sponsored links
TED2016

Adam Savage: My love letter to cosplay

February 16, 2016

Adam Savage makes things and builds experiments, and he uses costumes to add humor, color and clarity to the stories he tells. Tracing his lifelong love of costumes -- from a childhood space helmet made of an ice cream tub to a No-Face costume he wore to Comic-Con -- Savage explores the world of cosplay and the meaning it creates for its community. "We're connecting with something important inside of us," he says. "The costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other."

Adam Savage - Maker, critical thinker
Adam Savage is an internationally renowned television producer, host and public speaker. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
There's this fact that I love
that I read somewhere once,
00:12
that one of the things that's contributed
to homo sapiens' success
00:15
as a species
00:19
is our lack of body hair --
00:21
that our hairlessness, our nakedness
00:23
combined with our invention of clothing,
00:25
gives us the ability to modulate
our body temperature
00:28
and thus be able to survive
in any climate we choose.
00:31
And now we've evolved to the point
where we can't survive without clothing.
00:35
And it's more than just utility,
00:39
now it's a communication.
00:40
Everything that we choose
to put on is a narrative,
00:42
a story about where we've been,
00:44
what we're doing,
00:46
who we want to be.
00:48
I was a lonely kid.
00:50
I didn't have an easy time
finding friends to play with,
00:52
and I ended up making
a lot of my own play.
00:55
I made a lot of my own toys.
00:58
It began with ice cream.
01:00
There was a Baskin-Robbins in my hometown,
01:02
and they served ice cream
from behind the counter
01:05
in these giant, five-gallon,
cardboard tubs.
01:07
And someone told me --
I was eight years old --
01:10
someone told me that when
they were done with those tubs,
01:12
they washed them out
and kept them in the back,
01:15
and if you asked they would give you one.
01:17
It took me a couple of weeks
to work up the courage,
01:19
but I did, and they did.
01:22
They gave me one -- I went home
with this beautiful cardboard tub.
01:23
I was trying to figure out what
I could do with this exotic material --
01:26
metal ring, top and bottom.
01:30
I started turning it over in my head,
and I realized, "Wait a minute --
01:31
my head actually fits inside this thing."
01:34
(Laughter)
01:37
Yeah, I cut a hole out,
01:38
I put some acetate in there
01:40
and I made myself a space helmet.
01:42
(Laughter)
01:43
I needed a place to wear the space helmet,
01:44
so I found a refrigerator box
a couple blocks from home.
01:47
I pushed it home,
01:50
and in my parents' guest room closet,
01:51
I turned it into a spaceship.
01:54
I started with a control panel
out of cardboard.
01:57
I cut a hole for a radar screen
01:59
and put a flashlight
underneath it to light it.
02:01
I put a view screen up,
which I offset off the back wall --
02:03
and this is where I thought
I was being really clever --
02:06
without permission, I painted
the back wall of the closet black
02:09
and put a star field,
02:12
which I lit up with some Christmas lights
I found in the attic,
02:13
and I went on some space missions.
02:18
A couple years later,
02:21
the movie "Jaws" came out.
02:22
I was way too young to see it,
but I was caught up in "Jaws" fever,
02:23
like everyone else in America at the time.
02:26
There was a store in my town
that had a "Jaws" costume in their window,
02:29
and my mom must have overheard
me talking to someone
02:33
about how awesome
I thought this costume was,
02:35
because a couple days before Halloween,
02:37
she blew my freaking mind
by giving me this "Jaws" costume.
02:39
Now, I recognize it's a bit of a trope
02:44
for people of a certain age to complain
02:46
that kids these days have no idea
how good they have it,
02:48
but let me just show you a random sampling
02:52
of entry-level kids' costumes
you can buy online right now ...
02:54
... and this is the "Jaws" costume
my mom bought for me.
02:57
(Laughter)
03:01
This is a paper-thin shark face
03:04
and a vinyl bib with the poster
of "Jaws" on it.
03:07
(Laughter)
03:11
And I loved it.
03:12
A couple years later,
03:14
my dad took me to a film
called "Excalibur."
03:15
I actually got him to take me to it twice,
03:18
which is no small thing,
because it is a hard, R-rated film.
03:20
But it wasn't the blood
and guts or the boobs
03:24
that made me want to go see it again.
03:27
They helped --
03:28
(Laughter)
03:30
It was the armor.
03:31
The armor in "Excalibur"
was intoxicatingly beautiful to me.
03:32
These were literally knights
in shining, mirror-polished armor.
03:36
And moreover, the knights in "Excalibur"
wear their armor everywhere.
03:41
All the time -- they wear it at dinner,
they wear it to bed.
03:45
(Laughter)
03:48
I was like, "Are they reading my mind?
03:49
I want to wear armor all the time!"
03:51
(Laughter)
03:54
So I went back to my favorite material,
03:55
the gateway drug for making,
03:57
corrugated cardboard,
