Cosplay Interview: Danielle Bonardi

Got cosplay on the brain? Meet Danielle! Dedicated Jedi Knight, designer of an intricate Iron Man costume, and much more!

Whether it’s Iron Man,Two-Face, a Battlestar Galactica Viper pilot, or a Jedi, Danielle Bonardi has become a cosplay staple on the East Coast convention scene. Her passion for cosplay is only matched by her creativity and her Tony Stark like technical mastery of costume construction. Her technical skill is only matched by her warmth and bright smile as she interacts with kids of all ages at conventions or personal appearances during movie premieres and events. The fan community is truly lucky to have this talented individual and Den of Geek is proud to bring you Danielle’s thoughts about the cosplay scene, her chosen characters, and her experiences as a costume designer and cosplayer.DoG: Can you describe how you got into cosplay?I actually wasn’t aware that what I was doing was cosplay until I was about three costumes deep and in the middle of a crowd of other costumed participants at a comic con. I honestly thought dressing up for cons was something as normal as dressing up for Halloween! I was aware of the culture, but entirely unaware that I had just fallen head first into joining the ranks of some of the most creative, unique and genuine people I have come to admire. To pinpoint exactly how I got into cosplay is difficult; I think any of us who make costumes to wear at events don’t do it simply for that reason. It also takes a hell of a lot of creativity, desire…and balls. Cosplay becomes an outlet, it becomes an expression of who we admire, who we represent, who we fear, or who we desire to become. I could have gotten into cosplay when I was a kid, when I used to take out the Halloween costumes sometime in July and dress up and parade around the house for fun. Or, it could have been the time I custom ordered an entire Jedi outfit for a Halloween party that would last one night because I wanted to look and feel authentic. It could have been when I decided I wanted to wear a Renaissance dress to my prom and ride to the block party not in a limo, but on a horse.Or, and more likely, it was when I had the realization that costuming wasn’t just for Halloween when I attended Fan Expo (a convention in Toronto, Canada) so I could have the chance to meet a cast member from Battlestar Galactica. The Battlestar Galactica fandom inspired me to wear fatigue greens as seen in the show, and while standing on line to get into the convention someone asked to take a picture of me wearing them. Inside, I was impressed and inspired by the costuming by other con-goers to create my second Battlestar costume, the Viper Pilot’s flight suit. Since that day I’ve attended over ten conventions and joined two costuming groups whose primary focus is to make costumed appearances at scheduled events to raise money for charity. I average about one of those per month. DoG: What about your chosen characters make them your go-to? Each character represents something unique I see in myself and the level of the convention is usually how I decide which character to bring out. Most often I find myself dressed up as the Jedi Knight, simply because there are a great deal of charity functions which require a Star Wars based character. The Jedi is noble, selfless, and strong in both body and mind. Not only does it serve as a great role model for children, but it serves as a great role model for us to believe in: a character that represents pure humility and goodwill. The other character I find myself in costume the most as is Iron Man. The character in and of itself is an anti-hero that many of us can relate too. Outside of his sarcasm and cheeky, dry sense of humor; Iron Man is “chaotic good.” His greatest weakness is also his greatest strength, and I believe all of us can overcome the greatest challenges in our personal lives by transforming them into tools to benefit us. He’s resourceful, he’s a survivor, he’s creative. He takes advantage of things until he discovers it’s what he values most in life while suffering to save it. He’s not the strongest mentally or physically, and relies on his resources and genius to find his way to victory. It’s something I believe everyone can experience in their lives, and that’s why I dedicated a year to recreating the suit. DoG: What are people’s responses to what you do? From fellow geeks? From civilians?I have been fortunate enough to get very positive feedback from both the costuming community and from people not involved in costuming. I am honored to be consistently complimented on construction, form, commitment, delivery, and creativity when it comes to any of the various costumes I wear. Whether it’s at a con or at a charity event, I am considerably humbled by the amount of respect people have for the hobby, especially those involved in the community already. From “norms” sometimes you get the curious observer who doesn’t understand why a person would go to such lengths just to make a “costume,” misunderstanding that it’s always more than just a “costume” and more a sense of self-expression, like a sculptor and his clay. I’ve very often been asked how and very seldom asked why. If they