Artist Mark Cordory is based in United Kingdom and creates some of the most fascinating post-apocalyptic COSTUMES, PROPS & PUPPETS FOR FILM, TV, STAGE & LARP. During this interview we dig deep into the mysteries and beauty of his creative expression through this medium.
Artist Mark Cordory
The Artist Interviews Project by Robot Outlaw is part of an ongoing series of interviews with artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians, business people and other professionals to examine the underlying motivation and inspiration of creative people.
First of all, huge thanks for accepting my invitation to do this interview Mark.
I’ve been following you on Twitter for some time, and I’m absolutely blown away by the quality and detail of your work.
My goal for this interview is to learn about your interests, experiences and background, and discover how the people in your life, places and events may have contributed to your creativity.
With that in mind, let’s get into some questions about your work.
Thanks for the opportunity to answer some very interesting (and challenging) questions!
Early Life Experiences of Artist Mark Cordory
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Gloucestershire in the UK
Please describe a favorite place from childhood that you can easily visualize and explain how this might have impacted your creative energy?
It was probably the Forest of Dean (where I now live with my wife). My Father used to take me camping here when I was young, it gave me my love of the outdoors, exploration and the countryside. How did it affect my creative energy? I guess the process of exploration, finding and discovering was inspiring as a child.
What era did you grow up?
I was born in the 60’s but the 70’s was where I began to really discover my passions and interests.
What is your earliest memory, anchored to your creativity or craft?
Probably making a ghost train out of cardboard boxes and packing crates in my back garden and then inviting my friends to try it out?
What inspired you to start your journey of artistic expression?
Difficult to say what my earliest inspiration was, but I have fond childhood memories of the Friday night Double Creature Feature on television back in the 70’s, my parents would often catch me sitting on the stairs watching the TV through the banisters when I should’ve been asleep in bed. Eventually they relented and I was allowed to watch one of my choice, watching those old Hammer Horror and Universal films definitely gave me my enduring love of monsters and classic horror films. Some of them such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Quatermass and the Pit and The Haunting are still among my all-time favorite films.
Who do you consider your biggest influence?
That’s a really difficult question to answer since I’ve been influenced by so many people and artists over the years, but I guess if I were to have to narrow it down to the earliest then I would have to include Roger Dean for his work on album covers and architecture, HR Giger for his truly inspirational and (at the time) unique artwork, especially on Alien (even though it’s now been pastiched so heavily since), Brian Froud for all of his work that translates so beautifully to puppets in films such as The Dark Crystal.
In personal terms, working with some of the individuals in my career such as Bill Talbot who taught me so much in terms of construction techniques back in the 90’s when I worked for him at Talismen Studios in Cardiff and concept artists such as Matt Savage and Peter McKinstry who I worked with on Doctor Who – they’ve all helped give me valuable insights into the design and construction processes.
Can you pinpoint a moment in your life, that might have contributed to your creativity.
I honestly can’t pinpoint a single moment. As far back as I can remember I was always drawing or making things, it’s just what I’ve always done.
What was your first job and did it influence your creativity in any way?
I guess my first real ‘job’ was the one I started after I left my higher education/degree? I was involved in creating Mythlore, a Live Action Role Play group back in the mid 80’s after visiting Treasure Trap (one of the first LARP systems that ran in the UK at Peckforton Castle, as close as you could hope to get to experience D&D ‘for real’ back then). It really inspired me to explore the potential of immersive gaming back in its early, formative years and gave me the opportunity to create costumes, masks and develop my storytelling skills – it didn’t last for more than a couple of years (this was pre-internet so getting known and advertising your games was hard work back then) but it taught me a lot and it’s been a system/game world that I’ve re-visited on numerous occasions and events over the years since. After that it would have to be my work for Talismen Studios in Cardiff; a small props and puppet making company where I got to work on my first UK TV and film productions such as Knightmare & Maid Marian and Her Merry Men and also to do work for interesting clients such as Iron Maiden etc.
Interests and Influences
What music do you listen to?
All sorts. Since I grew up in the 60’s/70’s then Rock (and Prog Rock for which I offer no apologies and still listen to) were very early influences, but these days I like to think I have a very broad and eclectic taste in music from Trance and Electronic to Country, Reggae, Classic Rock, Blues and Pop – if I like it I’ll listen to it.
What is your favorite movie? Why?
I can’t give you a single film that’s my favorite above all others, but definitely on my list of all-time favorites I’d have to include Alien, The Haunting (the original, not the truly dire re-make), The 5th Element, Quatermass and The Pit, Mad Max Fury Road, Dawn of the Dead (the original, although the re-make is still excellent), The Evil Dead (again the original, the re-make was a joyless affair I felt), The Dark Crystal, The Lord of the Rings trilogy – all for differing reasons, but all great films in their own right.
