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Before and after: Elaborate costumes of Dragon*Con

Updated 12:16 PM ET, Mon September 3, 2012
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No fan convention is more associated with costuming than Dragon*Con, held every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. Attendees often spend a year or more dreaming up their costumes, designing them to near-perfect screen or illustration accuracy, and painstakingly constructing each detail. Characters range from the classic to the completely original, and hotel lobbies and hallways are clogged with admirers taking photos and marveling at the craftsmanship of the costumes.Perhaps the most striking thing about Dragon*Con is seeing people from all walks of life and all over the world transform into their characters. Shy teenagers become superheroes; the sweetest moms and dads become evil villains. At CNN iReport, we wanted to document those transformations and all the work that goes into them. So we had 2012 Dragon*Con attendees send us photos of what they look like in everyday life, and then we captured portraits of them in their costumes during the convention. Here are a few of the most striking before and after shots.Photos by Kenneth Uzquiano and Merv Teo | Story by Rachel RodriguezSabrina Maizland as Emma Frost ("X-Men")Sabrina Maizland says she enjoys becoming "part of the spectacle that is Dragon*Con.""I am a homemaker and real estate investor and I dress very conservatively," said the Fairfax, Virginia, resident. "You don't really expect your landlord to go home at night and be working on a superhero outfit, but that is what I do."Costuming also serves as Maizland's motivation to stay fit. "You have extra incentive for hitting the gym when you know you are going to be squeezing into some spandex," she said.Maizland brought five different costumes with her to this year's Dragon*Con -- and the convention only lasts four days! Courtesy Sabrina Maizland (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Lindze Merritt as Maleficent ("Sleeping Beauty")Lindze Merritt's costume was so complex, she needed a little outside help."The horns (were) made in fiberglass by a local sculptor I commissioned, and had to be sculpted custom to my head," she said. But she and her mother made the dress themselves, working for months on the complicated ensemble. And in costumes as elaborate as this one, there are some additional considerations:"The costume is also very, very hot, so I have a handheld AC device to keep me cool," said Merritt. "But it's very uncomfortable."Why bother with all the work and discomfort? "I chose this character because she is the best Disney villainess," said Merritt. "She's an amazing character and I hope to do her justice." Courtesy Lindze Merritt (L), Merv Teo/CNN (R)
Mikhail and Katrina Lynn as the Fifth Doctor and the 10th Doctor ("Doctor Who")Husband and wife Mikhail and Katrina Lynn always coordinate their costumes. It's a labor of love for the pair, who spent a considerable amount of time -- four months -- and money constructing these Doctor Who costumes entirely by hand. "Though it's unlikely anyone will even notice we made the costumes -- Doctor Who costumes are purchased pretty easily and inexpensively -- it's all worth it for the tailoring techniques we learned, and the fun we had just patterning and making the suits together," said Katrina. "Even our very good friends have trouble recognizing us once we're in costume," she added. "For us, no costume is complete until we're posing for that first picture, in character. ... It's actually pretty hard to find pictures of us together out of costume." Courtesy Mikhail & Katrina Lynn (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
The Parker family as Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Joker, Riddler, and Penguin ("Batman")"Before adopting our kids, we attended Dragon*Con for a couple of years without costumes," said Emily Parker. "But then we discovered how much fun it is to dress up and we were all hooked."Now the kids have been to four Dragon*Cons, and the Parkers always attend in family costumes. This year, they were villains from "Batman" on Saturday; on other days their costumes celebrated Indiana Jones, Doctor Who, The Avengers and Men in Black. "Keeping track of accesories for all five of us is definitely a challenge," admits Emily. "Lucky for us, our kids are very cooperative with trying on the costumes and trying them on again when adjustments are made. And in the end, it's so much fun to become our characters for the weekend and see how people react to them." Courtesy Emily Parker (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Cameron Schleusner as steampunk Darth Vader ("Star Wars")Jennifer Adams and her boyfriend, Cameron Schleusner, met at Dragon*Con during her first trip to the convention. Now, they attend together every year. Schleusner spent most of his time at Dragon*Con this year as a steampunk version of