In a movie as cool as "Mad Max: Fury Road," it should be tough to choose the number one most cosplay-worthy character.
And yet, even within such an awesome cast, Imperator Furiosa is the obvious choice. What can we say? She's just that amazing.
Furiosa is already one of MTV's top costume picks if you're looking to have a fiercely feminist Halloween, for obvious reasons. But if you're having trouble envisioning how awesome she'd look IRL, look no further than Laura Vaughn, who transformed herself into the "Fury Road" heroine with the help of designer Michelle Sleeper.
Although this would be a phenomenal costume no matter what, there's an extra twist: Like Furiosa, Laura is missing the lower part of her left arm. Having an identical disability to the "Fury Road" road warrior made this cosplay a no-brainer for Laura -- as well as a design challenge and a source of inspiration on a deeper level.
To find out more, MTV News caught up with Laura and Michelle by email and got the full scoop on how "Mad Max: Fury Road" inspired them to collaborate to bring Furiosa to life, and how they hope to see it set the tone for future depictions of disability on screen.
Both Laura and Michelle are passionate about seeing well-drawn disabled characters onscreen, from both a personal and professional standpoint.
Laura Vaughn: My favorite [is] Geordi LaForge from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." He's blind, but his visor can see things that no one else can. More often than not, that manifests as an advantage and an asset, rather than a disability. I love that. And Toph Beifong for "Avatar: The Last Airbender." She's also blind -- but never disabled. I think what I enjoy so much about her character is her sense of humor about her own disability. That's something I definitely relate to. Ask any of my friends who have go to be *so tired* of my response to the question, "Hey Laura -- can you give me a hand with this?" Answer? "Just one!" *exasperated sighs all around the room*
Michelle Sleeper: I've been involved in the cosplay world for about 15 years now and I've always seen fans with disabilities express it in creative ways. There are people like Laura who incorporate their body into their costume, or into their character choice. I've seen countless wheelchair bound guys shaving their heads to cosplay Charles Xavier from "X-Men" for example. Fans will always find a way to celebrate their interests.
Representation is important, because despite the increasing visibility of disability in Hollywood, not every character hits the mark.
Vaughn: For some reason Ephialtes from "300" always comes to mind in terms of negative portrayals of disability. He has a deformity and a hunchback, so he's essentially portrayed as this monster creature. And then after Leonidas dismisses him, saying he's not strong enough to fight, he becomes the villain and a traitor.
Sleeper: The character Cherry Darling from "Grindhouse"/"Planet Terror" gets brought up some, and while it was fun to see her with a machine gun leg, I'd really hesitate to call that a positive portrayal. Ignoring that it was not realistic in the way Furiosa's arm was, it seemed more exploitative for a fun visual rather than actually trying to portray a disabled character. Of course, the tone of the two movies is completely different and I wouldn't ever really compare the two - but purely from a surface level perspective, it's a good thing to see Hollywood going from Cherry to Furiosa.
Vaughn: I just like to imagine Furiosa in a time machine, running around to all these other fictional worlds and rescuing all the abused disabled characters to set things right for them.
So when Furiosa showed up, there was no question that some serious cosplay was in order.
Vaughn: It was pretty much instantaneous. Before I even had a chance to see the movie myself, I had friends texting and messaging me on Facebook like, "You HAVE to do this. PLEASE do this." Haha, so my fate was pretty much sealed from the get go.
Sleeper: I connected with Laura through a mutual friend at Freeside Atlanta, the hackerspace I work from. We were discussing dream projects, and I mentioned that one of mine was to build a "Terminator" arm as a prosthetic for an amputee. There's a scene in "Terminator 2" where Arnold Schwarzenegger cuts off the skin on his left arm, and I my idea was to build the exposed endoskeleton arm as a prosthetic. Laura and I were working on that in early 2015, but when "Mad Max: Fury Road" came out we both instantly knew we had to change plans and build the Furiosa prosthetic.
From body casts to final fittings: here's how the women brought Furiosa to life.
Vaughn: The last time I had a life cast done was sometime around age 8 for my last medical prosthesis. If you've never had a life cast -- which is where you use plaster or some other kind of material to make a mold of part of the body -- it's a weird experience. In my case, we cast my left arm in alginate to get a base shape upon which Michelle could then sculpt the prosthetic so it would fit perfectly to my arm. Anyway, during the casting process you just have to sit really still as this stuff heats up around your arm and it feels really funny. Then once it's done you have this funny looking mold of your stump, and the whole process is just kind of bizarre. The things we do for art, LOL!
Sleeper: The prosthetic itself is almost entirely 3D printed. Adam Greene of Pixelbash Props assisted by doing the digital design work of the arm itself from references from the film, and I 3D printed the model Adam made on my home 3D printers, and the 3D printers at Freeside. The mesh on top of the fingers was laser cut out of acrylic and heated to be formed into shape. I used various random bolts, screws, and tubing lying around the shop for the rest of the details to make it look real. The paintjob was done using off the shelf spraypaints for the base metallic color, and hand detailing for the weathering, rust, and grime.
The body harness that connects to her is made from scrap leather straps, belts, and other materials that fasten around her torso. The shoulder guard is laser cut from a sheet foam called L200, and I used parts I found in the shop for some of the details - a DC motor for a model plane was the motor on the front, and I scratch built the pull cord that hangs in front. Once everything was built, I met Laura for a final fitting and put it all together and it fit her like a glove - literally!
Vaughn: I mean, I think the real challenge fell on Michelle -- I have to say. She did a lot of the prop construction (aside from the life cast) without me present. And when you're building something for someone with a missing limb, that you yourself are NOT missing... well, it's not as if she could try the thing on to see if it was coming together right, haha! I've worn costume prosthetics in the past for other projects. For example I used to cosplay a steampunk character that had a Gatling gun arm that was basically made from some machine parts and a lot of PVC pipe. The thing probably weighed 10 pounds and was pretty uncomfortable. So coming into this project, and putting on the Furiosa arm for the first time, Michelle kept asking me like, "Is this uncomfortable -- are you okay? Do we need to adjust anything?" and I just kept laughing because in comparison to other things I've worn in the past, the Furiosa arm is a dream. It's so comfortable.
Sleeper: Laura is the first disabled person I've worked with, but I definitely don't think she'll be the last - I really enjoyed working on this and I can certainly see myself doing other, similar projects for her and other persons with disabilities in the future.
And Laura has good reason to hope that Furiosa could be the start of an amazing Hollywood trend: characters who are disabled without being defined by their disabilities, and who can inspire future homages like this one.
Vaughn: My big takeaway from Furiosa is that she's both a capable female character and a capable disabled character -- two things you almost never see on-screen. The most important thing to me was that her disability is never made a plot point or used as a sad backstory for her. You know? That's something you almost always see -- strong characters tend to have these tragic backstories -- in male characters especially, we sometimes jokingly call this "manpain" because it's used as this opportunity to show softness in an otherwise super manly action hero character. So it is so refreshing to have a character who has obviously suffered loss and hardship in her life, but is simply allowed to be. And for someone like me, not being specific about how she lost her hand, or whether she was born without it, or whatever -- that reinforces the fact that her missing limb does not define her. She's a fully fleshed out character with strengths and weaknesses. I love that. It's so important.