3D printing innovators push limits of cosplay, creating

Geeks from birth with a passion for making, experimenting and teaching, Dhemerae Ford and Sarah C. Awad met in a digital art class at New York University. Both artist and painters looking for new ways to innovate, they discovered the emerging and exciting technology of 3D printing and TheLaserGirlsStudio was born.

Sarah is a  freelance sculpting instructor, dancer, and pilates instructor. Dhemerae is an Advanced Media Specialist at the LaGuardia Studio. They both teach classes in 3D design and printing at NYU’s School of Professional Studies. 

They also share their knowledge through TheLaserGirlsStudio, a “multimedia” workspace that aims to push the boundaries of 3D printing and foster a “creative environment of teaching and learning.” The website documents the duo’s ambitious 3D printing projects, which largely center around cosplay, through blog entries, video tutorials, and photo galleries.  They also have an RPG-themed jewelry line (available on their website) and are working on opening an Etsy shop.

It was Sarah who introduced Dhemerae to cosplay, the perfect medium for the pair to showcase the endless possibilities their favorite technology presents. The two can be seen at conventions, rocking their impressive 3D printed creations, which include metal jewelry, flexible armor, and fully functioning and movable mechanical props. 

Read on for more about TheLaserGirls’ innovations in their growing field, along with their geek origin stories, favorite fandoms and cosplays, what it’s like to be women in a male-dominated tech world, and their most unusual but awesome innovation — the 3D printed manicure

Sarah C. Awad, left, and Dhemerae Ford cosplay as Lightning/Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII.

After meeting as art students at New York University, the two of you founded TheLaserGirlsStudio. The mission of this multimedia project is to push the boundaries of 3D printing and share it with others. Tell me more about how you met and decided to work together.

Sarah: We actually met in a Digital Art class where we were learning how to 3D model sculptures. We coincidentally sat at neighboring computer stations, and each had the same quirk of talking to our computer screens when, for example, the program would crash or we were struggling with a task. I would always assume Dhemerae was talking to me and vice versa, and finally after too many, “Sorry, say that agains,” we started chatting with each other.

Dhemerae: We worked together for the first time when were both given the opportunity to display work in what was deemed the “first 3d printing art show” in NYC. We decided to create a collaborative piece for the show, and despite a rocky start, it all turned out great and the rest is history.

I feel like some people might be a little fuzzy as to what 3D printing is. How would you explain it?

Dhemerae: 3D printing uses 3D models or computer aided design files to build objects layer by layer. The most common 3D printing technology is known as FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) or FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication). It utilizes a heated nozzle that extrudes melted plastic, typically PLA or ABS, and draws out the shape of the object layer by layer.

Sarah: Think of it as stacking sheets of paper on top of each other to form a cube, except the sheets can be a number of different materials in different forms, and the cube can be a number of different shapes!

TheLaserGirls pioneered the 3D printed manicure.

How did you both become interested and involved in 3D printing?

Dhemerae: We both took a class in college called Digital Art II, where we learned all about new methods of manufacturing, such as laser cutting, etching, and 3D printing. It was there that we both became fascinated with the technology, and how we first met.

Sarah: It was in that class where our foundational interest in the medium was born. Prior to that, we were both painters who were beginning to question that path of artmaking, so discovering 3D was exciting, refreshing, and got us inspired again to create.

Sarah, you’re an artist, designer, educator, freelance sculpting instructor, and pilates instructor. What’s your art background and how did you arrive where you’re at now professionally, combining all these interests?

I like to describe myself as a maker and a mover with a passion for teaching. Foundationally, drawing is my medium of choice, whether that is through more traditional or digital practices, but my creativity on paper spills over into dance and physiology, so I find both practices to be inspired by the same source.

My love for teaching is another wonderful way for me to create and (hopefully) to inspire others to pursue their physical and mental creativity. So, while appearing conglomerate, I see how all of them are interconnected; however, I definitely do too much.

Dhemerae, you’re an Advanced Media Specialist at the LaGuardia Studio. What’s your art and design background and how did you arrive where you’re at professionally?

I majored in Digital Art in college with a focus on graphic design and sculpture. After taking that Digital Art II class with Sarah, I was hired at the LaGuardia Studio (then called the Advanced Media Studio) as a student to run their laser cutters and 3D printers.

Once I graduated, I continued working in the 3D printing industry at Shapeways due to a connection Sarah and I had made during a fashion and technology event. Later, I applied for a full-time position at the LaGuardia Studio and I’ve been there ever since.

You both teach classes at NYU’s School of Professional Studies. What do you enjoy about teaching?