Darth Vader. "The helmet he shaped out of boiled leather, added metal bits and wired for lights and sound," said Adams. "He also decided to build a Boba Fett helmet out of the same technique to carry around as a trophy. It is going to blow people away." Courtesy Cameron Schleusner (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Jennifer Adams as a nurse ("Silent Hill")Adams created seven (!) costumes for this year's Dragon*Con, one of which was this nurse from the "Silent Hill" video game series and film. It took her two tries to make the plaster-based mask."With putting together so many costumes, the big struggle has been keeping track of everything and working on most of them all at the same time," she said. Courtesy Jennifer Adams (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Chaka Cumberbatch as Juliete Starling ("Lollipop Chainsaw")Chaka Cumberbatch has more costume clothing than "normal" clothing. "I own a rainbow of wigs ... and on a moment's notice can assume an alternate identity -- no phone booth required! Though I may need a few safety pins," she joked. "I think I do this for two reasons: love of the characters I portray and a desire for a creative outlet that keeps my brain moving," said the Little Rock, Arkansas, resident. "There's a lot of critical thinking and problem solving that goes into costume creation, and I like putting together the pieces of the proverbial costume puzzle." Courtesy Chaka Cumberbatch (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Travis Darsam as Shaun ("Shaun of the Dead")"A few years ago, a good friend of mine kept telling me I looked like Simon Pegg (who plays Shaun)," said Travis Darsam. "On a whim I decided to prove him wrong. I grew out my goatee, bleached my hair and goatee and put together a costume from "Shaun of the Dead." I was determined to prove him wrong. Well, I lost and I've been doing it as at least one of my costumes every year."Darsam reuses the same costume each year, but does have to grow out and dye his moustache and goatee for about a month before the convention. Besides that, he said the biggest challenge for the ensemble was finding a real cricket bat in the U.S.! Courtesy Travis Darsam (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Eedee Frascella as Lady GagaEvery year, Eedee Frascella wears a different Lady Gaga costume to Dragon*Con. "She is an inspiration to me, and to a ton of other people. Her music is brilliant, and she's really a very intelligent woman," said Frascella.Frascella even leads a group of people who all dress up as the singer; they call themselves the Gaggle of Gagas. "We meet up and all just hang out in our Lady Gaga costumes," she said.Frascella brought four additional homemade costumes to the convention, too. She's been working on her five looks since January. "I've spent a good amount of time at sewing parties with friends, motivating each other to get all our work done on time," she said. "A lot of time, money, and energy has gone into perfecting all of my pieces." Courtesy Eedee Frascella (L), Kennth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Laura Johnson as Eldar Farseer ("Warhammer 40,000")"When showing my friends and co-workers my photos, they always ask, 'Wait. Is that really you?'" said Laura Johnson. It's a frequent reaction for many hardcore costumers. Johnson says for her, the biggest challenge of costuming is "translating something from a fictional setting to real life while keeping it believable. One frequently finds that many character costumes in games are not subject to physics!" This year, however, the toughest part for her wasn't the blue robes and golden armor -- it was finding the right ears! Courtesy Laura Johnson (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Rebecca Vitt as Number Six ("Battlestar Galactica")For Rebecca Vitt, attending Dragon*Con in character was about more than finding the right costume -- it was about totally reshaping her body."One of the things that makes Number Six so striking is her slim, tall, toned figure," Vitt explained. "Being 6'0", I certainly have height in my favor; the slim, toned figure, however, not so much."Vitt had been wanting to lose weight anyway, and costuming provided the perfect motivation. She lost 25 pounds in the months before Dragon*Con through a rigorous diet and exercise program.Vitt also took her hair from black to blond over the course of eight months in order to play the role. Lucky for her, her sister is a hair stylist! Courtesy Rebecca Vitt (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Camille Trejo as La Catrina (icon of Mexican holiday Day of the Dead)"Dragon*Con is like Christmas for costumers," said Camille Trejo. "My costume list grows more diverse each year in what I make and wear at the convention."This year, in addition to her costumes from cartoons and comic books, Trejo decided to honor her heritage with a Catrina costume."I am Hispanic and I observe the (Day of the Dead) for my late friends and family every