This next cosplayer really requires no introduction; JoEllen Elam AKA Lillyxandra is easily one of the most recognizable and respected members of the cosplay community, both in America and internationally. While her ability to translate fictional designs into reality has won her many awards, she is most known for her original costumes designs; including fairies, princesses, and dragoons (all showcased on her website). If cosplay isn’t your cup of tea, you’d likely still remember her for her on-screen role of the morally-questionable Princess Zelda in There Will Be Brawl. Off-screen, where she is most creative, she was responsible for bringing TWBB, a fan-made web series, a touch of graphic realism. She is currently lending her skills to The Zelda Project, an effort spearheaded by fellow cosplayer Sarah Quillian. Located in LA, she also works as a make-up artist and costume designer for feature films as well as a variety of other events.
Before you became involved in cosplay specifically, you owned a website dedicated to fairy costumes and wings. What sparked the transition into cosplay?
Lillyxandra: My website Firefly-Path has gone through many changes reflected in my personal growth. I started as a big fan of Renaissance Festivals, & fantasy films. Once I found out about Anime that was fantasy-based, like “Record of Lotus War”, I become a fan of the genre!
Obviously, cosplay has had a major influence on your life both personally and professionally. Can you identify some of the biggest changes?
Lillyxandra: Cosplay has changed 99% of my life, I would not live where I do, have the jobs I have, or have the friends, memories, and experiences I’ve had without it. Meeting people through the cosplay scene has directed my decisions in life and placed me where I am today. I would not say “cosplay is my life” but I will say that it has deeply affected my life.
Initially, you cosplayed almost exclusively with your sister (Haruka) and you both had a very quick rise to cosplay ‘fame.’ Eventually, however, you began to pursue the hobby individually. Where did Haruka disappear to?
Lillyxandra: [Laughs] Yes Haruka! My sister and I stopped cosplaying together when I moved to LA. We were an awesome team; I would make our costume, she would make accessories and take our photos. She got her degree in Photography and married a guy from Montreal and is now working there as a professional photographer. You can check out here work on her site. I think if we still lived close to each other we would still be doing projects together.
Do you consider cosplay to be a hobby? Or has it become something more?
Lillyxandra: That really depends on what you define cosplay as. If you consider it making costumes then Yes, it is much more than a hobby. It’s my career, considering that I make part of my living taking commissions. If you consider it dressing up, I’d say it is only a hobby. I don’t wear most of the costumes I make, they are created for models and projects. I am a costume designer and make-up artist who specializes in fantasy because of my background in world of cosplay.
Most cosplayers maintain a small online presence, be it through websites, Twitter, etc. You have taken a much more interactive approach and actually spend quite a bit of time posting blog entries about your creative process, make-up tips, and filming behind-the-scenes videos. What is your motivation for sharing so much of your work online? How do you think the internet and online communities has influenced your work as a cosplayer and as a costume designer?
Lillyxandra: I love sharing my work with others! I do it because, when I was first starting out, I was so curious about the process that my Idols used to create, and had no information of how to do the things they do. I hope that I can inspire others to use my knowledge and create something, making it their own. We are so lucky to have the sharing abilities that we do now with places like YouTube, Twitter, & Facebook. I am always inspired by looking at others’ tutorials and updates!
While much of your work is centered around fairies and fantasy, you also have an interest in special effects makeup, particularly blood and gore, and work with FearNews. What spark your interest in FX, blood, and zombies?
Lillyxandra: I had already done bloody make-up for another webseries, “There Will Be Brawl”, and the people who worked on it had me in mind for the same type of effects on FearNews. It is fun and refreshing to do something that is out the norm from my usual work.
Your work has also become much more ‘cinematic,’ in regard to your work on There Will Be Brawl and, now, The Zelda Project. Can you explain a bit more about The Zelda Project and what you are trying to accomplish?
Lillyxandra: The Zelda Project is spearheaded my one of my fellow cosplay friends, Sarah Quillian, “a.k.a. Adella” She told me she always had me in mind to model her Zelda costume. I offer my help as a make-up artist on her photoshoots whenever I can. I know she has a huge fan following, so it’s exciting to see how people from the Zelda fandom respond to her work!
Over the years, your role in your artistic work has changed. You now seem to prefer to create and design costumes, make-up, and shoots and frequently opt-out of actually modeling. Why is this?
Lillyxandra: At first cosplay was about what character I could turn myself into. I now find it much more enjoyable to find the perfect model that complements my design. It’s rare that I design for myself, I always envision my work on models. Plus, being an artistic director on shoots is much easier when I am assisting the photographers and posing the models.
Cosplay as a hobby has exploded in popularity over the past decade. What are your current thoughts on the cosplay community?
Lillyxandra: It has exploded! The level of talent now in the community is exponentially better than what the norm used to be. I think cosplayers nowadays are fortunate to have so many fantastic resources online they can learn and buy from. In my humble opinion, from my experience visiting Cons when I first started cosplaying V.S. conventions today, cosplayers are more about dressing up for fun with friends, no matter what the quality of the costume is. The purpose was the same when I started, but there were less resources, pushing us to use ingenuity. There is a sense of pride in making something from nothing. There feels like less of that camaraderie at conventions today.
You’re right about a decline in camaraderie. One doesn’t have to be exposed to cosplay for very long before noticing that there is definitely a very competitive and often cliquish atmosphere surrounding the hobby. However, your work and persona has always remained extremely positive and friendly. Do you feel that it is difficult to separate yourself from drama and competition?
Lillyxandra: Thank you so much! I have always thought it’s silly that something as carefree as making costumes has drama in the community. But alas, just like any other community, if there is competition there will be drama as well. My advice to keeping out of it is to remind yourself that you are doing something that makes you happy. Don’t waste your time on others who are not enjoying it like you are. Do it for yourself; if you’re not hurting others, it can’t be that bad!
You have had the opportunity to travel to a variety of international cosplay events. Do you feel there are any differences between American and ‘international’ cosplay?
Lillyxandra: There are several differences in the way conventions are run, and what is important with each country. Too many to list in one interview. But I will say that it’s funny that, no matter what country you visit, Anime fans are mostly the same. Enthusiastic with their fandom, and even similar in their mannerisms! It just goes to show that growing up on Anime can affect they way you are, and what you find attractive!
Finally, do you have any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
Lillyxandra: I am always working on new projects, whether it is helping others in their productions or my own. To keep up-to-date on what I am working on, visit my website for the latest.