Florida student's homemade superhero costumes creating a buzz, opening doors nationwide
The same way Spider Man has his web shooters and mechanical arms and Thor has his hammer and battle ax, University of West Florida student and self-taught costume builder Noah Wright has his EVA foam, a heat gun, an X-Acto Knife and a Dremel.
Using those "weapons" of choice, along with some glue and paint, the 21-year-old has built some of the most intricate, realistic-looking superhero and pop culture costumes you'll see outside of the dressing rooms of a big-budget Hollywood film studio.
Some have even made their way out to California to be featured at video game conventions and in marketing campaigns.
"When I was in high school, I was like 16, that's when I first got big into the comic realm," said Wright, a junior at UWF. "I got big into comics and that kind of inspired me to make my own superhero. First it was drawing and doodling in class, then it became, like, 'Wow, do you know what would be really cool? If I could actually wear it.' "
After angering his parents a good amount in high school by leaving foam scraps all over the house and black spray paint on the lawn, Wright took his passion to a new level at UWF.
He scoured YouTube to learn as much as he could about do-it-yourself costume making with a specific vision in mind when he sat down at the island kitchen counter of his campus apartment: he wanted to bring his very own comic book hero creation, "The Sparrow," to life. He accomplished this feat for the first time three years ago.
It's "The Sparrow" origin story Wright devised that inspires the vision for the costume.
"There's a 15-part Google Drive script I have," he said. "Originally he's a high school kid but he's not super-powered. He's kind of a little guy, that's the idea behind the sparrow name, like a little bird. He kind of got inspired one day by reading books. He lives in the future, that's why (his costume) is all armor, and scientific, it's really sci-fi looking."
Propped up on that kitchen island on Monday is Wright's latest, half-finished "Sparrow" costume. Using his aforementioned tools, Wright gives the illusion that his foam-based body armor is really made from a shiny, metallic hard plastic.
He's taken this year's "Sparrow" gear to a new level, adding battery-powered lights across the collarbone of the chest plate. His other most nuanced additions, like his face mask and swords, are all made the same way, out of the EVA foam. That's the foundation of his creations.
Wright debuted his first — and much less complex — iteration of "The Sparrow" at the Pensacon costume contest in 2017. His abilities back then paled in comparison to what the UWF strategic management major is capable of doing now.
"I didn't do well," Wright said of his first foray into costume-making competition. "But that's what first got me to think I can compete. Like, 'I can do better than that.' "
As Wright worked on his craft, he shared his progress on his Instagram account, which exploded a bit over the years and now exceeds 3,000 followers.
If you asked him how his Instagram took off, he wouldn't have much of an answer for you.
"I ask that myself every day," Wright said Monday, digging through his apartment closet for more stacks of foam.
The ascending popularity of his Instagram account brought him his first freelance opportunity as an amateur costume builder for Newcode, a tech marketing company based in California.
"Newcode sent me an email and said, 'Wow you make really good stuff. We're going to be marketing for a game that's going to be at E3, the gaming convention out in Los Angeles,' " Wright explained. "They really wanted to have these two live versions of these two characters that were coming out. 'Big Joe' and 'Max' were the character names."
Last summer, Newcode sent Wright a virtual model of "Big Joe" and said they'd fly the Fort Walton Beach native to Los Angeles to experience the E3 Expo for himself, as long as he could make the costume in three weeks time.
"I told my job I wasn't going to come in for a while," recalled Wright, who juggles his hobby and student duties with his day job as a barista at the Coffee Guy Cafe on North Davis Highway.
Wright was compensated for his work, and just like that, his semi-professional side career had a pulse. Later that year, Newcode paid Wright again, this time to design a costume for a PUBG Mobile video game character, to be exhibited as part of a company marketing campaign.
"The past three years have been the best three years of my life for sure," Wright said. "It started with the 'Sparrow' suit, I tricked around with a Robin (from Batman & Robin) suit, then went back to the 'Sparrow,' " Wright said. "And once I did that second ("Sparrow') round and figured out how I wanted him to be, to where he wasn't just some bat suit knockoff, then it became more like the professional side of it. Where I was thinking more like a costumer than a cosplayer."
Wright's 2019 version of "Sparrow" earned him the runner-up award at last year's Pensacon costume contest. He hopes his third and most recent version finally brings him a competition victory in 2020.
Beyond that, the UWF student just wants to see where his hobby/side hustle takes him, while still pursuing his unrelated degree at UWF.
"I would want to do this until the day, at this moment," Wright said. "Just to get better and better and learn as many techniques as I can, grow as much as I can, meet people who are much better than me. ... It doesn't need to be 'The Sparrow,' but maybe see my costumes, my ideas in a movie or a TV show, or even a Coca Cola commercial. That'd be fun."
Jake Newby can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8538.
This story originally published to pnj.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.