TheLaserGirls (Sarah C. Awad and Dhemerae Ford) are powerhouses of cosplay, 3D design, and general badassery. On their podcast and blog, they show in vivid detail how two creative people have turned their love of fantasy, sci-fi, and cosplay into incredible 3D printed costumes and accessories – while empowering others to do the same. Last week, I had a chance to take a deep dive into what drives TheLaserGirls.
I really admire you, and I’m sure many of your fans do as well, for showing that cosplay and fantasy/sci-fi can be welcoming, creatively inspiring spaces that women can help define. How do you see yourselves in terms overcoming traditional gender dynamics in those worlds?
The characters we portray and our undying love for them are just two parts of what we do with cosplay. Obviously, we choose to portray women that have shaped us through our lives, and to us represent strength in more nuanced and unique ways. One could say that the “Strong Female Character” is now a trope in itself that has become overly-simplified, and we want to open the box again and reintroduce diversity to that definition.
For Dhemerae, it is also about paying homage and thanking these characters for the impact that they had had on her, and for Sarah, it is also about giving them the attention and portrayal she wanted for them. Many of the characters Sarah loves, she feels were foundationally incredible, but were lessened by either a lack of exposure publicly or storylines that smothered them. Through cosplay, she hopes to give them a new platform to showcase their amazingness!
The other huge portion of this is our focus in making. What we want show is that making is meaningful – more accessible than one would think – and just [show] the joy of creating and building something: here’s a project, and this is how we made it, and it’s awesome, and it’s fun, and it’s challenging, and it betters you, and you can do it too, and here’s how. 3D printing has a wide and deep context that we have found turns many people away because they do not feel they are capable of unlocking it. We want to show and help people clear that wall; it is less about the final product (because if you love what you’re doing, you will look great!) and more about being creative and learning how to build something functional that makes you feel amazing and that gives back to your influences.
How did you get interested in cosplay? Did you each have a separate journey to where you are today, or did you draw inspiration from each other and get involved in creating costumes after you met?
S: I’ve always been interested in cosplay. I was a big anime fan as a tween/teen and I was also a performer, so cosplay was the ultimate marriage of the two. I did a few smaller cosplays with my siblings when I was younger, but never ended up pursuing it like I do now. I think fondly on those days, because when I started cosplaying again in my 20s, I remembered the sense of confidence I felt when I created it and wore it, and witnessed how I affected other people through it. It is a full circle moment for me.
I think working with Dhemerae has helped me unlock a completely different side of making within me that I would have never been able to access on my own, and that has hugely influenced and opened up my mind to what I’m capable of doing with cosplay.
Sarah in Queen Knight cosplay
D: I’ve always been interested but never had the confidence while I was younger to actually do it. Once I got involved with 3D printing, met Sarah, and began to hone my skills, I really proved to myself that I could in fact do it! This is sort of my time to revisit that interest and finally realize the characters that I always admired and loved.
Tell me about the moment you first used 3D modeling and 3D printing to trick out your costumes. What was your early process like?
D: The first thing I made was San’s mask from my favorite animated film, Princess Mononoke. I had this idea to use the ProJet 660 (sandstone printer) to create a lightweight hollow mask that mimicked the look and feel of a handmade mask. I also wanted to add my own artistic spin by creating some sinister looking cracks in the surface for a weathering effect. I had to print three iterations before I got the size right, and the mechanical component I spent hours designing to keep the mask on my head completely failed. It turns out the best solution was to simply epoxy an elastic band and wear it like a plastic Halloween mask. That process really taught me a lesson in over-engineering. The simpler solution was the most elegant one, and the costume turned out a lot better than expected. I also came up with a crazy idea to attach the ears to my piece of fur using screws inset into the powder prints, which worked beautifully. That was another lesson learned in experimenting with new fastening techniques using 3D printing. So, overall the process was frustrating, but probably the most rewarding to date.
Dhemerae in her San Mask
S: For my first 3D printed cosplay, I decided to go all in and build body armor. I had never made anything like that ever, and I selected it for that very reason. With each project I choose, I try to give myself a new challenge to explore in order to always be learning and growing, and if I went into everything I learned and experienced during this process, it would be a book (Check out the Sarah’s Comic Con Chronicles on thelasergirlsstudio.com)!
A detail of Sarah’s body armor
I can say generally speaking, my early process is always the same: I do a ton of sketching, 2D blueprint making, and calendaring in order to set the structure for my workflow. I am a wildly imaginative person which can very easily make me lose my focus, so I need that structure to balance me and make the way I work more effective.
What 3D printed accessories are you most proud of?
D: I am most proud of my Buster Sword from the Lightning As cosplay. For me it was a feat of engineering to be able to 3D model and print a sword that could be assembled in that way, at that scale; I was also proud of the magnet mechanism I designed to join the pieces!
Dhemerae with her Buster Sword
S: Definitely my Fenrir pieces from this year’s Lightning As cosplay; the pauldron, the earrings, and the bag embellishment. I made all of those pieces from one model, which to me shows the usefulness and versatility of 3D printing. Also, the buttons that I printed for my pants – simple but so effective!
Sarah with her Fenrir pieces
What advice would you give to cosplayers who might not be using 3D printing now, but are interested in exploring new ways to bring their visions to life?
When we took a 3D modeling class in college, our professor had us start by choosing a specific object we wanted to make, and we always recommend that others start in this way as well. Choosing an object you love and want to make will not only keep you motivated to finish through the more frustrating parts of learning, but will also make it easier to choose a software package to begin with, and a context under which to work. We also recommend when choosing your first project, to either select one large object or several smaller objects in order to not overwhelm yourself out of the gate!
In terms of where to find learning resources, we actually have a whole blog post on that we recommend you check out- also, Shapeways’ forums are fantastic!
Intro to 3D Modeling:
I’m curious about your relationship with your fans. Do you work actively to grow your fanbase? How do your fans inspire or inform your work?
From people just getting started in 3D printing to those with experience, the reason why we started thelasergirlsstudio.com was because we wanted to provide a resource and a perspective on the process that can hopefully inspire our followers to get involved in the community, or try new ventures in their process. We Have always genuinely loved to share our work and knowledge, and in a world where people hold onto their content for dear life, we strive to focus on sharing in hopes that others can learn from us, and start their own journeys into 3D.
We do our best to provide helpful feedback to those who contact us via any of our social media channels, and hope to build a positive community filled with productivity, experimentation, creativity, and joy.
Any big projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
We recently announced that we’re going to I-Con in March in cosplay. Sarah is going as Re-L from the anime Ergo Proxy, and Dhemerae is going as Ripley from the first Alien film. We picked these characters specifically because they’ll have only one major prop print. We’re also considering attending other cons in the fall.
Other than cosplay, we’re working on a bunch of new and exciting content for the blog, which should include some good tutorials and maybe a few vlogs. We may have a couple of teaching opportunities on the, and we are hoping to potentially release a collection of pieces in the Summer/Fall of this year.
Luckily, you can actually buy a selection of TheLaserGirls’ accessories in their Shapeways Shop. And for more learnings, incredible photos, and insights, check out their blog, Instagram, and podcast.