What is your favorite book? Who is your favorite author?
Again, impossible to answer; different books and different authors for different reasons and different times in my life. Tolkien, Clive Barker, China Mieville, Terry Pratchett, Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, Douglas Adams, Charles Stross, HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, Iain M Banks…
Who is your favorite character, from a book, movie or game? Please explain how you relate to that character and why they are important to you.
Probably the earliest I remember was The Grey Mouser from Fritz Lieber’s The Swords Series I guess? I always enjoyed playing rogue-types in my tabletop games and he was probably the archetype I aspired to both in my tabletop and my early LARP characters. Since then – hard to say, I still enjoy the rogue-ish type although they tend to be in a post apocalyptic setting these days. I guess I enjoy a character that’s more light-hearted than the dour, beard-scratching type – personally I need to find the fun in a ‘fantasy’ role if I’m playing one, there’s enough to be grim about in the real world without the need to bring that into an escapist one no matter what the setting may be.
What do you fear most?
Greed and a lack of empathy fucking up our world.
Why is that your greatest fear?
We have one small lump of rock to live on, there’s no Plan B and if we don’t get our shit together then the future is pretty much screwed.
World Building – The Creative Process of Artist Mark Cordory
Is every piece you make a one-off, or are you able to produce multiple copies of your creations?
Generally I prefer one-offs. I’ve done a lot of mass-production pieces over the years in the film industry but I get bored with that really quickly these days, I have too many ideas I want to try out to spend my life re-making things I’ve already made. Inevitably I’ll get orders for things that people have seen that I’ve made previously, but I try hard not to just make straight duplicates, I’m always trying to create pieces that are unique even if they’re echoing themes I’ve already explored.
Many of the items you incorporate into your designs are “Salvaged” from junkyards, yard sales, thrift stores and other secondhand outlets. How do you spot a piece that’s worth using in one of your creations?
I guess I have a good eye for shapes. This was something I developed whilst working on Doctor Who; we had minimal budgets and even less facilities available to work with. You learned to spot shapes in other things and see how they could fit together to create an existing design, very few things were ever built from absolute scratch since we didn’t have access to the tools or the budget/schedule to work that way most of the time. This is something I’ve carried over into my Post Apocalyptic work and it’s why I chose the name SALVAGED as the brand for my work in that genre. I feel it kind of sums up how I work and I think it fits the overall concept of the genre – finding cast-off things and re-purposing them.
How much time do you typically invest in a project from start to finish?
That completely depends on the individual job; there’s time spent conceptualizing a piece, time spent in discussion with a client, budgetary and schedule limitations, time spent finding the right elements to use for a build, construction time, ageing and distressing – it all takes as long as it needs to (or has to) really.
How much does one of your creations cost, if someone wanted to buy one?
Again, that depends entirely upon the individual job. I have a commercial rate and a personal use rate per day plus materials costs, what I charge depends on the end use and of course on what budget the client has available to spend.
Besides making costumes and props, what other activities do you engage in to express your creativity?
To be honest, my work is the main outlet for my creativity. If I’m not making something for a client the chances are I’ll be making something for myself instead. I really do just enjoy the process of creating things whether it’s for myself or someone else.
Where do you get your ideas for your creations?
Everywhere. Honestly, there’s no one source to get inspiration from. In the past (before the internet) I had a large collection of horror and SciFi movie books which I used to read over and over and get inspired by. Since the advent of the internet it can be all sorts of sources; books, films, the work of other artists, things I find at flea markets or even just lying on a beach somewhere – anything really.
What is your mindset when starting a new project?
I usually start with a general concept for a piece (such as my recent insect-themed post apocalyptic costume for this year’s Wasteland Weekend festival) but I prefer to let pieces like this evolve rather than have a hard and fast end design in mind. After so many years working in the TV and Film industries working to other people’s designs, it’s nice to just let my mind explore possibilities as I work. Evolution is definitely a process I use a lot in my work.
Do you do much research before starting a project and what does that involve?
If it’s for a personal project then as I say, I begin with a general concept and allow it to evolve as I work on it, I’ll have images that inspire me in certain details; a silhouette, a nice area of specific detailing, whatever that might be. However, if it’s a commission for a client then I usually encourage them to send me a ‘mood board’ of images from sources like Pinterest to give me a general insight into what they’re after.
Do you create backstories for your projects?
