Some of the cosplay around the hit role-playing game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is jaw-dropping. It’s even more astonishing, though, when you realize how much work goes into creating the fan-made outfits.
Angelique Heikens — also known as Idromy — is a hobbyist cosplayer from Belgium. By day, she’s “just a regular cleaning lady,” but every evening she takes to her dedicated hobby room and works on her incredible video game- and movie-inspired costumes. That’s where she created her cosplay homage to the Leshen — a terrifying forest guardian from the Witcher series that stands at over 3 metres. Of course, Heikens isn’t quite that tall, but she still cuts an imposing figure at 2 metres (plus antlers) thanks to the homemade stilts that form part of her costume.
I chatted to Heikens about her cosplay work over Skype earlier this week, and she was keen to tell me that she hasn’t actually played The Witcher 3 yet. She does own the game, but her current PC simply can’t run it.
“I’m waiting until August,” she told me, referring to the new computer she’s planning to get. “My PC is 7 years old, so I can play the previous [Witcher] games and I can play a few recent games, but I can’t play all the new games.”
Until then, she’s celebrating the much-loved Polish fantasy series through her craft, and she’s doing it in style.
A full-time hobby
Cosplaying is a surprisingly seasonal hobby, particularly in Europe. Heikens tells me that the season generally runs from the first convention in March and finishes around October. When the cold of winter hits, Heikens tends to “hibernate inside and play video games,” but for the rest of the year, cosplay dominates her free time.
“You just come home, you sit down, you cook, you watch a TV show, you work on cosplay for a bit, and you read a book and go to bed,” she explained.
Usually, cosplay takes up between 10 and 20 hours of Heikens’ week. That can be time spent driving around different stores to find the right fabrics, teaching herself a new skill, or spending hours online looking for just the right belt buckle.
Heikens was about to head to Paris for the Japan Expo show when I spoke to her, though — she’s showing her Leshen costume there — and it meant she was currently spending a lot of extra time in her hobby room. “Right now, since I’m nearing a deadline, I’d say thirty to fifty hours a week,” she said. “It is a lot of time.”
Luckily, she has a very supportive boyfriend. He’s not a cosplayer himself, but he did help prepare the audio track that accompanies Heikens’ Leshen onstage. “We made a monster voice,” said Heikens. “There’s a small speech that I mainly use to emphasize my movements. I am slow with the stilts, but I still have a lot of flexibility with my claws and arms and I need something extra in my music to put emphasis to my movements.
The content of the speech? “It’s a small speech about not entering my forest and fucking it up.”
Creating a monster
Heikens has been cosplaying for about 8 years. After seeing people dressing up at a convention for the first time, she thought she’d try it herself. By her own admission, her first costume was “incredibly horrible,” but she’s since become extremely skilled, working with clay, latex, and other materials to bring her visions to life. For the Leshen costume, for example, she learned to make her own rope.
“Monsters are my thing,” said Heikens, explaining why her costumes aren’t always the most traditional. “For my Witcher cosplay, I do act rather creepy around people. It’s fun to take on a character and act them out.”
That’s the joy in cosplaying, says Heikens, beyond the actual design and crafting. “I’ve always liked drawing and painting and sculpting things,” she said. “But it is [also] about showing off. On one hand you want to show off your appreciation of the video game or movie you cosplay from, and on the other hand it’s just [about] being the character.”
Heikens got help directly from Witcher developer CD Projekt Red when she started to design her Leshen costume. Previously, she only had access to early artwork of the character, but she met representatives from the Polish studio at the Gamescom trade fair in Germany, and they sent her some 360 degree art that she could inspect from all angles. “They were actually very kind and helpful,” she said. “They’re really nice guys.”
She then started crafting the Leshen from the feet up — modelling them in clay before creating a plaster mould and then recreating them in latex — recycling the stilts she’d previously made for a minotaur costume. They give her an extra 25cm of height, which makes the costume more imposing and also saves fellow convention-goers from taking an antler in the eye.
“Because the horns are so long, if I walk in most conventions now, the horns go over most people instead of bumping into everybody,” she said. “You need to think about your own safety and comfort and the safety of others.”
As for her own comfort, Heikens says she can only manage an hour in the elaborate costume before she needs a break. “I usually just take off the horns and the skull and I can just sit down for 15 minutes and then put it on again,” she said.
Heikens previously won a cosplay contest in Belgium with her Leshen, and she’s now due to represent her country at an international contest in Portugal. Never one to take the easy option, she’s creating a whole new Witcher-themed costume for the show.
“I’m going to build a Harpy,” she said. “It’s my love of monsters surfacing again.”
From a hobby to something more?
I asked Heikens if cosplaying would ever be more than a hobby to her, but she was quick to play down her chances of taking it further.
“It’s something that’s very difficult,” she said, “especially in Europe. You need to have not only talent but a lot of luck in meeting the right people or cosplaying very popular things.
“I tend to pick things that are not as popular, so you don’t get an overflow of attention like some cosplayers have.”
For now, Heikens will continue to focus on cosplaying as an outlet for her creative skills and a way to express her love of video games, comics, and movies. She clearly has no great aspirations of making it big, and that makes her dedication to her craft all the more impressive.
A few lucky cosplayers will also get to benefit from her work, though, either when she passes on her costumes — she has limited attic space to keep them all, so she recycles or finds them a new home after three years — or when they ask for a commission.
“I do commissions for other people but it’s not something that’s well known,” said Heikens. But while she does enjoy creating costumes for other people, it’s not quite the same as making them for herself.
“I don’t get as much joy out of it as building something for myself,” she said. “You do like the work that you do, but it’s not something you picked — something that comes from your heart. It comes from somebody else’s heart.”