Tea Time with Spoon Makes

Photo by John Jiao Photography

Spoon of Spoon Makes is well known for her amazing Blizzard cosplays. From Overwatch‘s Mei and Torbjörn, to Heroes of the Storm‘s Roller Derby Nova, Spoon’s builds use a level of technological prowess that makes her cosplays appear as if from the future. They glow and glimmer, while some are even animated like legendary gear dropped from a raid boss. Her commitment to her craft and her unique skill set is why we had to sit down with her to ask a few questions.

Sticky Bunton (SB): Who or what got you into cosplay?

Spoon Makes (SM): In Boston there’s quite a few conventions that occur near public spaces, and for a few years I found myself coincidentally at the same location. I didn’t know what most of the people were dressed up as or what the conventions were for, but it was really cool and I would check out the cosplayers for an afternoon. Eventually a friend got me into anime and I took the plunge and went to a convention and felt so out of place not in costume. Eventually, I made a Kurisu Makise costume that I wore to several conventions and had a lot of fun in. El Psy Congroo!

SB: How has cosplay helped you in you life?

Photo by Spoon Makes

SM: Cosplay has brought me a lot of happiness and confidence when I needed it. In 2016 I was really having a bad time with my father’s illness. At that time I wouldn’t really say I was a cosplayer, but I decided I’d create something fun for myself: Shizuku and Blinky from Hunter x Hunter. It reminded me how great it is to build and create. Right after that I ended up making Mei. Wearing cosplay is great because you get to be someone else for a bit, and you can just put the life problems on the back burner for a bit while people are excited and happy with the character you are. Building things is also a great distraction. I probably wouldn’t have gotten through my dad’s passing earlier this year if it wasn’t for a cosplay to do list keeping me busy.

SB: Were you into building toys as a kid; such as, Lego, K’nex, and the like? 

SM: Legos! Those were my originally favorite since I love horses and so many sets had them. I’m still a fan of them and if it wasn’t for a cosplay budget, I would probably buy more sets. Right now I’m collecting Lego vehicles. I used to also play K’nex and the metal Erector sets too, but I never had too many of them. Although with all of those, I’m strictly the follow the build directions type of person. When I was little though, my favorite create beyond the directions building toy was a set of straw connectors. I’m not sure what they are called, but it was a box of colorful straws with 6 way connectors, you could build all sorts of neat stuff with them since the straws are flexible and it would make really big things. I was super into building forts. 

SB: What hobbies do you have outside of cosplay?

SM: I enjoy cooking, catching up on anime, playing video games (I’m a Blizzard fan if you couldn’t tell from my cosplays!). I’ve been so busy with cosplay the past few months, I’m finally getting time to enjoy getting out and seeing friends as well.

SB: All worthy pursuits! We do some cooking on Sticky Bunton, specifically on our show, Smorgasdork where we cook recipes from anime, video games, and the like. What’s a food item from your favorite Blizzard game or Anime that you’ve always wanted to cook? 
SM: The mage in me wants to be able to conjure up all the mage food. I’m super curious what kind of filling mana would taste like. I wonder if it is fruity. Last weeks Food Wars though…the chicken wing gyoza. I’m really curious to try that one. Chicken wings and dumplings sounded like the ultimate weakness to me, but I’m not really sure about the cheese on it. 

SB: I noticed that you use a lot of technology to build your cosplays; including, 3D Printers, LEDs, and Arduino controllers. What is your educational background in? STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or another field?

SM: I wish I studied more STEM subjects! I have a Masters in Architecture. but I found a love of designing interactive projects in undergrad. I did my undergrad at MIT, where the core curriculum exposes you to all sorts of different things and encourages you to take courses outside of your discipline, so I learned how to write Java in one of those. I learned CAD modeling and hand building in architecture, and very seldom printed models (it was so expensive so did a lot of laser cutting instead!). My first time using an Arduino was surprisingly for an architectural computation class, and most of the the learning took the form of looking up examples on the internet.

SB: We’ve been following your build of Maiden Core Torbjörn where you actually built a 3D Printer for the project. Can you tell us a bit about that process and what benefits it had for your final product?

Photo by Spoon Makes

SM: I didn’t own a printer previously and I looked really hard for one I wanted to purchase, but it was impossible to find one that would be affordable, and upgrade to the ones I was borrowing, and fit onto a table in my apartment. At some point my boyfriend and I just concluded why spend so much money when we can just build it ourselves.

The process isn’t quite as daunting as it sounds, there’s several configurations of printers and you can find DIY guides for all of them. I print mostly in ABS and you need an enclosure for that so I really wanted a printer with a frame, which led me to finding the D-Bot, a core-xy printer. It has a super robust guide and a sizable community, so I read a lot about people’s mods before coming up with a lists of my modifications I wanted to include. My design used little from the original D-Bot, so we had to model the printer in CAD, then source the components and 3D print out a handful of features (it still amazes me even high end printers have 3D printed parts).

The assembly process is mostly about making sure components are square and then there’s a ton of wiring. Everything is connected to a board designed for printers and you modify the code so it knows how far the stepper motors are going to move. That’s simplified a lot, but if you stick strictly to a guide it’s not as hard as it sounds. The benefit of building my own printer is I was able to print an awesome pair of boots out in one piece out of a flexible filament, TPU (the build dimensions were based on the boot fitting)! The boots worked really well, don’t have wear on the bottom, and light up! Besides having a large build space that ran some really long multi-day prints, I now really understand how printers work and can modify the printer to get the results I need.

