Serious play: Local wins favor with unique costumes
May 17, 2017
Playing pretend isn’t just for kids. The world is filled with adults who get lost in it. If nothing else proves that, events all across the globe like Comic-Con do. For some, festivals and conventions give them a chance to break out of the routine and experience fantasy life as they meet celebrities, show off costumes and meet their comrades who share in that appreciation. And for others, like Bruce Holt, it’s a chance to show off his craft: an undeniable talent for costume making.
For Holt, the costuming bug hit him early. He reminisced, “I remember I was 12 or 15 years old, making my own costumes.” What started out as a Halloween endeavor spread. He said eventually he started replacing his costumes in school plays with his own creations. Childhood summers spent with his father in California fueled the creative side of him. The spark began there and eventually turned into wildfire.
Halloween became Holt’s personal Superbowl. He made elaborate costumes out of leather, plastic, fabric, anything he could find, trying to replicate his favorite characters and top his creation from the year before. He even dreamed of moving out to California and making costumes, but then he met his wife, Joyce, and they settled in Cassville. As they say in the movies, the rest is history, and Holt wouldn’t change where he is.
For a number of years, Holt made costumes for fun and for the challenge. Then, in the late 80’s, Holt started competing. He said, “It was around then that I realized there were prizes to be won; money to be won. I got a little more inventive with my craft then.” One of his early costumes he made from the ground up, a Klingon from Star Trek. Even the facial prosthetics looked movie quality.
What began as a simple hobby transformed into something much bigger. Now, he researches costume contests around Halloween and plans where he will compete. He attends anywhere from three to five conventions a year, sometimes Comic-Con and other times more specific venues like Star Trek conventions. Most recently, he competed in Kansas City at Planet Comicon where he brought with him an impressive trophy for his character adaptation of Morphysses from World of Warcraft that opens up more doors for him: the award for Master Class Craftsmanship. The same costume, without the additional mask he added for Kansas City, brought him Best of Show at Visioncon in Branson. Even so, Holt says winning isn’t why he does it.
“I’m never unhappy if I don’t win. I learn something everywhere I go. If you never lose, you never learn.”
“I’m not after a trophy. It’s more like this is my resume, these costumes,” he said.
That resume now means he is not only making his own costumes, but people are hiring him to make theirs as well. The base level costumes without shoes start at around $500, and that is without airbrushing work done. Thanks to his new medium, he’s able to make costumes for other people that are lightweight, functional and cost efficient.
Initially, Holt used whatever he could find to make his creations, but now things are different, and he’s moved on to using a special kind of foam to build everything from his shoes to his costume to his weaponry when he competes. All of his techniques are self taught.
His process starts with an idea for a character, always something more intricate than what he has done before. Then he designs the costume on a torso mold of himself. Eventually he transfers his designs digitally in his computer, prints them and cuts them out of foam before the process of construction. From there, it’s a matter of creating the right designs, patterns, and eventually moving on to air brushing, which he hires out, although he is learning that aspect of the process, too.
The EVA foam work he learned through trial and error and watching people work with it on YouTube. “Some people knew what they were doing and some people didn’t,” Holt mused. “I don’t feel there’s anything I can’t do out of it, though. It’s much more lightweight and works really well.”
The first costume he made out of EVA was for the Joplin-based 4-State Fusion football team, which was their mascot, Nuke Fusion. Since then, he’s tried to make each costume “bigger and badder” than its predecessor.
Holt has gained such an appreciation for the material that it’s all he uses. “With the EVA, you can do some much more, move better and it’s lighter.”
Years of learning techniques means he’s gotten exceptionally adept at his craft, which he attributes to not being afraid to make mistakes. He also added, “I have a passion for it, and you’ve got to if you’re going to do this.” And he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Holt lives in Cassville with his wife, Joyce.