This tutorial will be walking through the various stages of how I went about creating my Mordecai cosplay from Borderlands 2. This cosplay was created as a commission.
I'm so excited to have been commissioned for another Borderlands costume, as I love the art style of the games, and creating real life versions of the costumes are a lot of fun. Creating the cell shading on clothing, whilst being incredibly time consuming and at some times tedious, is always worth it as the end effect is striking and eye catching. I thoroughly enjoyed creating the costumes of Lilith from Borderlands 2 for myself, and Maya as a commission for a close friend; plus they had a fantastic reception at MCM London October 2014, especially at the 2K booth where we were mistaken for staff and asked for numerous pictures. And as a thank you for helping them promote Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and our characters at their booth, albeit unintentionally, we were given a lot of free Borderlands merchandise which was amazing, and the team were so enthusiastic and friendly.
My Lilith Cosplay - Oct 2014
Anyways back to the walkthrough!
Working on commissions can be a bit stressful for me, as it means creating a costume within a specific time frame, and as it is for someone else I spend extra time making it look as accurate as is humanly possible, so my clients get to feel as though they really are the character. After making a to-do list for what needs to be done and in what order, I decided to start from the top with the hair and bandanna, and work my way down the costume. I chose to start with the hair and headbands Mordecai wears, as I figured the dreadlocks would take quite a while to make. And they did. It took a while to roll them as tight as I wanted, so that they wouldn't come loose or go frizzy throughout the convention weekend.
I used wool roving to make the dreadlocks, tearing it to the length I needed, dipping it into very warm soapy water, then rolling them tight over a towel. Once I had the amount that I needed, I sorted them by length, folded them in half over a length of wire and left them to dry in front of my fireplace. To make this costume as comfortable as possible, I decided not to weave these onto a wig, but instead to attach them onto a beanie hat. This way it would be easy to put on and off, be more comfortable and less irritating than a wig - but still look like a full head of dreadlocks tied into a ponytail.
Once all my dreadlocks were dry, I placed the beanie hat I would use onto my mannequin head (ignore the blonde wig, I needed to pad the mannequin head to the right size). I then picked up a few of the shorter dreadlocks and pinned them to the hat using dressmakers pins. After I had about 4 pinned on, I plugged in my glue gun to heat up, then used it to glue the dreadlocks in place, leaving about a 2cm gap at the beginning of each dreadlock to stitch them down for extra security.
I continued this all the way around the hat, ensuring they were glued from the front of the hat to 3/4 of the way back, the ends were left loose as these would be tied up into the ponytail. I used the longer ones at the sides as this is where Mordecai's dreadlocks look longest in his ponytail. If you get any hot glue on the dreadlocks, don't worry about it, just go over it with a small amount of black acrylic paint.
After all the dreadlocks are in place I moved onto the red fabric that wraps around his dreads like a bandanna. I cut some red cotton into 2 inch strips, folded over the edges and hemmed them on my sewing machine. Once all hemmed, I cell shaded the strip on the edges and added some lines in the centre, following the shading in my reference pictures - then layered this around the edges of the hat, pinning in place until I was happy with where it sat.
It was then stitched into place on the hat, and the ponytail was tied up using a black hair band so it blended in - I also added a few grey highlights on the dreads with acrylic paint to complete the cell shaded look.
As I had been using a lot of Worbla recently on other costumes, I decided to start by making the shoulder armour piece Mordecai wears. I measured over my clients shoulder in our first meeting to make sure that it would be the right length and width, and sit comfortably in the correct position on his costume. Once I had the measurements I sketched out a basic template of what the armour piece should look like. After checking this alongside my reference pictures I transferred this pattern onto craft foam, which I used to build up the thickness of the amour, as it would be lighter than building it up to the same height in Worbla. Each of the craft foam pieces were then glued on top of each other with contact adhesive, and weighed down under my laptop to dry overnight.
Once all together and dry, I heated up a sheet of Worbla on both sides and slowly placed it on the foam piece, making sure not to make any air bubbles or creases. Once it was on the foam, I heated it again in stages to make sure I could press it into the two gaps in the armour piece without it tearing. After about 15 minutes of heating and smoothing into all the gaps and crevices it was time to heat the remaining Worbla so I could wrap it round the sides and attach to the back.