03:59
and I made myself a suit of armor,
04:00
replete with the neck shields
and a white horse.
04:03
Now that I've oversold it,
04:06
here's a picture of the armor that I made.
04:08
(Laughter)
04:10
(Applause)
04:11
Now, this is only the first
suit of armor I made
04:16
inspired by "Excalibur."
04:19
A couple of years later,
04:20
I convinced my dad to embark
on making me a proper suit of armor.
04:21
Over about a month,
04:25
he graduated me from cardboard
to roofing aluminum called flashing
04:27
and still, one of my all-time favorite
attachment materials,
04:31
POP rivets.
04:34
We carefully, over that month,
04:35
constructed an articulated suit
of aluminum armor
04:37
with compound curves.
04:40
We drilled holes in the helmet
so that I could breathe,
04:41
and I finished just in time
for Halloween and wore it to school.
04:44
Now, this is the one thing in this talk
04:47
that I don't have a slide to show you,
04:49
because no photo exists of this armor.
04:51
I did wear it to school,
04:53
there was a yearbook photographer
patrolling the halls,
04:54
but he never found me, for reasons
that are about to become clear.
04:57
There were things I didn't anticipate
05:00
about wearing a complete suit
of aluminum armor to school.
05:03
In third period math,
I was standing in the back of class,
05:07
and I'm standing in the back of class
05:10
because the armor did not
allow me to sit down.
05:12
(Laughter)
05:14
This is the first thing
I didn't anticipate.
05:16
And then my teacher looks at me
sort of concerned
05:19
about halfway through the class
and says, "Are you feeling OK?"
05:21
I'm thinking, "Are you kidding?
Am I feeling OK?
05:24
I'm wearing a suit of armor!
I am having the time of my --"
05:26
And I'm just about to tell her
how great I feel,
05:29
when the classroom
starts to list to the left
05:32
and disappear down this long tunnel,
05:34
and then I woke up in the nurse's office.
05:37
I had passed out from heat exhaustion,
05:42
wearing the armor.
05:45
And when I woke up,
05:46
I wasn't embarrassed about having
passed out in front of my class,
05:47
I was wondering, "Who took my armor?
Where's my armor?"
05:50
OK, fast-forward a whole bunch of years,
05:53
some colleagues and I get hired
to make a show for Discovery Channel,
05:55
called "MythBusters."
05:59
And over 14 years,
06:00
I learn on the job how to build
experimental methodologies
06:01
and how to tell stories
about them for television.
06:04
I also learn early on
06:07
that costuming can play a key role
in this storytelling.
06:09
I use costumes to add humor, comedy, color
06:12
and narrative clarity
to the stories we're telling.
06:16
And then we do an episode
called "Dumpster Diving,"
06:19
and I learn a little bit more
06:22
about the deeper implications
of what costuming means to me.
06:24
In the episode "Dumpster Diving,"
06:28
the question we were trying to answer is:
06:29
Is jumping into a dumpster as safe
06:31
as the movies would lead you to believe?
06:33
(Laughter)
06:35
The episode was going to have
two distinct parts to it.
06:37
One was where we get trained
to jump off buildings by a stuntman
06:40
into an air bag.
06:43
And the second was the graduation
to the experiment:
06:44
we'd fill a dumpster full of material
and we'd jump into it.
06:46
I wanted to visually separate
these two elements,
06:49
and I thought,
06:52
"Well, for the first part we're training,
so we should wear sweatsuits --
06:53
Oh! Let's put 'Stunt Trainee'
on the back of the sweatsuits.
06:57
That's for the training."
07:00
But for the second part, I wanted
something really visually striking --
07:02
"I know! I'll dress as Neo
from 'The Matrix.'"
07:05
(Laughter)
07:08
So I went to Haight Street.
07:09
I bought some beautiful
knee-high, buckle boots.
07:10
I found a long, flowing coat on eBay.
07:13
I got sunglasses, which I had to wear
contact lenses in order to wear.
07:15
The day of the experiment shoot comes up,
07:19
and I step out of my car in this costume,
07:21
and my crew takes a look at me ...
07:23
and start suppressing
their church giggles.
07:25
They're like,
"(Laugh sound)."
07:28
And I feel two distinct things
at this moment.
07:31
I feel total embarrassment
07:34
over the fact that
it's so nakedly clear to my crew
07:36
that I'm completely
into wearing this costume.
07:38
(Laughter)
07:41
But the producer in my mind reminds myself
07:43
that in the high-speed shot in slow-mo,
07:46
that flowing coat is going to look
beautiful behind me.
07:48
(Laughter)
07:51
Five years into the "MythBusters" run,
07:53
we got invited to appear
at San Diego Comic-Con.
07:55
I'd known about Comic-Con for years
and never had time to go.
07:58
This was the big leagues --
this was costuming mecca.
08:01
People fly in from all over the world
08:05
to show their amazing creations
on the floor in San Diego.
08:07
And I wanted to participate.
08:10
I decided that I would put together
an elaborate costume
08:12
that covered me completely,
08:15
and I would walk the floor
of San Diego Comic-Con anonymously.
08:16
The costume I chose?
