Some geeks slave over a killer cosplay outfit to wear at their hometown comic book convention. It earns them a variety of impressed stares, photo ops, and maybe some local notoriety. But when Valley prop maker/costume creator Allen Amis, who operates Anarchy Squared Creations, trotted out a full suit of samurai armor remixed with one of the sci-fi's most infamous rogues, it nabbed him worldwide acclaim and serious geek points across the Internet. Sites like i09, Neatorama, and others dug it hard.
Last year, the 40-something Chandler resident unveiled a Samurai Boba Fett costume at Phoenix Comicon that took him more than seven months and a couple thousand in change to construct. Given geekdom's unending groking of the Star Wars villain, it's no surprise what happened next.
It went over like gangbusters. Amis got voluminous amounts of love from the geek blogosphere (as well as lotsa in-person squeeing at Phoenix Comicon and the most recent San Diego Comicon) from the intricately detailed costume that mashed up the BAMF bounty hunter's Mandalorian gear with the armor of a traditional samurai warrior.
Amis took the concept art sketches of the ronin-like Manadalorian super-commando created by Arizona artist Clinton Felker and made it an epic-looking reality. Suffice it to say, it was a galaxy-sized hit that also recalled the Star Wars saga's roots in Akira Kurosawa's oeuvre and other bits of medieval Japanese lore.
Google the phrase "Samurai Boba Fett" and it's the second most popular link after Felker's original concept art. And it's also a part of literary history, as the evil-looking ensemble was included in the newly released book 1,000 Incredible Costume and Cosplay Ideas by über-influential cosplay goddess Yaya Han.
Amis spends his days working as a building maintenance tech over at Intel's Chandler plant, while nights are devoted to crafting his props, armor, and costuming inspired by video games and movies inside his (admittedly) cluttered two-bedroom pad.
His artistic efforts and geek-inspired creations have been getting bigger, badder, and meaner since his formative years in Texas drawing, painting, building model planes and spaceships, and spending many a stretch watching Saturday morning cartoons and Saturday afternoon matinees of monster movies or sci-fi/fantasy flicks. It helped having a seamstress and painter for a mother and a father who worked as a pilot and served in the army.
"I've been shooting guns since I was like five. I've been flying aircraft since I was about seven. And my mom taught me how to sew, she taught me how to paint, taught me how to draw," Amis says. "So I had a good, well-rounded exposure to artistic stuff but also real life, which helped with the things I was drawing. I was a huge fan of different jet planes and smaller aircraft that I flew with my dad."
He's also been making costumes since the days when he dressed as Bela Lugosi-inspired vampire or as a spaceman as a lad. Naturally, Halloween's his favorite holiday in the history of ever and his craftiness also came into play over the years
He has a history of creating DIY Halloween haunts in his backyard ("I would go the whole nine yards with animatronic stuff, coffins, fog, and tombstones") over the years and even had some stints in local rock and punk bands after moving to Metro Phoenix in the 1990s.
It wasn't until he joined up with the the Shonare Vhekadla Clan (the Phoenix chapter of worldwide Boba Fett-oriented Star Wars cosplay group the Mandalorian Mercs) around five years ago that got him really into creating costumes, props, and weaponry. And he hasn't stopped. Not only does he appear at Phoenix Comicon every year, but also at such events as Amazing Arizona Comicon, the Albuquerque Comic Expo, and the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle.
Costume-making consumes all his free time and damn near every square inch of his apartment. Right now, as with anyone else gearing up for Phoenix Comicon, Amis is swamped with preparations. Besides showing off Samurai Boba Fett at the Anarchy Squared Booth, he will conduct the " Professionals of Prop Building 101" panel with two fellow gurus of the pursuit, Voyage Trekkers prop creator Todd Cook and Thomas Boyer of TNXBcreations on Friday, May 24.
Amis was able to tear himself away from his work to speak with Jackalope Ranch about his most famous armor, how hard rock and punk influence his stuff, and what he'll be doing at Comicon next weekend (including hitting up fellow costuming dorks for hip tips).
How did you go from an enthusiastic geek to a cosplay armorer extraordinaire? Five years or so ago, I was building everything because I was in the [Mandalorian] Mercs so I just kept building because it was almost like a drug. I just had to keep building new stuff and get better and build something better and bigger and make it look even more real than the last piece. So stuff actually started piling up in my apartment.
Then Anabel Martinez, one of my best friends in the entire universe, kept encouraging me to actually start selling this stuff because it wasn't getting used. So my first venture into selling things was at Tucson Comicon, maybe about two or three years ago, and actually got some pretty good reviews and people bought some stuff. And I've gone from there...bigger, badder, and meaner stuff.