Photo by Spoon Makes

SB: Aside from using 3D printers, you’re also a foamsmith. It’s my understanding that foam is typically used for larger parts that are one solid piece, such as, armor. However, with Torbjörn, you 3D printed the chest piece. What was the reason for this decision? What are the benefits of printing versus foam?

SM: Torbjörn is all about that glow! There’s very few materials that can be structural, translucent, and lightweight. I don’t look at this piece having an option for a foam counterpart since the driving factor is having animated glowing in certain sections and the lights had to be integrated a certain way to avoid hotspots. Foam is great to work with, it’s quick, cheap, easy to shape, smooth, and it’s not entirely rigid. 3D printing has a lot going for it too – has a sharper look to it, lots of different properties of filaments to work with, can make more complex shapes and double curvatures without seam lines, curved shapes won’t flatten out, won’t get pressure dents, and is more durable. But it has its downfalls: it’s a slower process, can be fragile depending on design and filament, the paint tends to chip and scratch easier, pieces are usually completely rigid, flexible materials will not be super smooth, and can’t just use a tape form to get patterns and dimensions.

SB: Is Maiden Core Torbjörn your most complicated cosplay to date?

Photo by Eurobeat Kasumi

SM: Maiden Core Torbjörn is definitely the most challenging. I’ve worked with motors and lights before, but the cosplay was a electronics project on steroids. I usually try to make one awesome prop, but for this build I wanted to make each piece special. It doesn’t come across in anything I’ve posted, but each piece has different animations for the lights. I ended up having to do many things for the first time: building the printer, working with flexible filaments, working with smoke, airbrushing. From a design standpoint, it was even hard for me to conceptualize the genderbend part. There’s lots of female fan arts, but they’re very cute and sexy, which is not what Torbjörn is… I tried to transform his design to keep his finer points but scale and cut the pieces in more feminine ways.

SB: Some cosplayers find that the final reveal of their whole work is their favorite moment, whereas others enjoy the little successes along the way. What is the most rewarding moment for you when doing one of these builds?

SM: Oh gosh, this is really hard. There’s so many rewarding moments along with so many struggles in between. In general, I find talking to people and hearing their reactions at conventions really rewarding. I really like sharing how I make things, and it makes me really happy when people come and ask how was that done. My favorite thing to hear about are fathers building arduino projects for their daughters! How awesome is that? I want to hear about the future of females doing great things!

SB: That’s truly awesome! Where do you suggest families start if their kids are interested in building and programming?

SM: This is a hard one. This is super dependent on age of the people involved and how much involvement and learning they want there to be. I believe an interest in building can be fostered at all ages, so many toys are based around the idea of constructing, but programming on the other hand is harder to foster. If it wasn’t for Arduino I probably wouldn’t have learned to code, so I look to that for being a good place to start learning programming and more advanced building projects. The Arduino Starter Kit route would be suitable for families and older children that want a comprehensive experience that really teaches you how to go out and make different things. I like the kit because you get a bunch of components, a tutorial based guide for the electronics and code, and there’s no soldering involved. If you have a younger child, I suggest the parent does most of back end work while the child can plug things in with help and govern the ambitions of the code. 

What’s great about starting with Arduino, you get a little bit of everything. You learn the most basic concepts for circuits and coding, in a way that is rewarding since you see the results tangibly. While Arduino isn’t that complicated, there’s lots of simpler platforms to start out on now that would be great for kids or those wanting quicker projects. Visual based codes are great for the little ones. Two to check out would be Scratch (visual web based code for creativity) and Made with Code (web projects for girls). Building on that, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express combines the visual block based code with electronics and is an easy place to get a quick start on electronics and coding. A similar and more advanced product is

Photo by Sticky Bunton

Sparkfun’s Spectacle, which combines block based code with easy to plug in sensors, lights, motion, and sound controlled through an app.

For older kids, there’s lots of other types of kits that teach electronics and programming. Some that come to mind are Makey Makey, Bare Conductive paint kits, Parallax Arduino Robot kit. If you want to skip the electronics part and focus on code, Processing is a fun one to learn, with lots of tutorials to make visual projects. There’s so many ways to learn and get started with these things now, it’s a really exciting time. One final thought on getting the kids excited about this stuff: involve the entire family. So much of my wanting to learn to make anything comes from building projects when I was little with my dad. I might not have fully understood all the concepts about the circuits, or been able to use the power tools, or had the attention span and dexterity to make little details; but showing me the process and involving me made me want to learn to make them one day. This goes for any type of hobby! Get out there and get making! 

SB: If you’ve planned ahead, what projects do you want to work on in 2018?

SM: I’m not really sure yet! I have been gathering a list of interests, but haven’t settled on anything for a cosplay yet. I want start making prop tutorials in 2018 though!

SB: Any final thoughts for the readers?

SM: Don’t be afraid to try cosplaying or try out a new technique. We all start somewhere! There’s always something to learn. And don’t get caught up in social media. The way cosplay is portrayed online is way different than dressing up at a convention. So many people see negative comments and are scared to cosplay because they don’t want that to happen to them, but conventions are not like this, please go out there and have fun!