08:20
Hellboy.
08:21
That's not my costume,
08:23
that's actually Hellboy.
08:24
(Laughter)
08:25
But I spent months
08:26
assembling the most screen-accurate
Hellboy costume I could,
08:27
from the boots to the belt to the pants
08:30
to the right hand of doom.
08:32
I found a guy who made
a prosthetic Hellboy head and chest
08:34
and I put them on.
08:37
I even had contact lenses made
in my prescription.
08:38
I wore it onto the floor at Comic-Con
08:42
and I can't even tell you
how balls hot it was in that costume.
08:44
(Laughter)
08:49
Sweating! I should've remembered this.
08:50
I'm sweating buckets
and the contact lenses hurt my eyes,
08:52
and none of it matters
because I'm totally in love.
08:55
(Laughter)
08:59
Not just with the process of putting
on this costume and walking the floor,
09:00
but also with the community
of other costumers.
09:04
It's not called costuming at Cons,
09:08
it's called "cosplay."
09:09
Now ostensibly, cosplay means
people who dress up
09:11
as their favorite characters
from film and television
09:14
and especially anime,
09:16
but it is so much more than that.
09:18
These aren't just people
who find a costume and put it on --
09:20
they mash them up.
09:24
They bend them to their will.
09:25
They change them to be the characters
they want to be in those productions.
09:26
They're super clever and genius.
09:30
They let their freak flag fly
and it's beautiful.
09:32
(Laughter)
09:35
But more than that,
09:36
they rehearse their costumes.
09:37
At Comic-Con or any other Con,
09:39
you don't just take pictures
of people walking around.
09:40
You go up and say,
09:43
"Hey, I like your costume,
can I take your picture?"
09:44
And then you give them time
to get into their pose.
09:46
They've worked hard on their pose
09:49
to make their costume look
great for your camera.
09:51
And it's so beautiful to watch.
09:53
And I take this to heart.
09:56
At subsequent Cons,
09:58
I learn Heath Ledger's shambling walk
as the Joker from "The Dark Knight."
09:59
I learn how to be a scary Ringwraith
from "Lord of the Rings,"
10:04
and I actually frighten some children.
10:07
I learned that "hrr hrr hrr" --
10:09
that head laugh that Chewbacca does.
10:11
And then I dressed up as
No-Face from "Spirited Away."
10:14
If you don't know about "Spirited Away"
and its director, Hayao Miyazaki,
10:17
first of all, you're welcome.
10:20
(Laughter)
10:22
This is a masterpiece,
and one of my all-time favorite films.
10:23
It's about a young girl named Chihiro
who gets lost in the spirit world
10:27
in an abandoned Japanese theme park.
10:31
And she finds her way back out again
10:34
with the help of a couple
of friends she makes --
10:36
a captured dragon named Haku
10:38
and a lonely demon named No-Face.
10:39
No-Face is lonely
and he wants to make friends,
10:42
and he thinks the way to do it
is by luring them to him
10:45
and producing gold in his hand.
10:48
But this doesn't go very well,
10:50
and so he ends up going
on kind of a rampage
10:52
until Chihiro saves him,
10:54
rescues him.
10:57
So I put together a No-Face costume,
10:58
and I wore it on the floor at Comic-Con.
11:02
And I very carefully practiced
No-Face's gestures.
11:04
I resolved I would not speak
in this costume at all.
11:09
When people asked to take my picture,
11:13
I would nod
11:15
and I would shyly stand next to them.
11:16
They would take the picture
11:19
and then I would secret out
from behind my robe
11:21
a chocolate gold coin.
11:23
And at the end of the photo process,
I'd make it appear for them.
11:25
Ah, ah ah! -- like that.
11:28
And people were freaking out.
11:31
"Holy crap! Gold from No-Face!
Oh my god, this is so cool!"
11:32
And I'm feeling and I'm walking
the floor and it's fantastic.
11:35
And about 15 minutes in something happens.
11:39
Somebody grabs my hand,
11:43
and they put a coin back into it.
11:45
And I think maybe they're giving me
a coin as a return gift,
11:47
but no, this is one of the coins
that I'd given away.
11:51
I don't know why.
11:54
And I keep on going,
I take some more pictures.
11:55
And then it happens again.
11:57
Understand, I can't see anything
inside this costume.
11:59
I can see through the mouth --
12:02
I can see people's shoes.
12:04
I can hear what they're saying
and I can see their feet.
12:06
But the third time someone
gives me back a coin,
12:08
I want to know what's going on.
12:11
So I sort of tilt my head back
to get a better view,
12:13
and what I see is someone walking
away from me going like this.
12:16
And then it hits me:
12:22
it's bad luck to take gold from No-Face.
12:24
In the film "Spirited Away,"
12:28
bad luck befalls those
who take gold from No-Face.
12:30
This isn't a performer-audience
relationship; this is cosplay.
12:34
We are, all of us on that floor,
12:41
injecting ourselves into a narrative
that meant something to us.
12:43
And we're making it our own.
12:47
We're connecting with something
important inside of us.
12:49
And the costumes
are how we reveal ourselves
12:54
to each other.
12:57
Thank you.
12:59
(Applause)
13:00

