[Interview] Cosplay model Pion talks about her past, present & future, and the direction of the industry's growth


Thanks to all the fans who visit the Inven Global cosplay page. We have been working on a series of interviews with popular Korean cosplayers. This time, we’re back with Pion(https://twitter.com/pion_ediya), one of the most popular cosplayers in the scene. We hope you enjoy this interview, looking into who Pion is behind her costumes.




Hello. Although you’re already very famous overseas, can you please introduce yourself to the readers?

My name is Pion, and I’ve been cosplaying since 2012, so eight years. Currently, I’m a freelancer.

A keyword that’s heavily associated with you is ‘high quality’. Although that word may apply in many aspects, I want to talk about the quality of the clothes, props, and the edit. The recent trend is that not only there are a lot of low-budget cosplays, there are many cosplayers that keep things light and fun as well. Is there a reason why you continue to keep your cosplays high in quality?


Whenever there’s a shoot, I always want to make my cosplays the best in the world. Especially, during the shoot, I always want to collaborate the iconic aspects of the character with a certain fable. For example, I shot my ‘Poison Ivy’ cosplay in the hopes of getting people to think about Eve from the story of Adam and Eve. With my Eliza (Tekken) cosplay, I believe that the character was inspired by the vampire story of Elizabeth Báthory, who is famous for bathing in the blood of a young woman, so the shoot took place in a bathtub. However, if I took it too far in my expression, people could’ve been disgusted by it, so I made sure not to go overboard.



Also, there’s still the public misconception that cosplays are only for the otaku, and since cosplaying is dressing up as video game characters that are mostly lewd, I’m very careful. I believe that depending on the intent and the way you express it, there’s a thin line that separates it from it becoming art or pornography. I want my cosplays to be remembered for quality, and even after many years, I want my work to be remembered as art by everyone.

Another keyword that’s associated with such high quality is your ‘acting’. You’re very well known for your supreme character analysis and great expressions and gestures. When it comes to cosplaying, what does acting mean to you? 


I try really hard (laughter). The comments that say something along the lines of, ‘Wow, this isn’t Pion, it’s the character itself’ makes me the happiest. I like people to see the character, not myself, so in that regard, I believe acting is really important.


I never officially studied acting, so I spend a lot of time getting into character from the moment I start preparing for the shoot. After researching a lot on the character background, I create a music playlist that suits the character. For example, I created a playlist full of songs that are a bit crazy when I was preparing for ‘Harley Quinn’. I have the playlist playing while I’m preparing, and even during the shoot, and especially when I’m editing the photos. The music really helps me concentrate on my work.



Since photos and video contents last for a very long time, aren’t there a lot of models who are hesitant in expressing themselves in a radical manner?


I remember my ‘Harley Quinn’ and ‘Veronica’ from the Webtoon ‘Terror Man’ being very different from the norm. I actually enjoy making myself look ugly in my own work, as my sole purpose is to make my content artistic.


When did you start having such a mindset? Did you have this mindset when you first started cosplaying?


To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be cosplaying to this extent. I took some time off university to try various things in life, so cosplaying was one of those things that started back then. Compared to those days, my mindset has changed a lot. There are a lot of cosplay models around the world that are really good at their job, so I really learned a lot from their work.

From League of Legends to even Webtoon characters, you have a very wide spectrum in your work. It must not be easy to analyze and express such a various cast of characters. 


During the shoot, another mindset that I have is ‘I have to be better than my last cosplay, and make this one my best’. Just like ‘Eliza’, I always try something new and drastic, and even try experimenting with different props. Sometimes, I have to play a double role during my shoot, and such examples are shown with ‘Harley Quinn’ and ‘Vera Nair’ from the game, ‘Identity V’.


‘Vera Nair’ is an insane but a sad character that kills her twin sister out of jealousy and acquires the personality of her sister. When you look at the photos, when it comes to lighting, I try to make it so that a sense of death and depression is both expressed at once. I have to capture everything in one photo, so it’s difficult in a different way. I spend a lot of time researching on the storytelling aspect of it.



Because of your wide spectrum of cosplay, you must get a lot of offers to do various cosplays. What are some of the cosplays that you absolutely do not do?