A huge part of our jobs working at the Advanced Media Studio as students involved teaching other students, staff and faculty what we knew about the software and technology. It was the most rewarding part of the job, seeing someone grow and learn enough to create their own work using the technology.

We love to show others that 3D design and printing is something that they can do, and even easier now than ever to get into. Our hope is to empower as many fellow makers as we can to have fun and innovate with this exciting medium!

Dhamerae as Jane Foster’s Thor.

Many of TheLaserGirls projects revolve around cosplay. Dhemerae, how did you first discover cosplay?

I discovered cosplay through Sarah. I had never been to any conventions where people would dress up as their favorite characters. Throughout college, I had always wanted to go to Comic Con. But I didn’t manage until Sarah and I decided to print our very first costumes as a challenge of our ability. My first cosplay was such an incredible experience that I just could stop making new costumes year after year.

What about you, Sarah?

I discovered cosplay in middle school and began closet cosplaying in high school with my fellow geeky siblings — my first cosplay was Kakashi from Naruto. Generally though, I always loved dressing up, especially the performative aspect of it; I was a dancer with a wild imagination, so I loved really taking the fantasy to the highest level through costume. Because of that innate excitement, I am not surprised cosplay has become a more serious art practice for myself.

Sarah cosplays as Devil Homura.

In what ways can 3D printing be used in creating cosplay? It seems like there are endless possibilities.

3D printing has changed so much just in the past few years that you can make almost anything, from 3D printed metal jewelry and flexible armor, to fully-functioning and moving mechanical props. We’ve made all of the above for our cosplay, and we’re always thrilled and amazed at how other cosplayers are using the technology today. Also, when combined with scanning capabilities, physical fit and customization can be taken to a new level.

Your first cosplays were based on Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke and Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle. Since then, you’ve done dozens of elaborate and impressive cosplays, including looks inspired by Final Fantasy and sci-fi. What are some of your favorite cosplays you’ve done so far?

Sarah: Re-L Mayer (of Ergo Proxy) is definitely Number 1 for me. She is one of my all-time favorites and cosplay I had been wanting to do since forever, so to finally realize it was super satisfying. I also really love my Lunafreya look. I felt like it was the perfect combination of my strengths in 3D design while pushing me out of my comfort zone with its more princessy aesthetic.

Dhemerae: Ripley from the movie Alien was Number 1 for me. She is a character very close to my heart, and one in which I spent the most time and energy in crafting my most accurate costume to date. I scoured over the RPF forums to find exactly what the actors wore in Alien, and did everything I could to replicate it. The 3D printed flamethrower for Ripley was one of those props that came together really quickly and without any hitches. Overall, it was just a very fun project.

Sarah cosplays as Lunafreya from Final Fantasy XV. Her trident was 3D printed.

What’s your experience been like as women in the cosplay community?

We feel a jubilant, strong womxn presence in the cosplay community, and have always felt very welcomed and at home with our fellow cosplayers. The community is so open and enthusiastic about new technology, and are always sharing experiences, tips, and genuine guidance with each other. We love cosplayers’ passion and appreciation for making, and most importantly, sharing their processes with others.

We also love seeing the community reckon with and interpret womanhood and our agency through cosplay, fandom, and making, and find these explorations poignant, inspiring, and important to share.

What about in the world of 3D printing? Are many women involved in this technology?

There are far fewer women in the 3D printing community than in the cosplay community, but we’re glad to see that’s finally starting to shift. We’ve started attending Women in 3D Printing events and talks happening throughout NYC and the room is packed full of fierce and incredibly talented women, as well as those wanting to get more involved. The energy is very inspiring. But the numbers still feel smaller than they should.

Dhemerae: As a woman who works in the industry professionally, I can say that it’s still disappointing to not see more diversity. The demographic is very similar to the tech industry at large.

Dhemerae’s Thor costume includes many large 3D printed components.

Tell me about some of TheLaserGirls’ most challenging and ambitious 3D printing projects.

Jane Foster’s Thor was perhaps the most ambitious and challenging costume to date. It has more 3D printed components than any other costume and they were all very large pieces. It also incorporated the largest diversity of materials, such as nylon, ABS, PLA, acrylic, metal, leather, suede, and satin. It was truly a joint effort to finish that one in time for comic con.

Many of the cosplay projects you tackle seem pretty epic and time consuming. How much time and energy do you tend to spend working on these?

On average, our costumes take around six months to complete. Jane Foster’s Thor came in at 11 months in total and our fastest cosplay, RE-L, took about three months.

