Devan Baird has been a dragon-wielding warrior princess determined to rule seven kingdoms with fire and blood, a giggling mass murderer with a split personality, and a purple-haired unicorn with an eye for fashion and all things fabulous.
The 21-year-old telecommunication senior creates costumes of her favorite characters from TV, anime and comic books in an art form called cosplay.
She has competed with her hand-sewn outfits across the southeastern United States since 2010.
Cosplay, short for costume play, is the Japanese art of dressing up as characters from anime, comics and television.
“Cosplay is a way to represent characters you really care about,” Baird said. “It’s dressing up and embodying the spirit of the character to get in touch with who they are, essentially.”
The anime and cosplay community will always be close to her heart, and she hopes to put her telecommunication degree to work in the animation industry after she graduates in Spring, Baird said.
Inside her closet lay the mix-matched parts of about 10 costumes. Among the visible outfits are Misty from “Pokémon,” Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones” and Rarity from “My Little Pony.”
She went — in costume — to cosplay contests at anime conventions, but she never entertained the thought of competing. She said she still felt like an amateur.
Eventually, with the encouragement of her friends and family, she mustered up the confidence to enter her first cosplay contest at 2010 EXPcon.
“It was terrifying,” Baird said. “It took a lot of convincing by my friends to actually do it.”
Competitors in a cosplay contest are judged on costume difficulty, design savvy and overall presentation. Prizes differ for every contest, but rewards can fall anywhere from $10 to $500.
Though she didn’t place, she said she fell in love with the competition and the idea of her hard work on display.
After her first experience, Baird regularly entered cosplay competitions across the southeast.
She placed best in show at Florida State University’s 2011 Freecon, won best individual cosplay at the 2011 Florida Anime Experience and won second place in the group hallway contest at the 2012 Metrocon, all with different cosplays.
Baird has been featured on costume blogs and in COStume MODE Magazine, a Japanese publication dedicated to cosplay.
Baird’s creative process usually contains four steps.
She first finds as many pictures as possible that reference the character and specific costume she wants to make.
After she analyzes every detail of the outfit, she tries to find a fabric pattern similar to the original.
Baird said it’s typical to combine several patterns or to design a pattern from scratch.
Fabric and pattern in hand, she’ll spend the next few weeks sewing and hot gluing her creation to perfection.
“I cosplay not only to connect with the character but also to make friends and be a part of a community that doesn’t define what we’re doing as weird,” Baird said. “We define it as coming together as a community to be passionate about something.”
Baird isn’t the only one in her family who likes to wear neon-colored wigs.
Emma Baird, 16, was inspired by her older sister to start cosplaying.
The Eastside High School junior has six cosplays under her belt.
“I thought, ‘Wow, she is gorgeous,’” Emma said. “I wish I was that good or dedicated.”
The two have attended conventions together, but Emma hasn’t competed.
Their road trip this summer to Anime Festival Orlando was Emma’s favorite.
The sisters bonded over cosplaying, shopping for memorabilia and goofing around with each other.
The sisters help each other when they can; lending wigs or costume pieces to each other and giving patience and support.
Their parents encourage both of them to cosplay and do what makes them happy.
“They never thought it was weird,” Baird said. “They’ve always just tried to help.”
Baird had strutted down the competition catwalk and sat in the audience chairs of countless conventions but had never stood behind a judge’s podium — at least until January.
She volunteered to be cosplay coordinator of SwampCon, a multigenre convention at UF hosted by the student organizations Gator Anime, Gator Gaming, Delta Nu Delta Tabletop Gaming and Science Fiction Consortium.
Baird plans to expand SwampCon’s 2013 cosplay programming by adding a hallway contest, which is a competition during which photos of cosplayers are posted and convention attendees vote on their favorites. Hallway cosplay contests are more democratic and friendlier to novice cosplayers.
She strives to make competitive cosplaying within the grasp of anyone who wants to give it a try.
Baird intends competitive cosplay to be a life-long ambition. The only reason she would stop cosplaying is a lack of resources like time or money, Baird said.
“I really love it, and I would like to share the love,” Baird said.