I guess I like creating ‘function’ to my pieces; I’m not a fan of purely decorative detailing, I like costumes and items to look as if they’re practical. Maybe it’s remnants of pipework on a helmet or costume that might have been connected to some sort of larger life support system for instance, or fragments of stenciling that imply previous military or industrial use. Creating for the Post Apocalyptic genre is all about re-purposing; salvaging things from the remains of a previous civilization and making them perform a new function. So there’s generally an inherent back story to be told in the pieces I make – I think a costume that tells a tale is something I’m always striving for, whether that’s in the pieces I use in its construction or the ageing and distressing I add – make it look as if it’s already had a life long before you see it for the first time.
Do your pieces have any practical functions or are they mainly just to look cool?
I guess this links in with your previous question. Beyond the aesthetic details, yes, I always want a costume to have function. If it’s a respirator mask with a practical air pump that keeps you cool (as in the one on my own costume), a hood that will keep the rain off you (or protect you from the desert sun in the Mojave), hydration packs or useful torches built in to the kit – if you’re going to be wearing a costume for any length of time then it needs to be practical to wear, it definitely has to be ‘clothing’ rather than ‘fancy dress’. I also like adaptability in a costume; elements that can be added or removed depending upon the situation you’re in, this is very important to my design process but it’s often something you only discover after wearing something for a while, you realize small additions or adjustments that will make life more comfortable for the wearer.
A lot of your work seems to lean towards post-apocalyptic fiction. What draws you to these types of stories?
When I first started I think it was the Swords & Sorcery genre that most attracted me, that’s certainly where most of my earlier work was coming from. However, I think there’s been a general increase in interest in the PA genre in most media, whether this is a zeitgeist thing reflective of our general concerns for the future (similar to the movie fascination with the atomic bomb threat seen in the 50’s) or not I don’t know, I suspect so. I guess from a creative perspective, it just seems to dovetail nicely into the way I work and I like the creative possibilities it offers.
Are there any other genres you would like to work in?
Like I say, I’ve done a LOT of ‘High Fantasy’ work over the years, but I think I’m struggling to be inspired by that these days, I’ve sort of burnt out on it a bit? I’ve done a fair bit of horror stuff too over the years, but prosthetics are a particular skill, not necessarily one I excel in and there’s a lot of sculpting and casting and materials skills that I don’t currently have time to develop in a way that I would really like. Maybe I’ll return to it at some point and I still make the occasional creature costume for LARP which is fun.
I’ve also dabbled in Steampunk a bit but I must admit that it felt too ‘decorative’ rather than practical in many of the pieces I was seeing; a few cogs here and there, a bit of brass, some goggles and a top hat? I know there are still some wonderful pieces out there in this genre, and I’m certainly not disparaging it or those who work in that genre, but it just didn’t really catch my imagination at the time – I may revisit it if something inspires me but for now it’s not high on my priority list. I guess if I were to explore another genre it would probably be Cyberpunk? I’d definitely need to do it as a collaboration between myself and people with the relevant electronics skills, but I can see a lot of things that capture my imagination in that genre.
Oh man, I would love to see some Cyberpunk work by you. I have a long and growing fascination with that genre myself. Anything futuristic is so inspiring and interesting to me – Hopefully the opportunity will come at some point soon.
I’ve found that many of the creative people that I interview have exceedingly vivid imaginations, with a desire to impact the future. Do you consider yourself a futurist?
I’m not sure I would call myself a ‘futurist’? I’m constantly trying to come up with new ideas and approaches in my work rather than re-hashing old ideas, but isn’t that what any creative person tries to do?
Do you feel that writers, filmmakers and artists have a responsibility to address religious / political / social issues in their stories?
Personally? Not really. I would say that’s more the remit for storytellers and authors in any medium, as someone who works mostly in 3D creativity, if anything like that finds its way into my work it’s rarely a conscious decision on my part.
What do you consider the greatest threat to the planet, and will it end the world as we know it, or can humanity pull back from the brink before it’s too late?
I definitely think there’s a growing concern and realization that what we’re doing to this planet is having a seriously detrimental effect to its future and that effect is accelerating with the potential consequences seemingly closer now than ever before. I think greed, a serious lack of empathy and general short-termism amongst those who hold the power in this world are driving us to a potentially bad place. Nationalism, mistrust of ‘The Other’, general tribalism, personal greed; they’re all things detrimental to a positive future working together to try and sort our shit out.
If you could create a character to deal with that issue, what would that character look like?
Unlike most of the people in power at present.
Professional vs Personal Projects
What do your day to day responsibilities look like?
Check emails, deal with enquiries, cost jobs, make things – repeat.
How do you transition from business owner and all its responsibilities, to the creative force behind these fantastic designs?
