Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lifelong Learning Through Play

Visit the Rio Salado College Facebook page to view the full in-costume photo shoot with Sarrah Wilkinson at RSC Tempe. 

Sarrah Wilkinson, systems analyst at Rio Salado College, is an advocate of lifelong learning, and she’s not afraid to try something new. Visitors to the 2013 Phoenix Comicon may know Wilkinson as Garrus Vakarian from BioWare’s Mass Effect video game series. Her handmade costume was a standout at the event and garnered quite a bit of attention, including recognition from the official BioWare twitter account. 

“I designed my costume to try and imitate the character’s look as much as possible, including a full head mask with a moving jaw,” said Wilkinson. “I also made a large armored carapace, three-fingered hands and two toes on semi-digitigrade feet.”

Wilkinson said the project took about seven months to complete and that she learned several new skills in the process.

“The costume was a great challenge,” Wilkinson said. “Some skills I had experience in, such as sculpting oil-based clay and molding and casting latex. Others were brand new.”

Wilkinson constructed the costume’s armor from foam using a wire skeleton underneath.

“It required special techniques to make it look like metal,” Wilkinson said. “I also learned how to solder and how to wire basic circuits to do the lights in the armor.

Although Wilkinson’s work at Rio Salado doesn’t typically involve a soldering gun, she said she believes there’s still some crossover in the skill set.

“My costuming project could not have been more different from the work I do at Rio - yet the underlying principles are surprisingly similar,” Wilkinson said. “Both types of work require curiosity and a desire to learn new things. They also both involve a lot of troubleshooting and trying different things in order to get the result you want.”

Wilkinson’s hobby started in childhood with handmade Halloween costumes.

“When I was 13, I made my first costume, a rather clunky dinosaur from Jurassic Park,” Wilkinson said. “Every year, I experiment with new materials and ideas. I'd been in kind of a costuming lull, but seeing the amazing costumes at Phoenix Comicon over the past few years inspired me to get back into it again.”

Wilkinson has a variety of creative interest revolving around fantasy and science fiction themes including artisan crafts, fiction writing and fantasy art.

“Fantasy and science fiction are two sides of the same coin. They both allow for the creation of worlds - or entire alternate realities - that simply cannot exist in our own,” Wilkinson said. “They're a fantastic playground for creativity, and looking beyond that, I find that the mythology of any given place and time says a lot about the people who created it. That's true whether you're looking at ancient Egypt or at the superhero mythos so present in today's culture.”

According to Wilkinson, the best way to get started with costuming and fantasy art is to just get started.

“Just do it! Start drawing, start learning Photoshop, start planning a costume. There is a wealth of information and advice available at your fingertips,” Wilkinson said.

She recommends researching costume tutorials online. Wilkinson herself provides resources for newcomers including a series of blog posts that detail the Garrus costume from concept to completion.

“There are more tools available now to educate yourself than there have ever been in the past,” Wilkinson said. “If you are passionate about something, make the time to follow up on it. Life is too short to do anything less.”

This story can also be found in the June 29 edition of The Tempe Republic.