Now Streaming in Austin: Becoming Jessica Nigri
Rooster Teeth’s new cosplay documentary
There's an element of obsession in cosplay – the art of dressing like a fictional character. It's not just in the love of a character, but in the ends to which the cosplayer will go to make the costume feel real. Superstar builder and wearer Jessica Nigri said, "I was looking at cutting stones and learning how to polish them for a Skyrim costume – actually picking a stone, polishing it and cutting it and shaping it – but I was like, 'Why don't I just get a resin gem and paint the back? Why am I going so extra with this?'"
That commitment to the craft is why she's the subject of Becoming Jessica Nigri. Directed by Austin-based, two-time Independent Lens filmmaker Mat Hames, it's the latest in online entertainment leviathan Rooster Teeth's growing documentary library. Nigri admits to growing up on the studio's content, and even provides the voice of villainess Cinder Fall for their animated series RWBY. When it came to the documentary, "They approached me and said, 'We really want to help tell your story, and show people what you do.'"
If it wasn't Rooster Teeth, she probably would have said no, not least because of her experience with SyFy's Heroes of Cosplay series. Even though she was not on the show, the producers depicted a toxic rivalry between Nigri and fellow celebrity cosplayer Yaya Han. That choice left Nigri baffled. "We're the best of friends," she said. "How did this happen? People would come up and say, 'Oh, you hate Yaya.' No, she's amazing. She's my gem." By comparison, Nigri said, the Rooster Teeth doc "is more real. This is them going, 'We just want to show you.' I was like, 'But what if I'm really being boring behind the scenes?' 'That's fine. That's you.'"
Aside from mapping Nigri's growth, from playing dress-up with her family in New Zealand to becoming a cosplay circuit constant with millions of social media followers, Becoming Jessica Nigri charts the trials and tribulations of one of her biggest builds: Elune, goddess of the Night Elves from Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft. With a plan to unveil the costume at the massive BlizzCon 2017 gaming convention, the pages of the calendar fall away, and put her design at risk.
Yet the idea of a build failing is, in many ways, inherent to the art. After all, so many costumes are based on designs that only exist on the printed pages or a screen, and the cosplayer is often the first artisan to ever give it three-dimensional life. For Nigri, that challenge of learning to craft the impossible in multiple materials – plastics, resins, foam, rubber, cloth, glue – is an alluring quest in its own right. "At first, you look at cosplay, and it's incredibly daunting. You look at it and go, 'There's no way I can do this stuff.' You purposefully put yourself in the position of, 'I'm going to start with something small, I'm going to give it a go, and then I'll work my way up.' The more that you learn, the more ambitious you get, the more confident you get, and the more you keep pushing yourself."
Becoming Jessica Nigri is streaming now on Rooster Teeth’s First subscription service.