Pep Boys

Pep Boys

Originally Appearing in "Paperwork" (Abstract 5)
Text by Arnie Yew // Images by Chris Kwock


Pepakura. You’d be forgiven if you thought it was an exotic dish. Far from it. For the subculture of costume players (cosplayers), it’s the affordable way to create the intricate costumes they adorn at fan conventions. With paper.

Pepakura is a free software program that allows crafters and modelers to create custom pieces for constructing toys and figures from cardstock–think of it as origami on steroids. For some, like Jon Minami and Shaughn Birgado, it’s a way to bring the characters in movies, gaming and comics to life. In full-sized, wearable scale.

Imagine walking around as Iron Man, Halo's Master Chief, Warhammer, the Predator alien, or an Imperial Stormtrooper and you get the idea.

For Minami, it started with, “I want to own a cool costume of my own.” Then, “How the heck did they do that?”

After further exploring the Halo fan forum, he discovered a YouTube video demonstrating the costume-making process with something called Pepakura. It was his entry into the world of PEP suits and the final piece of a puzzle he’d been working on for a while: how to get a costume of the Engineer in Team Fortress 2.

But like all things worth doing, it was a journey rife with trial, error, and roadblocks. Enter Birgado.

“I just like wearing the suits,” admitted Birgado, who’d been building costumes since 2007, starting with a Star Wars Stormtrooper costume. He came across Facebook photos posted by Minami to record his progress on a new costume, and when he hit a roadblock while finishing the helmet, Birgado sent a message offering his assistance. It was the start of a fruitful collaboration that has produced costumes of Beltway and Spectre from Resident Evil, Red X from Teen Titans, and Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe.

What began as an avenue to own and wear cool costumes developed into a test of skills. “Now, it’s also about challenging our ability to create bigger better, more intricate costumes,” Minami said.

They start by scouring the Web for 3-D models made available by other fans.

“We’re really thankful to the guys who build 3-D on their own time,” Birgado said. “It’s their way of showing their fan loyalty, in the same way that we build PEP suits. They’re really generous about sharing their work with costumers like us. Full credit to them.”

Once they find the perfect character in modeled 3-D form, they upload it to Pepakura, which then “peels” the model to create intricate PEP pieces that can be printed out on any home printer.

The pieces are then cut and glued together, resulting in a flimsy paper facsimile of the actual costume. Brushing over the paper with resin to give it more structural integrity. Depending on need, fiberglass may also be used to add strength. Bondo is then applied and, once dry, sanded down to achieve a smooth, natural rounded surface. Finally, the outfit is painted and–voilà!–a finished PEP costume any Hollywood effects guy would be proud to call their own.

It’s time-consuming and painstakingly detailed work. It’s a process that’s fraught with trial and error issues–fit, height, weight and even weather (it affects the resin-drying process). For Minami and Birgado, though, the final outcome is its own reward: an outlet that allows them to pay homage to characters that have captured the collective imagination in gaming, movies and comics. For a little while at least, they get to be part of a very different reality, one created by Pepakura, and with their very own hands.