I decline every character with jobs in saving lives and in education, such as doctors, nurses, police, firefighters and teachers. However, there are exceptions. ‘Shaw’, from the game ‘Arknights’, is one of those exceptions, where the character doesn’t sexualize the firefighters, but emphasizes on the characteristics of a firefighter itself. On the flipside, the Succubus character, ‘Morrigan’ has a nurse costume, but she’s very sexualized and doesn’t focus on the lifesaving aspect of the job, so I decline such offers. 


Also, I’m very sensitive when it comes to school uniforms. If the uniform is ripped, or is visualized in a seductive way, I decline such characters as well.


The people with those occupations will definitely feel uncomfortable by the cosplays, and although I can say, “Wow, this actually bothered them?”, I’d rather be inconvenienced myself and not make those people in those respectable fields. 

Speaking of which, you edit your photos yourself, correct?


Yes. I organize in text on what kind of photos I want to shoot beforehand, and I use a 3D tool to organize the poses, angles, and lighting by scene. Since I do this myself, I want to make sure that the final product is how I want them to be, so I do the editing as well.



Let’s take a trip down memory lane. How did your journey as a cosplay model begin?


In 2012, I took a year off university, and made a bucket list of the new things I want to try in that year. Since my High School days, I studied drawing game characters, so I naturally took interest in working in relation to games.


At the time, industrialization in cosplaying was really starting to take off in Korea, and I realized that it’s definitely possible to pursue a career in cosplaying. Before that, I just thought that cosplaying was just a hobby and a culture for the minority. I felt that it was a really cool field, so that’s how I first started cosplaying. I believe that as someone starting new, it’s important to leave a good image of themselves, just as I received positive inspiration on those that walked this path before me.

If you were to pick your favorite cosplay out of the many cosplays you did, which one is your favorite?


My number 1 is definitely ‘Sombra’ from Overwatch. I can’t really put a finger on the 2nd, as I like all of them.

I remember you shaving your head for the Sombra cosplay, and even donated your hair. Can you tell us the story behind it?


At the time, Overwatch was very popular, and a lot of cosplay models were cosplaying characters from Overwatch. I also loved playing Overwatch very much.


When Sombra was first revealed, I watched her animation video and immediately thought, ‘I have to cosplay her’, so I set up a shoot right away. The fact that she’s a hacker and a villain made me fall in love with her even more.


At first, I was hesitant about shaving the side of my head like the character. As I was preparing for the cosplay and researching on the Internet, I learned that I can donate hair that’s 25cm or longer to provide wigs for children with cancer. So I decided to shave it all off, and since it was for a good cause, I put more effort in preparing for it.



There’s another reason why Sombra’s #1 in my books. There was the whole ‘Brownface’ issue within overseas communities, and at the time, I was totally unaware that such an issue even existed. I took the time to talk about the issues with my overseas friends, and was able to interact with the people that like and don’t like me. It was a learning experience, and I definitely learned a lot. In one way or another, my name became more known within the overseas communities, and I believe that it’s the biggest turning point in my cosplay career.



Are there any cosplay models that inspired you?


There are two cosplay models from overseas. First there is Maul Cosplay. He is the official cosplay model for ‘The Witcher’. I believe he’s one of the most famous cosplay models in the industry. His wife is a makeup artist, so not only do they work together, the quality of his props, his analysis of his work, his acting, the supreme production, and the expression in his work is always far better than the original. Also, his character and morals are impeccable as well. At an overseas event, the organizers are very strict with the time frame that these cosplayers are modelling, so they tend to separate the models from the fans in the off time. However, his ironclad condition in modelling for an event is to never disallow the fans from taking photos with him. He’s a very warm man in so many ways, and is someone that I look up to greatly.


Another cosplay model I look up to is Leon Chiro. He’s always staying in shape for cosplays, and is always honing his acting skills and various techniques. Also, his supreme analysis on his work, and his professionalism alongside his bright personality always draws the fans at various events, so he always reaches out to the public in a positive manner.

It seems that the characteristics that you look up to all align with what you consider important as well. You emphasized on the ‘character’ of the person, so do you also consider it to be a critical trait as well?


It’s very important. Putting the various skills needed as a cosplay model aside, I believe that the more good stories the model has in relation to their character as a person, the cosplay industry will grow just as much. In order to become a model that has a positive impact on others, become respected by others, and to make this industry’s image great, you need to have a great character, because good people will always influence others in a positive way.



