How a Halloween Costume Creation
Sparked a Lifelong Love of Cosplay
Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Maria Lay has always loved pushing the boundaries of her ability to craft; even prior to launching her cosplay career as “Miniilay” (pronounced mini lay), she knew that she would excel as long as she worked to create something from scratch.
The idea for the first costume Maria made was sparked in grade 11 when she grew bored of seeing the same Halloween costumes in stores or running into others wearing the same look and wanted to try making her own. “I knew the basics of making clothes after watching my mom make clothes since I was a baby. She taught me to sew when I was really young,” Maria says. She naturally took to designing and making costumes since she loves working with her hands, crafting and finds she gravitates to fashion in order to catch people’s attention.
This first costume in 2014 was Mikasa Ackerman from “Attack on Titan”, which stood out to Maria’s classmates; although anime and game characters weren’t as popular back then and only a small number of people recognized her, those who did raved about her unique look. “I wasn’t the greatest at school, so having that feeling of truly succeeding and doing something for myself during that time felt amazing,” Maria explains the beginning of her cosplay adventure. “I knew I wanted to keep surprising myself on how far I could grow my skills.”
For some, cosplay is more than dressing up in costume and it’s seen as performance art where the actor (cosplayer) fully embodies the character they’ve chosen to portray. Maria says that when she’s in cosplay that she prefers to dress up versus actually acting or role playing, but she is currently working on adding some posing skills in order to do the characters justice.
Maria only dresses up for conventions and game tournaments where she says there’s always a huge crowd of people. “The cosplay and gaming community go to these events together and it’s a blast because everyone has the same interest as you and the community is full of love and support for one another.” She adds that she has constantly been inspired by her cosplay community and the talented creators within who motivate her to keep creating.
From the start, Maria has always made her costumes from scratch and even applies her wigs and makeup herself. She is drawn to costumes with armor and weapons and usually determines her next character based on the game League of Legends since they have beautiful armor details (and it has also been her favourite game since 2012). She never compromises on the details of her costumes, especially when it comes to painting her weapons and armor. She wants her cosplays to look as real and detailed as possible, not bland and flat. “I love shading and highlighting because it brings the pieces to life, like it’s actually been in battle.”
There is a lot of trial and error when it comes to creating her own looks and Maria says that in the past when she’s taken shortcuts, purchased cheap supplies, or rushed to see the end product, it has always failed her in the end. She learned that the costume’s success is reliant on quality supplies paired with quality time spent working. “I work on cosplay at night in my free time and it usually ranges from 8 pm until 3 am. Depending on how detailed the characters are, it can take anywhere from two to eight months working every night to finish them,” Maria explains her commitment to the craft. “But it’s so satisfying to see my cosplays come together.”
Cosplay takes a lot of patience, Maria says, along with accepting that she’ll make mistakes no matter what. Once in a while she’ll take to YouTube or Google for a tutorial if she’s stuck on a design but most often she’ll just keep trying and looking at new angles to approach the difficulties. Her most recent challenge is learning how to use an airbrush for painting and looking into hooking up LED lights. “I definitely have a cosplay bucket list but I’m in no rush to complete every character,” she says. Every year Maria completes at least one League of Legends character skin and has been working on and off with Dragon Slayer Kayle from the game for about a year now with a goal to finish her design for Anime North Toronto which happens in May of 2023.
As time consuming and expensive as it can be, Maria loves the feeling of confidence that she gets when she’s in cosplay. “Without my cosplay, I feel like just another normal person trying to get through a boring life. Cosplay really does spark more life into me and I feel free to embrace myself and show it off to the world.”
Although Maria (Miniilay) appears in public spaces, she would like to remind people that it’s respectful to ask the person cosplaying for permission to take a photo. There are many incidents where some people don’t want their photo taken for personal reasons and she would like to extend the thought that they’re all still normal people just dressing up and having a good time.
Maria encourages cosplay for everyone. She says it doesn’t matter whether you buy a costume online or make it yourself; the fun of cosplaying is simply in dressing up as the character and having a good time. “There’s no feeling that one person is better than the other. Everyone who shows up to events looks amazing and it brings smiles to see something different and cool.”