year. This year, I decided to incorporate it into my hobby," she said. "The costume is called Catrina, which is a skeletal female figure in a gown with flowers that represents a deceased loved one that is placed upon the altar or grave of a family member." Courtesy Camille Trejo (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Christine Van Assche as Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour ("Doctor Who")Making this costume was a challenge for Christine Van Assche because Madame de Pompadour isn't just a "Doctor Who" character -- she was a real person, called Reinette by her friends. So Van Assche wanted to make sure her dress, undergarments, jewelry, hair and other items were historically accurate.The required 12 yards of fabric "sat in my sewing room for a year before I cut into it," she said. But her friends wanted to go to this year's Dragon*Con as historical characters from the 18th century, and that meant she had to get the costume done. "It was murder on my (sewing) machine because of the weight of using spiral steel boning and then, for the corset and the gown itself, there's a lot of handsewing involved for the binding and the details, which takes a lot of time," she said. But Van Assche finally finished making the dress and styling the wig, and attended Dragon*Con with the perfect accessory: her husband as the 10th Doctor. Courtesy Christine Van Assche (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
John Stump as Plague Preacher of Nurgle ("Warhammer 40,000")John Stump's goal was to create this costume using only items from secondhand or dollar stores to keep the cost as low as possible. He ended up creating the whole elaborate look for around $50.Stump and his wife worked on the costume for about eight months. "I think the biggest struggle with putting this costume together is that I have been learning to use a lot of techniques that I have never used before ... such as aging, working with clay, and working with resin," he explained. "We spent a lot of time learning how to use very cheap techniques to achieve the same looks that a lot of people spend a lot of money to have done to a costume."The outfit is Stump's first completely handmade costume, and he's "very excited to try out my new skills on some other costuming projects" and learn more new skills, like sewing. Courtesy John Stump (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Jocelyn Frazier as Nyan Cat (YouTube meme)It's common for costumers to come up with creative interpretations of their characters, like the steampunk Darth Vader earlier in the gallery, and Jocelyn Frazier's costume: an elaborate Victorian gown based on the Nyan Cat meme."I think I'll never see the end of all these ruffles," said Frazier, who made a total of seven costumes for Dragon*Con. "The last year has seen my spare time consumed with design and construction of the costumes."But for her and the 45,000 other Dragon*Con attendees, it's all worth it in the end. "It is thrilling to share the adventure with my friends from all over the country," she said. "They are amazing and creative people. (Costumers) understand and appreciate creativity and physical beauty in everyone big and small. You can't ask for a better group of folks to encourage you to just be happy being you." Courtesy Jocelyn Frazier (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Johnny Drago and Julian Modugno as Julie and Zeke ("Zombies Ate My Neighbors")Julian Modugno, right in both photos, is a long-time Dragon*Con attendee and self-professed geek. His boyfriend, Johnny Drago, well -- isn't. So Modugno decided to show Drago his first Dragon*Con, and it just wouldn't be the same experience without going in costume. The pair decided to go as Zeke and Julie from '90s video game "Zombies Ate My Neighbors," which meant that Drago would have to dress in drag."I think you can clearly see the excitement on his face," said Modugno of the "before" photo. But judging by the response at the convention, they pulled it off. Courtesy Julian Modugno (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Alyssa Carson as Blaine Anderson ("Glee")This costume may not look particularly complex, but you wouldn't believe the effort Alyssa Carson put into making sure it was completely accurate."I had to go to Mood in New York City to find the right material for the suit jacket, a 14-hour drive," she said. And it doesn't stop there. "I visited five stores before I found the trim and the haircloth interfacing. I also spent six months looking for the patch online. Then ... I spent over 100 hours cutting and sewing, both by machine and by hand."There was an additional challenge for Carson on top of all that. "Because I have Aspergers, working with abstract concepts is difficult," she explained. "To make my Warblers blazer for a male character, I had to adjust the pattern to disguise my female shape. This entailed modifying seven or eight pieces of an advanced pattern."Anything less just wouldn't have been acceptable to Carson. "It had to be done precisely and it had to be a exact reproduction of the TV version," she said. Courtesy Alyssa Carson (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
