It's only a very few cosplayers who make it to the top of the pyramid at Blizzard's official BlizzCon costume contests. Officially, pandaren monk cosplayer Amanda Wisley may not have among those finalists this year -- but unofficially, the bubbly redhead earned a reputation for her bright, engaging cosplay with attendees delighted to find themselves in animated conversation with a fully suited pandaren.
Amanda's experience as a professional children's entertainer specializing in mascots laid the foundation for some truly magical moments. Stop to observe for a moment, and you can literally watch her audience melt. A companionable wave, a welcome with arms flung wide, or a little jig of excitement demonstrate that this is one friendly pandaren who's eager to make an in-character connection. It's a reminder that Disneyland lies just across the street, and the effect is downright irresistible.
After first meeting Amanda cosplaying a paladin at BlizzCon 2010, we decided to follow her cosplay journey to BlizzCon 2013. We explored her preliminary plans, then caught up with her again just before the con. When we last left Amanda, she was agonizing over her position on the contest registration wait list, wondering if after committing to the expense, hotel and air reservations, ticket money, and preparations, she would even gain a chance to participate in the official contest. Did Amanda get her chance to walk across the stage at BlizzCon 2013?
WoW Insider: All the agony, all the waiting -- and you made it into the contest!
Amanda Wisley: As of 11:10 a.m. on Friday, only 44 registered costume contest applicants had checked in. The wait list opened up at 12:15, and almost everyone that showed up for the wait list made it in and they also let some super-last-minute people in (that hadn't done any pre-registering) just to walk across the stage, which was great.
How many contestants were there in the end?
I think there were 100 to 110 people actually competing, and then there were another 10 or so that just got to walk across the stage at the very end for fun. I'm not sure of the exact numbers, though.
Tell us about the judging process itself.
The judging process is quite secretive, and what they use to pick the finalists seems to be hidden. There were some really great costumes that were very original and extremely well executed -- specifically, the training dummy, which was also one of the fan favorites but didn't make a finalist position. I think it would be nice if they had more categories, such as most accurate, fan favorite, most original, and maybe even best cosplayer, such as for those that spend many hours just pleasing the crowds with photos.
I would be very excited if they did a fan-based contest after the fact like they did in 2011. That was a great idea, and I think they should continue to do that. I really feel that cosplay is one of the main points of BlizzCon -- at least I've heard tons of people comment that it is their favorite part.
We heard there was talk that the judges really liked your costume, even though you weren't chosen as a finalist.
I believe the one female judge ... really liked my costume and had a lot of positive things to say about it. The other two judges didn't talk much, so I'm not sure of their thoughts. She was very enthusiastic about all the costumes; I loved her personality.
Many BlizzCon-goers have described you as the friendliest cosplayer at BlizzCon this year. Sounds like your line of work makes you a natural for cosplaying and chatting with players. Is that something you enjoy and specifically aim to get out and do?
I was actually very honored and flattered to hear people saw me as one of the friendliest cosplayers. Thursday night, I spent almost my whole night posing for pictures for Gunnar Optics [at the WoW Insider/Wowhead reader meetup] with anyone that wanted, and that actually made my night.
Wearing that fur suit so long must have something else in the Southern California heat.
It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get the full suit on and looking good. The first step is putting on the body suit, then the pants, because the feet are too big to go through the legs of the pants. You can either put the top or the feet on next, but is best to do the feet, because once the top is on, movement is more limited. The feet can take some time to get on correctly and are actually somewhat painful to walk in because of the back lip that cuts into the the soft spot of the heel while walking. I have nice battle scars there!
The vest has to be zipped, then buttoned, and then the bands go over the buttons in the middle for effect. Belt is next and is a pain, because we couldn't find a super-efficient way at getting the buckle to attached, so we had to use metal wire that looped into the back of the buckle and around the belt cords. Then I tied thin gold cord around the wire and the rope to keep it more in place. The gold cord had to be cut each time I needed to take off the belt.
The next step is the head, paws, then cuffs.
Then you need someone to use a dog brush to comb down the fur. Cleaning involves antibacterial Febreeze and a steam cleaner and spot cleaning as necessary.
How much time would you say you spent doing public cosplay?
Expect for the three hours that were spent doing pre-judging and waiting in the back to go onstage, the rest of the con I spent just posing with everyone, including other cosplayers, because that is really the main reason I attend.
Your enthusiasm really shows -- and your experience, too.
I do have a lot of costume-wearing experience from owning a business where this is what I do, and I also have to teach all my performers that don't have previous experience how to interact while in a costume. So, yes, it is my passion. I spent about 12 to 13 hours total in my full costume and about four hours in my partial costume during my trip here. Honestly, nothing makes me more happy than making others happy!
Can you share some of your highlight moments?
I truly made some wonderful connections during this trip. I had the great honor of hanging with Jo-Jo Chen during the pre-judging portion, whose cosplay I have been admiring for years. I am now in the closed group for BlizzCon Cosplay Discussion, which is an honor and will help me greatly in coming up with my next conquest.
There were many more connections, including the two tier 2 paladins (one in traditional and one in transmog), the male and female pandas that felt like kin to me, just to name a few.
Best crowd reaction?
I had children that didn't want to let me go and thought the hair on the panda head was my actual hair -- hehe, kids are something else! -- to people that had really cute panda obsessions. Several people commented on how very accurate my whole costume was, and that made me smile big time! It truly made me feel like the tedious work and money I put into making sure this entire piece was true to form really paid off.
It does sound like a lot of work and money.
It cost me about $3,600 total for all aspects of the costume, from the fur suits to a redo on the head I had to pay for, shipping the head to California and back, and supplies at JoAnn Fabrics.
I know there is a lot of dislike for those cosplayers that don't make their full outfits by hand, but I think people need to realize while it is amazing that some have the ability and talent to do that, not all of us are that gifted, and we should still have a fair shot as well. We have to work hard for money to make it happen, and a lot of us still put a ton of time into it ourselves, including conceptualizing it such as how is this going to work and how do I want it to work.
I put in around 100 man hours total myself putting together different aspects of the panda look and researching. No one I met at the con was disappointed that I did not make the whole thing myself, and were delighted to see me, which made me happy. I didn't try to falsely claim that I made the whole thing myself, and I gave credit where it was due, because the individuals that helped me with this epic project put a ton of man hours into it as well.
So next BlizzCon -- what's the plan, Amanda?
I would like to do another fur-suit-based character. Why? Because I am a perfectionist, and the best way for me to get a 100% accurate character (race and all), is to do a furry one. I find it more complicated to portray something that doesn't have human-like skin.
I am actually considering either a tauren or a worgen for this next year, and I will be starting on it much earlier because I plan to do much more of it myself this year, as much as possible. I will still have the fur suit commissioned, because it takes years to get great at making those, but I will probably do enhancements to it myself, such as how I added the grey fur to my ears this year.
If anyone wants to follow me, they can friend me on Facebook or follow my business page, where I will post progress once it begins!
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) or a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.