Which aspect of cosplaying do you consider to be the most fun?


Watching how the community reacts is what’s most fun for me. Reading comments that say I’m just like the character, or even close to art is something that brings me a lot of joy. Also, when I receive the photos to edit after the shoot, if the photos come out the way I want them to be, there’s a wave of satisfaction that makes me very happy.

However, no matter how well you thoroughly prepare for a shoot, aren’t there times where the end result isn’t satisfactory?


That’s right. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I’m not satisfied with it. It’s all because there’s still a lot to learn, so I’m going to make sure to keep studying.


However, there are some cases that do unexpectedly well. A prime example of this is when I cosplayed ‘Mai Shiranui’ from the game ‘King of Fighters’. Although the photos turned out okay, I wasn’t satisfied with my makeup and the hair. It’s not the Mai that I imagined to be, but funnily enough, the community loved it. Unfortunately, I think the reaction was much more explosive than my Sombra cosplay (laughter).



Are you influenced by the hateful comments at all? Or do you just move on?


I believe that there’s fair criticism behind hateful comments. Unless the comment is really bad, to the point where it’s a personal attack on me, or a comment that I can’t show my parents, I don’t delete them. Whether it’s about unhappiness with the way I expressed the character or the pose is weird, I take those into consideration and do more research. If I believe that I’m stuck with a certain image, I try to spice things up and challenge myself in doing something different.


It’s very easy for the public to lose interest. Whether the comments are good or bad, they’re all there because they’re interested in either me or in cosplays. If I just shut myself out from the hateful comments, I won’t be able to improve, and reason with myself into thinking, ‘I’m good enough, so I only need to do this much’. However, I want to be better than my present self, and turn my haters into fans.

Is there a cosplay that you’ve either never attempted, or want to try, despite the possibility of it happening being low?


Cosplays that require special makeup seem really cool. Also, I want to try cosplays that require a lot of people. Things like zombies is a prime example. Although, I think the photographer will have a hard time with so many people in a shoot.


One thing that I really want to do is to be in charge of production, direct a shoot, edit and create the final product with a celebrity model. A while ago, I cosplayed with Cheng Xiao from the female K-pop group, ‘Cosmic Girls’ as the characters from the mobile game, ‘SoulWorker’. At the time, I created a reference image before the shoot, supported her on set, and added CG to successfully deliver 40 photos. That was two years ago, so I think I can do better now.



In the end, rather than being a model, I want to transition into directing and producing. From creating a general outline, managing the set, to creating the final product, I want to be in charge from start to finish. Eventually, I want people to think, ‘No matter who the model is, if Pion’s in charge, it’s gonna be the best’.


What are some of the things you’re planning out for the future?


As it aligns with what I mentioned just now, I want to be the one directing photoshoots. From casting the models, directing, costume and props production, setting up various lighting and directing the camera work on set, to the final editing, CG, I want to be in charge from the start to finish. I don’t want to limit myself to game cosplays, I want to direct various styles of photoshoots. I’m studying hard to achieve my goals, and camera work is one of them as well.


As a senior in this industry, what are some of the things that you’d like to see change?


It’s really hard to call me a senior in this industry, because there are so many cosplayers that do this as a hobby that cosplay better than I do. I have a lot to learn from them as well, so it’s really hard to call myself a senior in this industry.


One thing that I do want to talk about is the Gravure style of cosplay. It’s been trending overseas at first, and it’s just starting to become popular in Korea.


While I do respect the industry, from the standpoint of a country that is very lackluster in punishing sexual crimes, especially when it comes to children, it’s very different.


Depending on the consumers’ mind and point of view on cosplaying, and how the game companies produce and distribute cosplays, things become very situationally different.


In Korea, the punishment for sexual crimes is very weak. I want to emphasize the fact that it’s not an easy problem to approach, and that it’s wrong to think, ‘Well, this is accepted overseas, so it must be okay’.



Lastly, what would you like to say to the readers at home?


This interview became very long, so I want to thank everyone for reading it all the way through. Cosplaying is a culture that you can learn about your favorite cartoons, movies, and games, and make it come to real life. In that sense, depending on the mindset, I believe that cosplaying can become an art culture in itself. I hope that many people will accept cosplaying with an open heart, look at it from a positive point of view, and challenge everyone to cosplay themselves.



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