Tuesday 26 July 2016

WOW! What a Weekend! - Day 1

Well, we are back after an amazing long weekend away in London where we attended Star Wars Celebration; three days of all things Star Wars.

We had an amazing weekend for all sorts of reasons that I shall go into as I write this and subsequent pieces. In fact we had such a great time I am struggling to know where to start! But I think the best thing to do would be to tell you what happened in the order it happened.

Now Star Wars Celebration ran for three days at the Excel centre in London. It started at 10.00am on Friday 15th July 2016 and was open for 3 days, finally closing its doors on Sunday 17th July 2016 at 5.00pm.

Now a lot of fans were arriving on the Thursday to pick up their passes so that they could be ready to hit Celebration as the doors opened on the Friday morning...some even queued from the early hours in order to secure their places at the various panels that were running. But we had decided to travel down on the Friday morning and just take things steady rather then worrying about which panels to see or spending hours in queues.

So we set off from our home in central England and headed South to London.
On our way!
The great thing about the Excel centre is that whilst it is in London it is on the outskirts which makes it very easy to get to if travelling by car like we were. About 3 hours later we arrived at our hotel, which was just to the rear of the Excel. It was a bit early to check-in so we parked up and headed over to the centre. Now the building itself was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel but we soon found out that the entrance was on the opposite side of the building which made it a good 15 minute walk instead!

Arriving at Celebration we were immediately hit by the very friendly and welcoming vibe as well as the number of cosplayers there were. We headed into the main building and had to initially go through 'bag check' before entering the main ticket hall to pick up our three day passes. We then took a steady stroll into the main exhibition halls to get ourselves orientated and find out where the Mandalorian Mercs booth was. We decided to head straight over to the booth to introduce ourselves to our fellow Mercs most of whom we had only ever spoken to via the forums online. Everyone was so welcoming and it was so nice to start to try and put names and faces together. We also collected our official Mandalorian Mercs Vok'Chi Clan t-shirts as well.

We then headed off in the search for food; now there are lots of places to eat at the Excel but there were also lots of queues! We ended up grabbing a couple of coffees and sharing a baguette - now those of you that have followed the 'Get Real' page on this blog will know this was not my usual sort of food and I really didn't enjoy any of it!! But while we were eating Simon decided to text a very old friend of ours who we knew was visiting Celebration just for the Friday, and lo and behold she responded by saying she was at the Mandalorian Mercs booth! We then quickly headed over there to surprise her. We chatted away and the conversation turned to our Mandalorian armour and how she was gutted that we weren't in costume...well that sounded like a challenge so off to the hotel we went to check-in and get changed!

In order to get all our armour safely to London we had bought a rather large black trunk...in fact we had bigger luggage for our armour than we did for our 'civilian' clothes! Although it must have looked rather strange rolling this large trunk through the hotel foyer and into the lift...thankfully we weren't the only guests with unusual luggage as most of it's clientele appeared to be Celebration guests.

This was probably only about the second or third time that both Simon and I had got dressed into our armour together and the first time we were taking it out in public. It probably took us a good 45 minutes to get kitted up as we had to figure out which order to put things on making sure that we could assist each other with tricky belts and gauntlets etc. But once we were all complete we headed off once more to the Excel centre and the long walk round to the entrance.

Instantly we became aware of what great fun being in cosplay was; we were stopped for photos, high fives, knowing looks, smiles and compliments and all before we got inside the building.

Although we had our passes we had to go through 'bag check' once more, or more specifically 'prop weapon check'. Both Simon and I as part of our armour have fake blasters; all made from bits of Foamex, MDF, piping and general household objects. But security (quite rightly) was tight and very specific about what items would and would not be allowed into the building. The guys on the prop check were great and very efficient; they simply placed a coloured zip-tie around each of our blasters to identify that they had been checked and given the OK. We were then free to make our way through the exhibition halls to the Mandalorian Mercs booth and this is when we discovered a slight hitch with our kit! Operating a touch screen mobile phone with leather gloves (me) is impossible and only just possible for Simon with his cloth gloves, this resulted in a very short and to the point text to our friend to let her know we were back and in full kit just for her.
We even threw her in the jail cell!
See it is us really!!
We then spent the rest of the afternoon between hanging out at the Mercs booth and exploring what else there was on offer. Simon was extremely happy that we got to meet James Bruton of XRobots.co.uk over on the Bladez Toyz stand. Simon has been watching James' videos of building robots and stuff for ages, and it has been these videos that have inspired and helped Simon with the armour building process over the last year.

But before we knew it it was 7pm and Celebration was closing for the day, we had had a fab first day and spent a substantial part of it in our armour which hadn't been our intention at all. It was much later than we had planned by the time we got back to the hotel and changed out of our kit...even taking it off had to be carefully planned as help was needed for each of us to get out of certain bits! Our plans for a meal quickly became snacks and red wine in our hotel room followed by falling asleep to the TV...it's hard work this being a Mando!

Thursday 14 July 2016

Star Wars Celebration

Hello, well I can't believe it's been such a long while between posts! I guess life has been busy as usual and I just haven't found the time to write.

So what have I been up to? Well, it's a busy time of year at work as we say goodbye to those children moving onto 'big school' and we get ready to welcome new faces in a few weeks time. I've been doing my bit on the Disney Dream Girls podcast too and we are now on episode 115! And then there's been the small matter of getting ready for Star Wars Celebration.