After I heated and smoothed all the sides, and a little onto the back, I marked out where the magnets should go. I decided to use magnets that were 10mm X 40mm, one at the top of the piece and one at the bottom. These were then sealed in place with a layer of Worbla.
Once these pieces were all attached and covered, I cut out another piece of Worbla to cover the back entirely - this was then heated and placed over the back. The final thing I had to do with this shoulder piece was to heat it all over, front and back, with my heat gun and then gently bend it into a curve, so it would perfectly fit my clients shoulder. This had to be done about 3 times to ensure I didn't force it too far too soon, but finally it sat perfectly had the curvature I needed it to. After I had measured the bend I called my client in to try it on, to ensure it was a good fit. During the fitting I re-heated the back of the piece, to fit it to his shoulder perfectly and ensure it matched up with the magnets in the vest.
Next came the time consuming bit - priming! I primed it with my usual Gesso, slowly building it up to the perfect thickness, sanding gently as I went. After 5 layers, sanding each layer once it had dried, it was almost completely smooth and ready to be painted. From previous experience creating Borderlands costumes, it's best not to sand it completely smooth as any bumps help to add to the final texture of the piece once it's been cell shaded.
When it comes to painting anything made from Worbla I always prefer to use spray paint, as I find it glides on so much smoother giving a lovely even coat, and making the finished piece look so much more refined. Plus, no brush marks! I decided to use a matte spray paint, in a medium grey shade to keep it as close to the pictures as possible. I used 3 light coats to make sure it was fully coated, and once the final layer was dry I cell shaded the piece using a very thin paintbrush and black acrylic paint, using my reference pictures as a guideline. Once painted all I had to do was glue on the webbing and buckle and it was ready to go!
Shirt, Vest & Straps:-
After my first initial meeting with my client, I took all his measurements and from this planned out how much fabric would be required. To save time, I bought a plain grey t-shirt to use as the base - as after looking at the reference pictures it appears the base layer of Mordecai's top is grey and short sleeved. Once this was purchased I got my client round again to try it on, to ensure it fit comfortably. After this, I carefully sketched onto the t-shirt where both the straps and vest would sit, to ensure it was as accurate as possible, using tailors chalk. With this done I placed this t-shirt onto one of my mannequins and measured each area to get a good idea of how much of my new materials I would need.
The next thing I started on was the tactical vest which Mordecai wears under his red straps. This is what his shoulder armour is attached to, and appears to be a brown leather material - from this I ordered a metre of medium brown faux leather fabric, not too thick, with good flexibility. Once arrived I folded it in half with the right sides facing each other and lay the t-shirt over it, drawing round it to get the basic shape I needed. From this I sketched the actual shape of the vest onto the faux leather and cut it out, pinning it together at the shoulder and side seams. Leaving a 1/2 inch seam allowance, I then put it through my sewing machine to attach both pieces together, then turned it back the right way round.
After this was all stitched, I called my client in to try the piece on and ensure it fit properly and was easy to get on and off. Everything was perfect and I was ready to move on to attaching this to the grey t-shirt. I stitched the shoulder and side seams to the t-shirt and then started on my cell shading. As always I did my cell shading with black fabric paint and ironed it afterwards to set it on place. Because all the details are cell shaded on - and because it doesn't need to be functional, I decided to paint the zip on the vest with fabric paint, instead of stitching on an actual zip.
After this I stitched on my cell shaded red straps, and added a white cell shaded rectangle of Worbla on a safety pin, to create the strips Mordecai has on his upper chest, holding the red straps in place. And that was the shirt done!
This was the easiest part, as when I was shopping in town for fabric paint, I spotted a pair of cargo trousers which would be perfect. After getting these home, I zoomed in on Mordecai's trousers, and used black, white and brown fabric paint to mimic the shading and patches on his trousers. I also watered down a bit of the black fabric paint to add shadows under the knee patch I painted on, to make it appear raised and textured. This was all secured into place with an iron, so my client could wash them without loosing any of the colour.