April Moore as Cadsuane Melaidhrin ("The Wheel of Time")April Moore's love of costuming comes at least partially from childhood memories of her mother. "My mother made dresses for me in colors to match flowers blooming at specific times of year," she said. "We'd stop by a nursery's field of cannas for a quick photo of me in my new red dress, or she'd pose me under the climbing roses in a dress of pink and white. I guess those memories ... left me with an appreciation for clothing as an occasion, as a spectacle in and of itself."Now married to a man who loves costuming as much as she does, Moore says working on outfits is "a welcome diversion from the everyday things that most adults have to do" for both her and her husband. "I've never forgotten that joy of spectacle with which she (her mother) gifted me: the pure pleasure of wearing a special outfit to commemorate a specific time, place or event, historic or fictional." Courtesy April Moore (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Jeff Rickert as a Chaos Lord in Terminator Power Armor ("Warhammer 40,000")Jeff Rickert needs assistance from multiple people in order to walk around in this costume. But for him, it's worth it."I have had to construct a giant frame around my torso and make everything match that scale," he explained. "I have outdone my previous costumes this year with lights and sound, from glowing-eyed demon faces stretched across the armor, to built-in speakers to blast forth the sounds of chaos."Rickert loves showing off his costumes, whether it's stopping for photos with passers-by at Dragon*Con or showing the work in progress to his friends."Every time I show friends the pictures of my progress, they ask, 'Isn't it heavy?,' 'How will you move in that?' or 'Won't it be hot?'" he said. "For me, costuming is a labor of love, and no amount of temporary discomfort will get between me and creating a spectacular and memorable costume." Courtesy Jeff Rickert (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Patrick Creel and Lisa Stevens as the ghostbusters ("Ghostbusters")"It usually consists of a good full year of research and gathering many different materials," says Patrick Creel of his costuming choices. For these outfits, for example, Creel and his girlfriend, Lisa Stevens, had to procure items from "the flight suit all the way down to to the most specific of details as the Raytheon Crank Knob that goes on the proton pack during construction." And those packs, by the way, weigh 45 pounds.Then, once at Dragon*Con, "it usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes to suit up," Creel explained. Courtesy Patrick Creel and Lisa Stevens (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Kimberly Wills-Starin as Midna ("The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess")Creating costumes for herself isn't all that Kimberly Wills-Starin does. She also takes commissions to make costumes for other people and serves as a judge for Dragon*Con costume contests. But every year, she keeps coming back to this costume: Midna (at left in the photo). She's made it more and more elaborate over the years, adding colored contacts, remaking parts of the outfit, hand-dying and styling a wig, and, this year, adding battery-powered LED lights."I've experimented with nearly every skin-safe body paint and powder known to man and learned new techniques for not looking like I'm covered in brush strokes," said Wills-Starin, pictured here with her friend and costuming partner, Mary Buchanan. "Many people don't realize that active costuming ... requires a ton of work, a ton of energy and can be mentally and physically exhausting," she added. "You have to be aware of how (the character) would act, how they would pose, and most importantly, what other people expect of the character." Courtesy Kimberly Wills-Starin (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)
Ian Lindsay as a Cobra Viper ("G.I. Joe")Ian Lindsay has been attending Dragon*Con for seven straight years, and says that "each time, the con seems to get bigger and bigger and the plans get more and more ambitious.""It is my one time a year to reconnect with many friends and acquaintances I've made through the years and to enjoy myself amongst a large group of like-minded individuals," he added.As such, Lindsay created four costumes for the event, including this one. The most challenging part? Finding "good reference shots of a costume I am trying to do. Whether it's based on a toy, comic book or movie, seeing all angles and getting everything right can be very difficult depending on the reference material available," he explained.And, like most hardcore Dragon*Con costumers, he says: "If I cannot pull off a costume accurately, I'd rather not bother at all." Courtesy Ian Lindsay (L), Kenneth Uzquiano/CNN (R)