth to take part in a group event. The idea was to have a group photo with as many of us as possible, so once we had all congregated at the booth we made our way out of the building to the front steps. It was such fun all of us walking out 'on mass' as the reactions from the public were great; lots of photos, smiles, waves and high fives. Once out of the building we all gathered on the entrance way steps which served perfectly to enable some great photos to be taken.

Buckets (helmets) on!
Buckets off!
And another shot...we reckon there must have been over 50 of us! Quite an impressive sight I think you'll agree!

Now once the photos had been taken we had a little surprise as we had a proposal between two of our members!! Thankfully she said yes!

As a memorial to a couple of official members who are no longer with us we then took part in an 'honour march'; this meant us all marching back into the arena in single file, with no interactions just straight forward heads up and march.

Simon and I taking part in the 'honour march'
Thank you to Steve Mannion Photography and J Goldsmith Photograhpy for some of the above images.

The march wound it's way around the two main exhibition halls before returning to the Mandalorian Mercs booth where we hung out for a short's a few photos of Simon on booth 'duty'!

We then decided to head back to the hotel, grab a shower and change before heading back to Celebration for the last hour. This gave us chance to have a last look around and we even had chance to look inside the official Celebration Store as there were no longer any excessive queues! Although once inside there was not an awful lot to look at as stock was predictably low. I have to admit I was rather disappointed by the lack of unique clothing options specifically for us ladies! There were lots of unique t-shirts but I had hoped to see lots of 'Her Universe' products and although there were some pieces the choice was pretty dismal - about 3 or 4 different items. 

Now I love the clothing produced by 'Her Universe' which is ordinarily only available online from the US, so I had hoped this was going to be an ideal opportunity to make some purchases without incurring overseas postal fees and potentially customs charges too. But alas it was not to be :( It was such a shame especially as the lady behind it all, Ashley Eckstein, was actually at Celebration talking about her role as Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars;The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.

Not looking overly impressed with the lack of 'Her Universe' choice and sizes were too big as well!

Some of the lifesize 'props' on display
As we wandered around we happened to stumble upon a talk that was talking place in one of the areas set aside for specific media outlets in the main halls...and we were very happy to eavesdrop in on Dave Filoni chatting all about Star Wars Rebels...

He is in there honest....look for the cowboy hat!
Now for those of you not familiar with the Star Wars extended universe let me give you a brief explanation! So we all know about the 3 original films and then we had the 3 prequels and then last December we had the first in the next trilogy - ok? Well besides all these movies there is even more Star Wars stuff - comics, books, toys and even animated series. And Dave Filoni is the creative force behind these animated series; Star Wars; The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels both of which are fantastic. Having watched both of these series relatively recently I have been really impressed by the story telling and the attention to detail that Dave Filoni and his team have produced. Watching all the behind the scenes featurettes has been fascinating and given a real insight into the amount of work, dedication and love that goes into producing anything that has the Star Wars name attached to it.

But anyway, Star Wars Celebration was now drawing to a close and at 5pm on Sunday 17th July 2016 it came to an end. But we had yet more fun planned as the Mandalorian Mercs were getting together that evening in a local pub to have a meal and round out what had been a fantastic weekend.

And then something happened that for the fan-girl in me made my weekend!

So there we were at a fairly standard, innocuous pub on the outskirts of London about to enjoy a meal with our new and very lovely Mandalorian family when we caught sight of someone entering the room; Simon and I both did a double take and looked at each other with that 'are you seeing what I'm seeing' look on each of our faces. Simon then said 'Dave Filoni's just walked in the room' and I think I said something along the lines of 'I know but why? What's he doing here? What? I don't understand...eek!'

Now at this point Simon and I are beginning to geek out big time and looking around the room everyone else seems to either not have noticed who's just walked in or not aware of who he later became apparent that we all did know who he was but we had all adopted the traditional British 'we're not going to get over excited' approach! Well, we had our meal and Dave spent a good couple of hours with us all. He got up and spoke about the respect and love he has for all Star Wars fans. He spoke about how he respects what the Mandalorian Mercs are all about and how he always wants to ensure that he 'does right by us' when introducing Mandalorians into his work. His passion, love and care for this franchise was very evident in how he spoke and made me geek out even more!

I was determined to see if I could speak to him and at least get a photo with him but my English reserve was in danger of getting in the way...after all how does one ask a celebrity for a selfie? On our way back from the bar we found ourselves in an ideal position; the meal was over and everyone was just chatting and mingling and we noticed one of our fellow Mandalorians approach Dave for a photo. As we were stood very close by I decided this was our moment. Simon said to me in a half joking manner 'you ought to ask him if Mickey ears could be brought into the series' so I quickly got out my phone and found the photo of Simon and I from earlier in the day with me wearing my Mickey ears. I then approached Dave with phone in hand and showing him the photo began a conversation about Mickey ears in the Mandalorian universe...I kid you not! Dave took hold of my phone and zoomed in on the photo. We spoke about Mickey being his 'boss' now and whether the ears could be some sort of radar dish/communication device. He also gave us some lovely compliments about how good our armour looked and how he loved the you can probably guess by this point I was one happy and very geeked out fan-girl.
Showing Dave Filoni my phone and the photo of Mandalorian me with Mickey ears
Trying to convince Dave Filoni to make Mickey ears officially part of the Mandalorian universe 
Simon and I with the one and only Mr Dave Filoni
But the icing on the cake to all of this was later on as Dave was leaving and he came to say goodbye to some of our clans council leaders who we happened to be sitting next to. He turned and spoke to Simon and I, making reference to the Mickey ears and promised to 'have a look into it' and he put his hand on my shoulder as he wished us well and said goodbye. Que one very excited me, who quite frankly then acted like a teenager meeting the latest boy band...I hadn't really realised how big a Star Wars fan I had become until this point. In fact I am now even talking about a possible new tattoo that will be Star Wars themed!!

Someone else we got to chat to in more detail that evening was Tom Hutchens who is the founder of the Mandalorian Mercs or to give him his proper title 'Mandalor the Uniter'. Such an honour to meet him and find out a bit more about the Mercs, their origins and their ethos; a very cool guy.
Simon and I with Tom Hutchens
So that was our Star Wars Celebration weekend, a fantastic fun filled three days where we got to experience the joy of cosplaying as well as meeting a whole new family of friends as well as hanging out with a celebrity!