Interview with Yaya HanJanuary 1, 2014
A well-known ambassador of cosplay, Yaya Han has been involved in the cosplay scene since it was just a small community in 1999. Now she travels the world judging cosplay contests, visiting conventions and sharing what she has learned from her years creating and designing costumes.
We had the chance to catch up with the lovely Yaya Han at Ottawa Pop Expo to talk cosplay, makeup, advice and of course, Heroes of Cosplay. Thank you to Yaya for allowing us some time to chat during the busy day!
How did you get started in cosplaying?
I started cosplaying in the summer of ‘99, so that was over fourteen years ago. Back then, cosplay was such a tiny community and I just wanted to do it because I thought it was an amazing way to express how much you can love a character. I didn’t know how to make costumes, I didn’t know how to sew, I didn’t know any of the skills back then that I know now.
Luckily, I’ve always been a very artistic person in the realm of drawing and painting and I used to actually draw a lot in manga style. It was like all of a sudden there was this opportunity to be creative and not just draw fan art of a character but actually become the character. It was incredibly appealing to me. I experimented and had one friend teach me how to sew on a very cheap, $40 sewing machine and that is how I got into cosplaying. I did it as a hobby and as a newbie, not knowing anything.
What was your very first cosplay that you made completely by yourself?
It was Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho.
Do you have any costumes in the works you can tell us about?
I have a few costumes in the works but the one I can tell you about is my upcoming collaboration with a fantasy artist named Nene Thomas. She’s finishing a painting of me as a character that I have always wanted to design and create. It was my idea that I brought to her; she loved it and asked if she could do a painting of it before I even made the costume. We both started designing the costume together; it’s going to be a Chinese mythological character thats like a fox demon and it’s going to be a winter theme, like a snow empress. I feel that with this costume, it’s me going back to my roots because I am Chinese. I wanted to create a costume based on the ancient history of China.
You always have such an elegant styling of hair and makeup for your characters. Did you take makeup lessons or is it a trial and error process?
I knew nothing about makeup. It’s such an important part of cosplay and really an aspect that drew me to it in the first place; I didn’t know how to do my makeup, I didn’t know what brands and products to use. A lot of the cosplay makeup that I’ve done over the years really is trial and error. I used to do a photoshoot and then look at the photos and say, “Oh, this is really washed out… why?” so I went online and started looking at makeup tutorials. I also bought the Kevin Aucoin makeup book and I think that taught me a lot. I feel like I should be able to say more than I just experimented but it’s true! Trial and error sometimes is the best way to learn.
What advice can you offer to anyone looking to get into cosplaying?
I think everyone should take advantage of the resources available online. When I started, we didn’t have tutorials or anywhere to get wigs–it was so much blindly feeling and trying things out and doing stupid things because there really was no other way to do it. Now, everyone is very open to sharing information and you have different grades of materials available like worbla to make armor and EVA foam and plastics–all kinds of materials are being developed everyday. Take advantage of that.
Go online and Google how other people have made costumes and see what tutorials and techniques you can find because I guarantee anything you want to make you can find online. I still learn a lot of skills online or if I need to refresh one of my skills–even though I know how to make a skirt, I’ll go online and see if maybe there’s an easier way to do it. Put in the research.
I think a lot of people want to skip that step and just have all the glamour; have that wow factor and get the attention and have people fawn over them and take their photo, but really the cosplayers that are in it for the long run like myself, I’m in for the longevity of it–I don’t mind doing the necessary research and I don’t mind being on the computer of four hours and searching for one thing. I think in the end, it makes your life a lot easier when making a costume.
In regards to Heroes of Cosplay, was there anything you learned during filming or is there anything that you found influenced you in what you do or in everyday life when looking back?
I think I learned that there is a lot of weight behind my voice. I don’t know if that sounds vain at all, but it was a revelation in that whatever I say, people pay attention to it. People remember it. It’s a responsibility of mine that I have; to speak for more than just myself and I have to be there for the next generation of cosplayers. I don’t consider myself an authority of cosplay; I only call myself one of the many ambassadors of cosplay because I got sick of people calling me the “Queen of Cosplay”. I feel like if I am able to influence someone and give them the motivation to go out and do something creative that is probably more than I could ever ask for.
The reaction to the show has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve met a lot of parents that are really supportive of their children, whereas a couple years ago at every convention I went to, cosplayers would ask me, “how do I convince my parents to let me do this and allow them to see that this is more than just something weird and freaky?” So now because it’s on TV, people are seeing the effort and passion behind it. They want to encourage their children and friends and maybe themselves to want to make a costume. We live in a world where we don’t have elaborate fashion every day. It’s not like the rococo era where everyone basically wore costumes every day. I think as people we want that escapism. We want that feeling of being larger than life. I think that’s what cosplay is nowadays. It’s escaping into a fantasy world, and why not?
You can see more of Yaya’s work by following the links below:
Header photo of Khaleesi; costume by Yaya Han; photography by Kevin Green