What were some of those first creations you sold? There was really a lot of Star Wars Mandalorian costumes and weapons. So a lot of kitbashing guns. I would get Nerf guns and take 'em apart and add parts here and there and make 'em look meaner or even more real or from the Star Wars universe. At that point I was also playing Gears of War, so I made a couple guns that looked like they could be from that universe.
It seems like there's an almost hard rock/heavy metal influence on your work. There is because a lot of the video games I'm introduced to by [friend] Anabel Martinez. She showed me the entire world of RPG gaming like from the Fallout series. Mostly that game I really, really love because I love post-apocalyptic movies and themes. And that's where a lot that heavier metal-type style influence in my work comes from. And since I've listened to all types of heavy metal it just kind of goes hand-in-hand.
Do you jam out to heavy metal when working on armor and props? Strangely enough, no. I will go back and either listen to a lot punk, some of the Gothic music from the '90s like definitely Concrete Blonde and a lot CDs from local bands I used to listen to back in the day, like N-17 and Nihil. I used to be a big fan of Bullet Train to Moscow, which was more of screamo-punk type of band, and also Thirteen Black and Eating Divas. I also used to be in a couple punk bands back in the '90s here in the Valley.
Do all those heavier or harder tunes help in the creation process? Yeah. It's pretty much whatever will help set the mood. I just usually throw something on my iPod and either run it in a loop or have it play random stuff.
How much space in your apartment is taken up by your projects? All of it (laughs). I used to be in a one-bedroom apartment and I had outgrown that so I moved to a bedroom apartment, so that way I have a bedroom that's actually a bedroom. I also have another room that's my main work room, but during 'con season when I need to spread things out, my entire dining room/living room gets overtaken by everything. For the past six months I've had mannequins up in my living with all sorts of armor on them that I need to fit and make sure everything's working right while I've got a sewing table set up on my computer desk. And I've also got a foldout six-foot table that's where I cut all my patterns on.
How do you decide what to build? It's usually whatever I fall in love with, like a gun or costume from a video game or movie. I was playing Fallout: New Vegas and I fell in love with the NCR Ranger costume. And when I saw people building it, I thought, "I need one." So I figured out how to build it. And, normally, building a new helmet will take six months. I did it in three weeks because I wanted it so badly. And I had to have it. So I finished it really freakin' quick. The armor I built in a morning. And the whole costume has been starting to evolve ever since because I put that one together in my spare time. I've also fallen in love with some of the weapons from Oblivion, but I haven't seen that movie yet, only some stills of some of the guns.
What sort of materials do you use in your props and projects? If I'm building a costume completely outta scratch, I can build it a couple of different ways. Like my most recent thing, the N7 Armor from Mass Effect that I'm finishing up a commission on right now, part of it is scratch-built out of a plastic called Sintra. The other parts, like the knees and the elbows, I sculpt a clay mold and then cast it in high-impact resin because I want it to look a certain way and it's easier to mold and cast two pieces at once like that instead of scratch-building 'em separately.
But the whole costume is pretty much made out of Sintra. I also make my own patterns and cutout whatever plastic I'll need and then I'll heat up and stack up plastics on top of each other.
How much do your creations go for these days? Generally for a full armor like I'm doing, you're looking at two grand because it's completely scratch-built from basically nothing. Every bit of that armor was built by me. There's so much time and effort invovled, like if there's a vest underneath, I'll have to teach myself how to sew better. So those will go pretty pricey.
I just recently completed a Psycho mask from the Borderlands video game that I got commissioned to do originally for the [University of Advancing Technology] for their Borderlands fan film [Change of Hart] that their visual team is making. So I made them a couple masks and I've sold kits here and there and I'll have them at Phoenix Comicon and those generally run a couple hundred for a finished product.
Do you play a lot of the games that inspire some of the armor you're creating? Not necessarily. I tried playing Mass Effect because of most of it's not my bag, but I'm building most of the stuff from that game because it's commission work from huge fans of the game.
So do the same players that pwn you hit you up for armor afterwards? I'm pretty sure that has or will happen. Anyone can rule me at Mass Effect. Also, if I go on Halo on [Xbox Live] I totally get smacked down. It's horrible.
How much studying of each game is done when creating a prop? Usually a lot, but I normally go for screen grabs or people send me screen grabs from the video game. Or I'll go on Google Images or wherever and start hunting down images.
We imagine there's a lot of trial and error involved. Oh yeah, a lot of trial and error. I don't ever show anyone my "throw out" box (laughs). Its a trash box with all my failures in it. You learn from your mistakes and I've learned a lot.
So it's crunch time for anyone involved with Phoenix Comicon. How many hours of sleep are you getting right now? Not a lot, lately. Stress is taking over so I'm getting like four to five hours of sleep a night. I pull a 12-hour shift over at work, so I'll get home about six at night and I'll jump straight into my work room and try to get some stuff done for the night. And then I try to crash whenever I can.
