Billy The Brick Cosplayer is a Seattle based prop weapon designer. He designs weapons for cosplays, movies, or just his own enjoyment. For over 25 years he’s been in the weapon making industry, so his experience and talent are un-matchable. Billy The Brick answered some of our most pressing questions on cosplay weaponry and his expertise.
JR:How long have you been making cosplay accessories/weaponry?
BillyTheBrick:Technically, for 27 years – I made my first real prop weapon when I was 13. I really wanted to go to my first Star Trek convention and convinced my mom to make me a ST:TNG command jumpsuit. Using the technical reference guide, I built myself a fairly decent (by first time 13-year-old standards) phaser. But really, my first cosplay accessory was a Hylian shield I made for my son 2.5 years ago. I started doing just easy found clothing cosplay when my son was born 4.5 years ago. The shield is when I decided to really go all the way in and make it a way of life, and build something from scratch. I made it entirely out of foam.
JR:What kind of weapons do you make?
BillyTheBrick:I make all kinds, mostly for my own cosplay, but also commissions for other people and I’ve been lucky enough to even make weapons for a movie. Right now, I’ve been focusing a lot on the weapons from the new Voltron: Legendary Defender show. So far, from the show, I’ve made Keith’s bayard sword, since I use it myself, and I just finished making Lotor’s sword that was just revealed in the latest season. I’m currently working on adding Pidge and Allura’s weapons to that list. Aside from that I’ve made bows, swords, lightsabers, blasters, a crystal dagger, a knife, a spear, a wand, and a bunch more and all using quite a variety of materials – wood, metal, 3D printing, resin casts, foam, PVC, etc.
JR:How do you believe 3D printing has changed the industry of cosplay weapon making?
BillyTheBrick:For people who want to learn 3D modeling or already know it, 3D printing has made quickly prototyping weapons a lot easier and more accessible. It also is a great way to add an extra set of “hands” to your workshop. I set my printer to work and then work on building or finishing something else. If I had to make the same things by hand, I’d be a lot less productive. And even for those who don’t, it’s made it a lot easier and cheaper to get a cosplay weapon from a designer than ever before. For more popular items, it’s pretty easy to find a free or relatively inexpensive file and print something yourself at home or at a local library or maker space.
JR:How long does it take you to complete a weapon from start to finish?
BillyTheBrick:This is a tough one. And I hate saying “it depends,” but it does. When I first decided to do my Keith cosplay, the show hadn’t aired yet. So, I was going off early release stills to build what I could. A few days before the con, the show dropped and I discovered he had a dagger strapped on his back that I didn’t know existed. I made that dagger out of scrap foam the day before getting on a plane to go to the con. On the flip side, I’ve sunk dozens and dozens of hours spread across months on some weapons. Sometimes I’ll get stuck on a particular part of a weapon and set it aside and come back to it later.
JR:What makes a good cosplay sword
BillyTheBrick:Oh no. I have to say “it depends” again! Mostly it depends on the intended use. If the goal is to bring it to a convention, then being durable AND safe are probably the two most important things. Most cons won’t allow a metal or wood sword anymore, but you want something that will take a beating–being handled by people, being ran into in a crowd, etc. But if the goal is to have something nice to use just for photos and to hang on the wall, then the more realistic looking and showy, the better. Although I always do my best to make my swords and weapons look as real and like the source as possible, the intended use will definitely impact what materials I choose in the building process.
JR:What is advice you have for someone looking to learn how to make cosplay weapons?
BillyTheBrick:Just do it! And watch videos. There are so many great tutorials and videos out there on YouTube and Twitch streamers that can teach just about anything you want to know. I’m always working on written and video tutorials and how-tos myself. I also plan to get a Twitch stream going once my workshop is all ready. But the most important thing, is to just pick something and do it. You’ll make plenty of mistakes, but you’ll also learn a ton of skills. There are even a lot of free or cheap weapon blueprints available that are a great place to start learning and practicing weapon making skills. There may even by classes and workshops in your area. Here in Seattle, I know I’ve seen cosplay workshop and classes at local maker spaces and comic book shops. I’m even running an intro to foam weapon making workshop during Pax West
JR:What is your favorite accessory project?
BillyTheBrick:It definitely has to be the replica coffee can from the Preacher TV show. A friend of a friend commissioned it from me and I was so happy to make it because I adore the show. (for the record, I think it’s the best screen adaptation of a comic book, period). I also discovered I’d be getting a chance to meet the cast of the show at SDCC so I made another one and brought it with me. Not only was Dominic Cooper blown away by it and happy to take one home, 2 of the other cast members asked if I could make them one as well. (which I’m currently working on). The coffee can being in my portfolio is what landed me a gig working on a local sci-fi film as well.
JR:If there was one animal you would compare yourself to what would it be and why.
BillyTheBrick:Ravens for sure. I’ve had an affinity for ravens and crows as far back as I can remember. They can fly, they can make and use tools, they’re all black—you can’t get much better than that.
JR:What is your favorite tool when making cosplay weaponry?
BillyTheBrick:I have to say my 3D printer. Although it’s not always for my own weapons and props, my 3D printer pretty much runs 24/7. It saves me so much time and adds so much efficiency to my workshop. I couldn’t live without it at this point!
JR:What was your first weapon you made?
BillyTheBrick:The first weapon I made after making my son’s Hylian shield was Ashitaka’s sword. When I decided that I was going to go all the way, I immediately began work on Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke—my absolute favorite anime film. I built everything head to toe from scratch and had a lot of firsts on that project. The sword was an interesting melding of materials and technologies. The blade of the sword was made of wood that I made look like metal, but the hilt was one of my very first 3D designs and prints. I also sewed a wrap for the hilt as one of my first sewing projects. I always get stopped at cons because it looks so real—mission accomplished!
JR:What was your last weapon you made?
BillyTheBrick:I always have multiple things in process. The last thing I actually finished 100% were two bayards that I was able to hand deliver to two of the cast members of Voltron while I was at SDCC!
What role do you think cosplay weapons play in cosplay overall?
BillyTheBrick:It’s hard for me to even think of not having a weapon and doing cosplay. Of all of the cosplay I have done, there’s only been a single one that didn’t have a weapon or prop of some sort. Although I do have another that I just revealed that doesn’t have a weapon either—a crossplay Jessica Jones. A lot of times it’s the prop or weapon that really makes the cosplay and makes it recognizable. It also makes posing for and getting great photos so much easier. There are only so many poses you can do with nothing in your hands. Obviously, your mileage may vary depending on the character you’re cosplaying as.
To learn more about Billy James and his cosplay weaponry, visit his social media or website at:
And as always, have a geek filled day!