Beware, Gelfling—it's harder than you might have thought to recreate one of the deeply beloved (or highly hissable) characters from The Dark Crystal and its acclaimed prequel, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
Fortunately, for travelers to Thra, we can now offer expert cosplay guidance from the Netflix series' senior costume and creature supervisor Toby Froud – a man who spent his childhood "surrounded by goblins," he says, although only because his parents were Dark Crystal conceptual designers and puppet-makers Brian and Wendy Froud. Little Toby could have just rested on his parents' laurels, but no – he worked his way up the fantasy business, apprenticing at WETA, crafting puppets at Laika, and creating his own puppet-based films. Now he shares some tips and techniques for newbies and experts alike – and urges you to always cosplay outside the box.
Cosplay Central: How did you learn how to do this? You trained in technical arts and special effects, but not costume design...
Toby Froud: I wish I had, because I love it. I've always made costumes growing up. When I was a kid, I made myself into superheroes and ran around the countryside. My mother always made costumes, and my parents taught me an awful lot about looking at a piece of fabric and seeing what else it could be.
It wasn't until I worked at Laika, though, working with the costumers there, who are truly amazing because they have to do everything at such a small scale of detail...It was so clean. I did costumes on ParaNorman, which was an amazing learning curve for me, because it had to be so precise. What I learned was how to drape and pattern and use fabrics at different scales. And when you're doing stop-motion animation or puppets, you have unusual sizes – bigger bellies, spindly legs, wide waists – which don't exist in our human world.
CC: The costumes on the Dark Crystal prequel had to be more detailed than the original film, to show up on camera. And there were many considerations because of the way the puppets would be used.
TF: Yes, absolutely. They're on puppets, so they have to be lighter. If this were a period drama, it would be linens, leathers, and wools. We used lighter fabrics, like silk. We were also trying to be very faithful to the original, so it was kind of like archeology, reproducing the Skeksis. We stayed away from putting a cheesecloth top layer and used a glittery fabric on the top, which was then degraded, just to give it a quality of being lived in.
We don't break down the Gelfling costumes as much, because they take care of themselves more, but we do a heavier breakdown on the Skeksis – paint them down, take sandpaper and fray it at the edges, use a lot of wax to dull it down, especially at the bottoms of trains and skirts.
CC: You had to create a different look for each tribe of Gelfling, as well as individual Gelflings.
TF: There are seven clans, and that was a big challenge. We were feeling out different colors, tones, lines, and symbol designs for each tribe, just to get a general sense of what they were and where they resided in Thra. The Grottan Clan were interesting ones, because they live in caves, so that's underground, so stone and moss, at first. You think it would be dank, but then there is bio luminescence, red iron ore, and other splashes of color. If you were doing cosplay of Deet's costume, she has gold threads running through the lines, and gem beads in her costume, turquoise colors. It made parts of it pop. It feels like a cave wall.
The Vapra Clan, in the mountains where the All-Maudra resides, are very airy. They wear light colors, silvers. The All-Maudra costume was a whole thing to itself. Our amazing costumer Elsa Dye did beautiful work with padding and pulling through thread, like big yarn, inside so that it puffed in the right places. It has a sort of translucent quality when you see the costume in person.
CC: We get multiple looks for Seladon. You could argue that Dark Seladon is a form of cosplay for her.
TF: That's what she was doing. She was becoming a Skeksis when she didn't want to, and that was really fascinating. She went from Vapra silks and a pale face, just regular Gelfling makeup, into basically putting on makeup for the first time – lipstick, eye shadow. It's as if it's warpaint, but it's not necessarily something the Gelfling usually do, so it's kind of strange and striking to them.
That costume is very dark. It's basically her turning into a Skeksis. Where she got those things in the Vapra castle, we're not quite sure! She has an obsidian crown. It's all about the silhouettes for her, with the spikes basically resembling the Skeksis castle. And the veil that she has over the top of her eyes, we pointed that in the middle so it would have a slight beak quality. I'm not sure if we ever got a true side shot of her in the series, but there's a point to it, like a beak.
CC: How would you recommend someone get that unique blend of Dousan color, if they do the skin-painting and makeup?
TF: I'm trying to remember! That was the fun part, that we got to do everything – makeup and costumes. The skin tones of the Dousan were hard. If you put blue and yellow together, you get green. If it blended too much, you'd get a weird green. So you'd lay the yellow down across the face first, and then we'd put some ochre in there, which would give a burnt sienna quality, like rust or the desert sand. And then you'd put the blue areas next, and we'd make sure that the blue line was clean-ish. And then on top of that, darken around the eyes a little more. I think we added two blue tones. And then on top of that, the silver comes, with a dark line around the silver, so the silver pops like a tattoo.
Dousan were more feared by the rest of the Gelfling. They weren't understood. They were the ones who worshipped death. They weren't afraid to die. They were true warriors. They were the last clan we tackled, because they came later in the series. And I'm glad we got to do them last, because we'd gotten everyone else out of the way and established the other Gelflings, and then we were able to really work on what the Dousan felt like.
We knew they were a desert tribe. We knew they had a mysterious quality to them. We spent a long time trying to figure out their colors, the purples and the blues, and their clothes, silk with leather on the edges. Their beads are carved like bones, tied and stitched on their costumes. And their strange, silvery tribal markings, we thought, were like butterfly markings. They came from the Crystal Desert, and silver would sparkle in the sunlight.
CC: You were a guest judge at a Dark Crystal cosplay competition this year. What trends in Dark Crystal cosplay have you seen, and what do you think about it?
TF: I think it's amazing what people do and achieve, the amount of details they find and run with. It's really and truly impressive. I've seen people doing the Gelflings – a lot of Jen and Kira, but I've also seen people doing Brea and Deet. Deet, she really captured a lot of hearts, and she's so fun to create, because you can have big, messy hair. If I was doing cosplay, I'd do something like that, because it's so much easier than having sleek and pristine hair, even as a wig.
I've seen several Hunters. It is a guy in a suit. It's an easier idea of a costume, and yet it is a really hard suit to create. I've seen a lot of the Chamberlain, more so from the movie. I've seen the Heretic, [a winner at the competition]. I've seen someone do Seladon in a cosplay competition, and she did an amazing job with the Skeksis dress. And I've seen someone do an amazing Garthim piece, which is a huge undertaking. I'd be curious as to why people pick the characters they do.
Mostly what I've seen is people take the idea of a character but make it their own lavish costume. I've seen a lot of Skeksis done in ballgowns, so you're not bogged down trying to recreate a puppet head. Especially a Skeksis, which is really hard if you're inside that thing, sweating away, and you can't see much.
Instead, they're taking the essence – ironically – of the character, which is the great, because then you become that character, and you can actually move around and interact with people. I think it's also important to remember that you don't have to do a character precisely as they were on the screen. I've seen people do the Sanctuary Tree, and other things that you wouldn't necessarily feel are a costume. They've created other living elements of Thra. Or go another way. I saw the Batman cast done as the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Batman as Frank-N-Furter is something you'll never forget.
I was fortunate enough to go to Dragon Con years ago, and it was a truly amazing experience. I wish everyone could go see it. All these people spend months, years even, working on these costumes. All it is is love, and they're all together parading around, celebrating creativity. It's absolutely stunning.
TF: [Laughs] Yes, absolutely. It's fascinating and terrifying when a full-grown man comes at you dressed as baby Toby. Every so often, you'll see people with a baby or baby doll in the red-and-white stripes. I'm amazed that anyone wants to dress up as a baby, but that does happen. [Laughs]
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is available on Netflix. Follow Toby Froud on Instagram.