sponsored links

Adam Savage - Maker, critical thinker
Adam Savage is an internationally renowned television producer, host and public speaker.

Why you should listen

Adam Savage's mother is a psychologist; his father was a celebrated artist, painter and filmmaker. From the youngest age they encouraged his flights of fancy. Savage has been a paperboy, a projectionist, juggler, unicycle rider, sculptor, graphic designer, scenic painter, robot builder, welder, carpenter, machinist, prop maker, toy designer, actor, writer, executive producer and director. He spent six years in theater and 10 years in commercial and film special effects working for clients such as Nike, Corning, Hershey's, and Coca-Cola, and films like Star Wars, The Matrix films, A.I., Space Cowboys, Terminator 3 and Galaxy Quest.

Savage has built everything from theater sets to miniature particle accelerators. From spaceships to animatronic arms. He's made Rube Goldberg machines, hand props and spacesuits. His online videos have generated over 230 million page views. He's written for Popular Mechanics, the Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine, among others. His program "Mythbusters" produced 270 episodes that aired in over 100 countries for 14 years. Adam shares his builds, his love for movie props and costumes, and passion for the transformative power of making on his award winning website Tested.com. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Julia, his twin boys Thing1 and Thing2, and two amazing dogs.

(Photo: Michael Shindler)

The original video is available on TED.com
sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.