I used an old hip flask of my clients, and made a holder for it form Worbla, with a strap on the back to attach it to a belt. This was primed with Gesso and painted then cell shaded with acrylic paint.
The playable characters in the original Borderlands game wore their shields strapped to their thigh, and this stayed the same when the original characters appeared in the second game. To make Mordecai's leg shield, I cut a piece of wood to 8 inches by 4 inches, then sanded down the edges to make it smooth. I cut a piece of craft foam the same size and glued it to the front of the wood piece using contact adhesive, then used a craft knife to cut two straight slits 2cm in from the edges. I used a pringles can which I cut in half, and glued this into the slits to create the domed front of the shield. Next I covered the whole thing in Worbla and wrapped the extra around the back of the shield, then attached 5 large D-rings, two on each side and one on the top.
This was primed with grey spray primer, and then hand painted with acrylic paint. The final step was to add on the cell shading, and attach brown webbing through the D-rings, so my client could attach it to his belt and leg.
This is what took me the longest, and yet it is the prop I am most proud of. I started off with a metal armature made from 12 gauge wire. This was padded out with newspaper and masking tape, to get the shape of Bloodwing's torso and leg joints. I used more of the wire to create the shape for the back bend of the legs, this was hot glued into a small hole cut into the leg stump.
This had to be padded very carefully, as if it was too heavy, it would throw off the balance and it wouldn't stand upright on the bracer. After doing a little padding out, I covered this padding in paper mache, and wrapped it in Black Worbla to ensure it was secure and strong - all props take a beating at comic con, and I wanted to make sure she would survive anything that happened to her.
Next came the wings, the same as before I used the 12 gauge wire to create the shape for the wings, and lightly padded them out with newspaper and masking tape. These were placed into small holes cut into the shoulder area, glued into place, covered with tape and then a thin layer of paper mache. Once this was dried and secure, I dipped some white canvas cotton fabric into a mixture that was 2 parts water, one part PVA glue. This was gently draped over the backs of the wing armature, and smoothed against the wing pieces. This was left to dry overnight, and the next day I repeated the same process for the front of the wings, leaving it overnight again to dry. Once fully dry, I used small sharp fabric scissors to cut the ends of the wing fabric, to make them level with the wing bones.
All that I had to attach after this was it's head, which I made from a rolled up ball of newspaper secured together with masking tape, and a beak made from Fimo and baked in the oven. This was hot glued onto the ball, then the seam was covered in paper mache. I cut 4 small pieces of wire and glued them onto the head to act as a neck, these were bent slightly and then covered in paper mache. Next I cut 4 small holes into the top of the body, and attached the neck spokes, this was again covered in paper mache to secure it into place. I made some foam feathers, which I glued around the neck, the back of the head, and onto its butt as a tail.
I made 2 bracers for my clients forearms, using a template made with cling film and duct tape, which was then transferred onto 3mm craft foam and sandwiched in Worbla. As my client was around for the day, I heated the sandwiched bracers and added some D-rings, and as it cooled, I wrapped them around his forearms so it held the right shape. Whilst they was still on his arm, I heated the Worbla on Bloodwings feet and smoothed them onto one of the bracers, and due to all the extra work I put into making sure she was perfectly balanced, she stood up unaided on the bracer! The other bracer was primed and painted with acrylic paint.
The final step is always my favourite, painting it! It was all painted with acrylic paint, as it is opaque from the first stroke, and I used black and white to create the cell shaded look. And then she was done, I added some brown rope through the D-rings so my client could do it up, and then Bloodwing was done!
With all the costume put together, this was how my client looked! I love this picture of us, it was taken at MCM London May 2016 by Luke Palmer. The highlight of the day was when my client was stopped by Jason Liebrecht, the voice actor for Mordecai from Borderlands 2 onwards, and he said that he was the best Mordecai he had ever seen and that the costume was phenominal, and asked for a picture with us! Very happy to know I did a great job on this one.
I hope this was helpful to some of you, and if it was please tag me in your finished costumes as I would love to see them, I'm a sucker for Borderlands cosplays!!
As always, if you want to see all of my cosplay pictures as soon as they are taken, head on over to my Instagram and Patreon!