A while back I wrote about my ‘Logan’ costume, to tell about how I made it. I’m lucky enough to receive compliments; to hear that costume looks good. Because I believed ‘good’ always meant ’expensive’, and having found that’s not necessarily true, I figured it’d be a good idea to tell about that costume. Later on, I followed up with writing about my ‘Astor’ costume, as I felt the process that led to the Inquisitor’s costume is a nice contrast with the Ranger’s costume.
Today, I write about my ‘Ashûk’ costume. Because I’m proud of it, because it was relatively cheap, because it was quite fun to make, but mostly, because I thought I couldn’t do it.
Orcs and you
Orcs are common in Fantasy fiction and are depicted in different styles, ranging from the more comic-styled “Warcraft” Orcs to the more realistic, gritty “Lord of the Rings” Orcs. Despite the differences in depiction, they’ve got one thing in common: they’re powerfully build brutes.
As a pasty-faced, office-working nerd, that kept me from starting on an Orc costume for a long time.
But I was convinced by friends to give it a shot. Admittedly, I myself have said that the actual costume is only part of your performance; how you wear it, how you act, matters just as much, if not more.
In the European LARP scene, it seems the ‘LotR’ style Orcs are most common, especially at German and Czech LARPs, which was both a blessing and a curse; plenty of good examples to look at for references, or to be jealous of.
I formed a group with the friends I mentioned before, and a goal was set; everyone was to make a Orc LARP costume that could match the best the Germans and Czech have to offer. With this in the back of my mind, I started working.
Around summer 2015 I finished ‘version 1.0’ of the costume. Even if I get many compliments on my costumes, I always feel there’s room for improvement. So, I tend to work towards milestones, instead of striving to ‘finish’ a costume. This pasty-faced, office-working nerd feels like a proper Uruk-Hai when stomping around as “Ashûk Ash’naur”, so I considered my first important milestone conquered.
The first steps
I tend to be a perfectionist. I’ve got a certain quality in mind and for the majority of my stuff, I purchase what I need, to meet that quality. I was strapped for cash while making my Orc, so I was more or less forced to make do with what I already had; spare costume components, raw materials and other bits and bobs. In hindsight, I think that was actually key to making this costume work.
Orcs use whatever they can get their hands on, modifying it to fit their needs, and layering more items if a single item isn’t enough. A spare bracer? “My Gods”, part of me said, “you’d need the matching one to wear it properly!”. Another part of me realized that’s not how Orcs work, not the fictional ones, nor the German and Czech ones, and quickly beat that other part into submission.
After the beating, I set out with spare leather, straps, rivets and paint until I had another bracer, making a complete set of Orc bracers. The whole costume evolved that way. As said, I usually strive for perfection. I considered symmetry, neatness and other such qualities perfect, and still do for many kinds of costume. After convincing myself this doesn’t go for my Orc costume, I found it quite liberating making this outfit.
All spare parts I had vague plans for, pieces which were slightly broken or for some other reason without purpose, I quickly repurposed for Ashûk. Parts were mauled, dirtied and stained to look like some burly nomad had just enough time to make it usable, but not enough time to make it ‘perfect’. Best of all, I made a fair amount of the costume parts for the Orc myself – my being incapable of doing some crafts perfectly was actually a good thing in this case.
Crafting a killer
Layering a (LARP) costume is often mentioned as an important method for making a costume ‘coolthentic’1 and I feel this is even more important for Orcs. Using layers adds visual complexity to your costume, whether you’re making a Human Paladin or an Orc Warrior.
For the latter, however, there’s a bonus. You can easily use the layers to help you bulk up into the proper body shape and hide your own skin, meaning less visible skin that needs to be covered with prosthetics or paint. I made sure my layers are dirty, asymmetrical, with visible repairs and in earthen tones, with only the occasional splash of tribal colour.
The biggest help I found for accomplishing the above was looking at plenty of reference pics, both photos and artwork. Anyone making an Orc costume doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Looking at the media available, you can see all kinds of things; how other Orcs got creative with repairing armour, what kind of fabric they used, the materials used and so on. Don’t be afraid to branch out into genres with similar vibes, such as ‘regular’ barbarians and some Undead.
Though I don’t mean for this story to be a step-by-step ‘how to build an Orc’, and indeed would recommend to ‘just’ get to it, I myself experienced that ‘just’ getting to it doesn’t always work. To give an example and a practical tip, there was info and pictures on battle damage on clothing.
Examining those, I saw that the clothes were mostly made from coarse woven fabrics. If there’s such a thing as standard perfection, it’d tell that any clothing needs to be hemmed, but it wasn’t. And the coolthentic (Combination of the words ‘cool’ and ‘authentic’; meaning something that is realistic and/or based on historical examples, but still incorporates ‘cool’ (Fantasy) embellishments. Read more here.) battle damage I was seeing was easily made by dragging a serrated knife across the surface. Believe it or not, but I hadn’t thought of that.
I found further reading with costume tutorials for Post-Apocalyptic costumes, which contain many tips on how to make ‘cool’ damage and permanent dirt. If you look at it kind of sideways, Orcs and “Mad Max”-esque raiders have a lot in common, and I found quite some cool Post-Apocalyptic tutorials.
For instance, putting on latex gloves and using your hands to smear black paint over your costume and liberally sprinkling it with dirt and dust is one of those things I hadn’t thought about either.
1 Combination of the words ‘cool’ and ‘authentic’; meaning something that is realistic and/or based on historical examples, but still incorporates ‘cool’ (Fantasy) embellishments. Read more here.
Such successes in making or tweaking (and not buying) items that both fit my budget and matched the goal we had set, made me more confident that I’d actually get to my milestone.
The costs of being an Orc
Maybe it’s because I’m Dutch and trading is part of my heritage, but the costs of any given costume are often on my mind. Of course I can’t be sure whether or not that’s interesting to people reading this, but I figured I’d write some words about it, as in this case, it was important to me.
From the top of my head, my most expensive costume to date is Astor’s costume. The coat, the hat and his sword are all custom items and as such, were expensive. The cheapest costume would probably be, as it happens, Logan’s costume – I bought some of his accessories, but everything safe his sword was second-hand.
This Orc costume is somewhere between those extremes. A lot was second-hand or simply already in my possession and tweaked for the purpose, but some things were also bought. Had I bought everything new, it probably would have been one of my most expensive costumes, if not the most expensive costume.
But that was the beauty: Orcs and other barbaric characters are a perfect opportunity to scour through your old costume parts and change them into something useful. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to match anything, it just has to work for some practical purpose, such as protecting yourself from taking a knife to the guts.
When the dust settled from all the work, I am glad I dared to do something I thought impossible; turning myself into an Orc. With success; wearing this costume to an LARP event marked the first time I saw fans who insisted on taking pictures with the group afterwards, something I purely associated with Fantasy fairs.
I hope you, dear reader, can get to such successes as well. If there’s anything I’d want you to take away from this story, is that sometimes, you need to do and dare.
Though I learned these lessons thanks to my Orc costume, lessons that don’t necessarily work for a high-and-mighty High Elf, I could apply such lessons to a rough-and-tumble mercenary instantly, any type of barbarian and all unrefined characters in a Fantasy forest or a Post-Apocalyptic wasteland. Making coolthentic costumes is about guts, time and effort, I guess, not necessarily the size of your wallet.
Now, it’s time for me to leave you. There’s no rest for the wicked – there needs to be a ‘Orc 2.0’…
Text by John “Hellwolve” van den Bos. Photos by Merette Kuijt. Used with permission.