So this coming weekend Simon and I will be spending three days in London enjoying all things Star Wars!  This years Celebration is being held at the Excel centre in London and is a chance to celebrate and embrace all that is Star Wars; so lots of exhibits, lots of panels, movie showings, shopping and even tattoos!!

But the main thing for us has been our journey over the past 12 months since making the decision to attend this years celebration. So just to recap...a little over a year ago Simon and I were talking about what to do to celebrate Simon's upcoming 'milestone' birthday year and at the same time I had just found out about Star Wars Celebration coming to the UK. So, knowing how much Simon loves Star Wars I suggested we could have a long weekend in London and visit Celebration. Fast forward a couple of hours and tickets for all three days were booked. Then Simon said..'well if we're going to go we might as well do it properly and go in cosplay'...to which I replied 'well that's fine but no way am I wearing the Princess Leia metal bikini'!!

So what could we go as? What wasn't going to cost us a fortune to buy? Or was it something we could make ourselves? The idea of making something ourselves really appealed to Simon's creative side and it didn't take us long to come up with a character that we could both adopt. After all if we were going to do this we wanted to choose characters that would either compliment each other or that were the same or similar.

So what did we decide on? Well we went for Mandalorians...which for those of you unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe are based around the character of Boba Fett. The great thing with adopting Mandalorians was that whilst there is a basic form to follow we were free to be creative with the final look and style.

Simon began his research and came across the costuming group called the Mandalorian Mercs; a group set-up to help people create their own 'Mando's' whilst ensuring that the essence of the Boba Fett character still shines through. Having never ventured into the world of cosplay before it has been a real pleasure to discover a whole new world of people all embracing the same passion with no judgements, just simply a desire to enjoy and celebrate something they feel a passion for and a connection to.

So armed with lots of Star Wars reference material from the amazing Dorling Kindersley books to the movies and the wealth of the internet we set off on our creative journey. The online forums of the Mandalorian Mercs opened up a whole new world and gave us a community that would ultimately help us through our creative process.

Now the really great thing with all of this is that the actual cost outlay for both of our costumes has been relatively small. We have bought some pieces, like our 'soft parts' (or the clothing that goes under the armour) along with a few trips to the local DIY store to buy pipes, screws and bolts plus reaping the benefits of EBay and Amazon when it came to buying paint or material . We have invested in a few key pieces of machinery too; namely a sewing machine, hot glue gun and a Dremel! And then lots and lots of saving everyday objects that would have usually been thrown away. Things like plastic lids off ketchup bottles, tubes from inside soap dispensers, plastic chopsticks, pieces of milk carton...in fact you name it and we've probably used it. In fact nothing now gets thrown away in our house without first asking 'can we use this for something?'!!

The past twelve months have seen us transform plain pieces of MDF, Foamex board and everyday household objects into something that looks like it belongs on a movie set. Well, I say 'we' but I really can't take any of the credit for the fantastic costumes that have been created as it is all down to the amazing talents of my wonderful husband, Simon. I have merely assisted; I have held pieces still, helped mould a few pieces and learnt how to use a heat gun and a hot glue gun. I have provided refreshments as and when needed and been a sounding board for ideas but all the truly hard work and skill goes to Simon.

For Simon it has been chance to go back to his childhood and 'build stuff'; the only difference is now he has the tools, the knowledge and the creative force to transform ideas into reality. Simon has loved every minute creating our cosplay; he has researched techniques, learnt new skills and shared ideas with our new found friends on the Mandalorian Mercs forums. It has truly been a transformative experience! And having a whole year to build our costumes has all helped with the anticipation to Celebration and given us both that 'something' to look forward to, which after a good couple of years of no vacation time has been much needed!

The aim through all of this hard work, time and creativity was not just to create our costumes ready for Star Wars Celebration but to get accepted as official members of the Mandalorian Mercs by then too! In order to be recognised as official members our kit had to meet strict guidelines that have been set-up to ensure that the essence of the Star Wars universe is maintained and that the quality and attention to detail matches that which you would expect to see in the movies. The forums were a great help with this giving us a wealth of information, experience and support on which to draw to help us towards getting that all important approval. And by the end of June this year Simon got the thumbs up and then just a couple of weeks later so did I. Both outfits passed first time and now means that we are official members of the Mandalorian Mercs and specifically of the Vok'Chi Clan which is the UK arm of this worldwide organisation. As official members we can now 'troop' or 'invade' with our clan which means that we can help out at conventions, fundraisers and other charitable events with our first being Celebration! Yes over this weekend we will be helping out on the Mandalorian Mercs booth as well as helping out in Celebration's family area. So not only do we get to dress up in some pretty kick-ass gear we also get to help with the amazing charitable work this group does.

So let me share some photos with you...this first one shows various elements of our costumes at different stages of completion from raw MDF cut-outs to skate helmets being modified to even some clothing aspects!

The next  photo shows a good proportion of our 'armour' all primed and ready for paint and effects.

And here we have a finished helmet (or what is affectionately known as a 'bucket') - this one is Simon's.

We even have our very own custom 'weapons'...non-working of course!! But boy do they look real!
Simon's blaster
And my more dainty blasters!!
And here's the full effect...first we have Simon..

And then there's me!!

Oh and my one condition on doing this...

...I had to have Mickey ears for my helmet...and these are even detachable too!

So there you are Simon and I all ready, kitted up and official members of the Mandalorian Mercs ready to take on this years Star Wars Celebration. May the Force be with You!!