Sarah, what’s your geek origin story? How did you discover this side of yourself?

My geek origin story starts the day I was born. I’m a geek. I am a geek for everything I do. It is my nature to be passionate about topics or activities and immerse myself into their depths. Combined with my stream of consciousness imagination, this is a gift and a curse.

What are some of your favorite fandoms?

I don’t know if you can call this a fandom, but Lightning Farron is my queen and my ultimate OTP is me and her together.

What about you, Dhemerae? Tell me your geek origin story.

I’ve always been a geek. My mother’s side are artsy geeks and my father’s side are tech geeks. My Dad started out as a computer programmer when I was born, and as a result I had access to technology much earlier than most of my friends at the time. That meant we would spend hours playing video games and logging onto early versions of the internet.

My Mom, on the other hand, introduced me to the incredible works of Studio Ghibli via My Neighbor Totoro when I was young. The combination of a love of technology, anime, video games, and film have crafted me into the person I am today.

What are some of your favorite fandoms?

I don’t particularly like fandoms, as I think they can easily lead to toxicity within a community of content-likers. However, I have to say that the people I’ve met in the Steven Universe community are some of the most diverse and friendly people I’ve ever met. It’s such an incredible show and has had a huge impact on aspects of my own life and gender identity.

TheLaserGirls 3D printed the Starseeker bow and Buster Sword in this Final Fantasy cosplay on four different machines.

Along with documenting your projects and builds on your website’s blog, TheLaserGirls have branched out into podcasting and YouTube videos. What’s that experience been like?

It’s been … an interesting experience trying out different methods of content creation. We had a lot of fun with the podcast because of the ease of it, however we quickly realized that it’s difficult to speak about such a visual medium solely through audio.

Overall, we found the blogs and videos to be the most successful in full expressing what we want, but given our crazy NYC lives, it is frustrating to not have more time to dedicate to this. We have been reworking how we create content to better fit our lives now, which will begin to include live-streaming tutorials and live-sculpting sessions, as well as elaborating more on Facebook and Instagram videos.

The two of you have participated in conventions and shown your work locally and internationally. You’ve also participated in many panels and workshops. What have been some of your favorite events so far?

We love FlameCon! The artist alley is off the charts, the panels are informative and innovative, and the people who both run and attend it are incredible people, and the kindest and most welcoming of souls. We have been panelists the past two years, and we hope to continue to participate in this awesome con for as long as they will let us!

TheLaserGirls also pioneered the 3D printed manicure, which is a really striking form of nail art. How did you come up with this?

Dhemerae: Sarah actually came up with the idea for 3D printed fingernails. She always wanted to make custom nails for a particular art project. If I’m being honest, I was initially pretty hesitant on the idea, but knew how to execute it. Together we made some prototypes, they ended up being really great!

Sarah: It initially was just an experiment to test how far we could push the printers we had access to — we never expected them to become a viral moment! I liked the idea of nails because we could prototype quickly, all while challenging those areas previously mentioned.

You’ve also created a jewelry collection, inspired by RPGs, which is available on Shapeways. Tell me about the process of creating this collection. Are you planning to offer more LaserGirls products in the future?

We have always wanted to start a jewelry line, even when we were working on the nails. We initially had started two separate ideas for a collection, but decided to stay with what became RPG due to our shared interests and the strength of the ideas. We loved reframing our perspective on the different classes, and it was a fun design and creative challenge to build something that hit the sweet spot between literal and conceptual.

We were thrilled with the results of our first capsule to this collection, and learned a lot about how to move forward, which is on the horizon! We’re currently working on expanding it, adding more classes, styles and product variability.

You hinted on Instagram that you may be opening an Etsy shop. What can you tell me about that?

Sarah: We are currently working on opening up an Etsy shop that will include both original designs and cosplay props, which we are really excited about! We are hoping in the new year to be launched and taking orders.

If readers would like to support the work of TheLaserGirlsStudio, what’s the best way they can do that.

Follow us on Instagram to keep up with our most recent projects. Chat with us! You can also contact us directly via our website. Give us feedback, especially around wearables, we want to make things you love!

If you want to support our work financially, you can purchase our jewelry on our website or hire us for a custom cosplay prop commission. Or, if you want to support our coffee fund, we have a donation button on our website.

What other plans, hopes, or dreams do you have for the future of TheLaserGirls?

Plans: To solidify TheLaserGirls as a viable business. Dreams: Create a LaserGirl empire and to open up a makerspace. Hopes: To create a beautiful community of makers, shakers, and cosplayers who contribute to making the world a better place.

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