Ke$ha says ‘C’mon’ to costumes by former resident Briana Barber
When Briana Barber was a child, attending Newcastle Elementary School, her Halloween costumes were the standard black cats and bunnies.
“Pretty mundane,” said Barber, now 26 and living in Denver, Colo. But it wouldn’t be long before costumes became a huge part of her life. So much so that her masks took center stage in Time Square on New Year’s Eve.
Okay, maybe not center stage. That would be Ke$ha. But those guys on either side of her – the ones with the full-on tiger faces, jukin’ and jivin’ to the song “C’mon” during MTV’s Club NYE 2013 dance party – that furry foursome was costumed courtesy of Barber.
“They (Ke$ha’s people) found me online, I’m still not real sure where,” Barber said. “But it was very short notice and it had to happen now, so I didn’t ask too many questions.”
While Barber wasn’t familiar with Ke$ha’s music – punk and alternative are more her style – she was able to see the choreography prior to making the masks, so she knew what they had to go through.
“All I could think was ‘please hold together; don’t fall apart on national television.’”
After graduating from Maidu High School, Barber studied graphic design at Sierra College before earning her Associates in Computer Animation and Graphic Design from Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The skills she has gained are extensive – illustration, design, makeup, carving, casting, sculpting, mold making, sewing, set dressing, light rigging, body painting, dental prosthetics – but her favorite?
“I like to draw and to paint,” she said. “I don’t get to do nearly enough of it.”
But when she does, it typically coincides with her other passion: Live Action Role Playing or “LARPing” as it is known by those who don the gear.
“After learning anatomy, lighting, composition and color theory, I got interested in theater and role playing games, especially Vampire: The Masquerade,” she said. “Drawing my character helps me sort out how they are feeling and thinking. It helps round out the experience.”
These are not games you sit around a table to play, this is an immersive, interactive pursuit that utilizes creative thinking skills, dramatic and artistic expression and – oh yes – elaborate costumes.
“I’ve been creating costumes since I was very young, but it didn’t take off until after college,” Barber said. “I began experimenting with more creature-related costuming. My work has attracted a following among several communities for conventions, festivals and LARP games.”
Barber said she enjoys these “nerd-centric” conventions because it gives her an opportunity to show her work off as well as immerse herself in the creative efforts of others.
“My hobby is animatronics,” said Chris Graff, an electrical engineer in Boulder, Colo. “She commissioned me to help her with some moth wings. She made these beautiful wings and I motorized them for her. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Graff said Barber has made him dragon wings that extend and flap and “a really awesome” dragon mask.
“Everything that she does is great,” he said. “I can’t make anything of that caliber; most of my stuff is on the analytical side. I am not totally in touch with my brain’s right side. I did supply her with the LEDs for some third eyes.”
Third eyes? More LARPer talk?
“She’s made me three so far, and she made the eyelid and forehead skin tones blend in very well with my own,” said Ben Colbert, a community property manager in Maryland “I can switch the eye out in case one breaks.”
Colbert has bought several costume pieces from Barber since meeting her at a LARPer convention in Virginia, including a set of three-foot gargoyle wings for his girlfriend.
“I like knowing the person behind the character,” Colbert said. “I disagree with people who just leave. If I am spending hours of my life with you people, I want to know who you are.”
Barber will put on Colbert’s makeup for him. They stay in character most of the day, but after they wash up, they’ll all go out to dinner.
“It’s like losing yourself to a football game for four hours, except without the swearing,” Colbert said.
With her skills in makeup, sewing, body painting, and prosthetics, Barber has become a one-stop costume shop for the LARPing community.
“She is a one-man army,” said Michelle Carbaugh, a senior at the Art Institute of Colorado who makes costumes for anime conventions.
Carbaugh and Barber get together for craft nights, working on projects together and bouncing ideas off each other.
“I love the animatronic wings,” she said. “If you can marry art and technology, you can create some fantastic things.”
It was 90s technology – TV cartoons specifically – that helped form Barber’s artistic style (Disney’s Gargoyles, TMNT, David the Gnome). Add to that the art of Alphonse Mucha, and a style begins to take shape.
“I like heavy line work of Mucha,” Barber said. “He’s one of the first recognizable illustrators that were like comic book style. The way he handled line and color, it kind of ties in with comic art.”