aren’t geeks who ask (because geeks, I feel, understand it more) then it’s just the general “that’s cool” matter-of-fact blanket statement of acknowledging how unique a concept cosplaying is.DoG: How much work goes into the costumes? Each costume is specifically tailored and costumed for me, so each one takes a good deal of time to create. The flight suit took about three to five months to create, including modifications to the suit itself when I lost a good deal of weight. The costume that took the longest to create was the Mark 4 Iron Man suit of armor, which took from May of 2012 to October of 2012. Since then it has undergone replacements to several of the parts, including three helmets while I currently begin construction of the fourth. I was once told by another cosplayer that “A good costume is never finished.” And I have found this to be true. Despite an original six month construction, the Iron Man suit will always be undergoing modifications, additions, improvements, repairs and replacements. The suit it was in October is not the suit it is today, and it will not be the suit it is next October.Thankfully, however, some costumes like the flight suit maintain their durability and generally just undergo accessory additions or improvements. In this sense, it is so much like a hobby–something we can always work on, work towards, and something that takes a great deal of commitment to not just finish, but sustain. Just in making the suit I pushed myself, challenged myself. I worked on it when I didn’t want too, made mistakes and had to start all over again. I tried different methods, researched different tactics, even tried a few new ones myself.In the end I learned a great deal about myself, about the limitations and flaws we put on ourselves, and how sometimes we are the only ones standing in our way. Costuming makes me a better person, and in that sense, the work that goes into it is limitless.DoG: Most of your characters are gender neutral or male, what makes you chose this route? I could say that heroism doesn’t have a gender…and it doesn’t. I could also say that most of the male costumes get to the root of the character without the distraction of sex to get in the way. Most women in comics wear little to no clothing, or have skin tight outfits, and it seems to get to the character you first have to get through the sex symbol she first is. Men stop women sometimes at cons for a costume and they don’t even know who she is trying to portray, they can just see a little side boob and so they have to stop her and snap a picture.As for me? It’s unique in several ways because I’m gender-bending to begin with, and that in and of itself is attractive because it breaks boundaries and shows a level of self-expression some aren’t comfortable with. Second, I bring that same strong feminine presence to a character that has none. I go for the character, not the costume, and it just so happens that I relate to characters that happen to be male.DoG: Any characters you have a desire to dress as?Pepper Potts in her rescue armor, and it will be one of the first strictly female characters I will be playing. DoG: Relate any memorable experiences you had at a convention, positive and negative. I haven’t had any negative experiences as of yet that really left a bad taste in my mouth. The community has been really, really awesome. I guess the most memorable experiences I’ve had is touring the Masquerades at the smaller conventions. My first convention I was at was Philcon, and it set the standard for me in entering into other Masquerades. I won “Best In Show: Performance” at Philcon, as well as the “Workmanship” award. Since then I have won a “Top Gear” award at LunaCon and a “First Place/Best in Category” at Farpoint with a second workmanship award–all with the Iron Man suit. This has made me set a personal standard for costuming. Other highlights are just the overwhelming praise I get from other costumers and from participants. I am always humbled by their words of kindness. This goes across the board for whatever costume I choose to wear that day. It’s a very wonderful experience and it makes a person feel like a celebrity, even if it’s just for a day! The only negative experience is when I was on stage as Iron Man and the elbow joint in my arm broke clean off. I couldn’t see because of the lights in the helmet so I didn’t know how much had fallen off. It hindered my movements and made me feel rather embarrassed! Not so bad!DoG: Money or time not being an obstacle, what would be your dream costume?It’s not so much money or time being a problem, but not knowing how to do certain things. I’d love to learn how to sew, how to use the new vacuum forming table I have, I’d love to learn how to sculpt and make molds so I can create my own prosthetics. I’d love to learn the methods needed to turn out a Big Daddy costume from the game Bioshock. It’s my next challenge!DoG: What will the 80 year old Danielle cosplay as?Costuming knows no age or limitations. Today, 30 year old Danielle dresses as whatever she wants: boys, girls, superheroes, people from a galaxy far far away. 80 year old Danielle will be no exception!Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!