Are you impressed by the amount of creativity you see from Phoenix Comicon patrons every year with their costuming or art? Oh, yeah. Heavily. I draw from other people too. I see somebody with a cool-ass costume or they built this cool-ass prop and I ask them all sorts of questions, like, "How did you get that part to work right?" or "What did you build that from?" I turn into a complete geek-fan and sometimes it freaks people out because when I see someone with something cool, I run up to them and I start firing off questions and staring at little individual pieces. It weirds them out but I just get really excited when I see really good costumes or people pulling off a certain look really, really freakin' well.
When did you first come up with the Samurai Boba Fett costume? I did a co-booth with Anabel over at the Devastation gaming 'con [in 2011]. And I met an artist there who's name is Clinton Felker who was doing art for [video] game sticks....and I saw that he made a Samurai Boba Fett for a stick. And I fell in love with it. I wanted that piece. I showed it to Anabel and she told me, "You should make the helmet." So I went back two minutes later and told him I was going to make the helmet, and he looks at me and goes, "Eh, whatever." So I came back five minutes later and said, "Screw it. I'm gonna make the whole thing." I e-mailed him a couple weeks later and he sent me 360-degree views of the entire thing and I spent seven months building it.
Did Felker get to see the finished costume? When he finally saw it, he was actually really astounded. He was going, "I can't believe you actually did it!"
What did you think of the online reaction? I got really, really lucky with it because the artwork actually went viral several months before the costume got released, so people started seeing how that costume was brought to life it went even more viral. It went to io9, it went to Geek Tyrant, it went all over the place. It was really funny because I'm kind of ignorant on social media and Anabel came up to me going, "It's been on i09!" And I went, "Yay! It's on io9. Wait, what's io9?" Its because I didn't know anything about the social media or all the [geek] sites out there. Once it hit i09, it went nuts after that.
So is such a mash-up of samurai and Star Wars appropriate, given the saga's influences? Yeah. Clinton is a fan of both samurai and Star Wars so he was just one of the ones that bridged the gap and did the concept art. It's been done before, like with Samurai Darth Vader or Samurai Stormtroopers, he just did it in a different way.
Mandalorians are very ronin-like, are they not? Yep. Basically, they're warrior tribe-like people.
Where did Samurai Boba Fett first debut? It made its first debut, and it was actually a pretty big debut, at a baseball game the night previous to Phoenix Comicon last year. It was the Dodgers playing the Diamondbacks. And its all thanks to Anabel. It was their "Phoenix Comicon Night" and she had gotten contacted by the team who wanted costumers to come down and get on the field and represent the Comicon and geek culture and all that. So they called her up after they failed on some aspects on getting costumers out. And she said, "I'll get you people." So I was on the field of [Chase Field] and debuted the costume. And that was pretty cool.
Are you selling it or is it an impressive act of one-off geekery? At this point it will always be a one-off. I don't think there's a point to making another one. But at a certain point I think I will retire it and sell it.
How much have people offered for it? Some people usually go, "I'll give you 200 bucks for it." (Laughs) Fans who are don't know how much work it takes to go into the costumes don't really know what to actually offer. When they look for stuff, they go on eBay and see they can buy Stormtrooper armor for 300 bucks or something. So they don't understand when I tell them that something cost over two grand, this is the reason why. It was hand made and took seven months of my life to make.Have you gotten any props from Lucasfilm (pre- and post-Disney buyout) from the armor?
Uh...no. The most I got is that I went to Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando and I took the samurai with me. And I did win third place in a costume contest that they had out there. So, that in itself was enough love for me because I got picked by all the fans there. As far as anything with Disney and LucasArts, no. A lot of that is right place and right time and who you know really.
So how did those rumors start of you getting the armor into that Seven Samurai/Star Wars spinoff that's been talked about? That was from friends of mine. Jim Miller, after he found out that Disney was maybe gonna be doing a [Seven Samurai/Star Wars] movie, set up a Facebook page [entitled: "Hey Hollywood, use Allen Amis for your Star Wars Samurai movie"] to get my name out there to get me noticed by Lucasfilm at that time. What my friends do for me was completely incredible. And that was amazing.
But you still haven't gotten any calls from either Disney or Lucasfilm? No, unfortunately not. If I did, I'd be on a plane after dropping everything.
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Phoenix Comicon takes place from Thursday, May 23, to Sunday, May 26, at the Phoenix Convention Center. Daily admission prices are $15 to $30 while a full event memberships is $50.
Allen Amis will participate in the " Professionals of Prop Building 101" panel at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 24, in room 226ABC at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Anarchy Squared Creations' booth will also be in the Exhibitor Hall all four days.