It’s a constant juggling trick. The day-to-day realities of running a business are many and they rarely coincide with sitting down at a workbench and producing the things that actually make you money, but they have to be done – accounting, dealing with enquiries, ordering materials, keeping your online profile active and engaging. You just have to try to keep a practical balance between all the demands.
What helps you make that transition?
Generally I try to get the office work out of the way at the start of the day and then get into the workshop and stay there for as long as possible. But you never really put the work aside when you’re self-employed, the creative process is always on-going in your head, even when you’re supposedly on holiday, it never really stops (just ask my wife).
Do personal hobbies and interests influence your professional work and vice versa?
My main hobby is probably still LARP and that will always have an influence upon my work and vice versa, many of the items and costumes I create are destined for that hobby. I also watch a lot of films and play games if I have time, designs and concepts in those sorts of media inevitably feed back into my own work.
Do you feel that emerging technologies like Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence have effectively penetrated Film, Art and Gaming? Or are we years from seeing significant changes in these areas?
The development of gaming technology is probably the thing I’m most excited about; having grown up on early tabletop gaming, been there at pretty much the birth of LARP and seen the advances made in computer gaming over the past few decades, I can see so many possibilities.
Whether we’ll ever see something like Dream Park (a fully interactive gaming theme park with Disney-scale budgets and technology to invest in it) is probably doubtful, but I’d love to think that something like that could be possible in the future? I think I’d prefer the fusion of real-life gaming with an augmented reality overlay rather than the Ready Player One total VR version, but both technologies seem to be making huge progress all the time so who knows?
Have you worked with or tried to integrate these technologies into your projects? Or do you plan to do so in the future?
I love the emerging technologies such as VR and advances in electronics, these aren’t areas I have much personal skill in, but I can always turn to others with those skills if I want to incorporate them into something I’m building – generally budget will be the main determining factor as to whether I’m able to use them though. I do love seeing their inclusion in LARP however, there are definitely some interesting uses of technology being incorporated into the hobby these days which I’m all for.
How do you think these technologies will eventually impact your industry?
They already have. When CGI really became a viable alternative to practical FX you saw a lot of movies turning to that instead of the more ‘traditional’ approaches. It worked well in creating things that would be physically impossible to recreate in any other way (such as the full-body dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park or the T1000 in Terminator 2 for instance) but it felt like it quickly became the only tool in the box for many films and they suffered as a result. When you look at films such as An American Werewolf in London or compare John Carpenter’s The Thing to the later prequel there’s really no comparison.
I always think that practical FX are like really good stage magic; You know you’re being tricked but you can’t figure out how and there’s a genuine sense of wonder in that. When all that’s being used is CGI (no matter how good it is) you know that’s what it is and I feel much of the magic is lost as a result. CGI definitely has its place in the tool box, it can create amazing things, but I feel it’s always best when it’s used in conjunction with practical FX or used to enhance them, it all feels much more real like that. Thankfully there seems to have been a real drift back to the use of both over recent years and as a result the CGI works so much better, just look at the Lord Of The Rings films – they created moments of pure magic with a very careful and clever use of both approaches.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most?
I guess I enjoy seeing the final stages of a build coming together, that point where you know for sure that the original concept is really working, but there’s pleasure in all stages of the creation process, from assembling the pieces to ageing them all down.
What motivates you to continue creating art day after day, and what do you consider the greatest reward for your efforts?
Well, foremost I guess the biggest motivation is earning a living? This is my full-time job. The crafting community is full of hobbyists, some of them incredibly talented, but I would say that those of us trying to make a full-time living from their art in this area are in the minority.
However, I wouldn’t say that the biggest reward is the money (although obviously that’s kind of crucial too), for me it’s the pleasure I get as an artist in seeing people enjoy my work, in creating a new, unique piece, in having the genuine privilege of being able to do something I love and am passionate about as a career.
What is your dream job?
This one? Seriously though, I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing this and to have such a supportive wife who understands my creative passions and drive. I’ve also been lucky enough to achieve a number of lifetime goals that I never thought I’d manage; probably the biggest is running the Props Fabrication dept for Doctor Who when it returned to our screens. As a child in the UK I grew up on Doctor Who, the thought that I might one day actually get to work on the series, let alone be in charge of a whole department would’ve made my younger self jump for joy! I guess if there was something else I’d like to have the opportunity to work on it would probably be in a main role in the art dept on a production like Mad Max – a nice big production in the PA genre to add to my CV?
What advice would you give someone interested in starting a career as a costume / prop designer?
Build up a portfolio of your own work, show any potential employer or degree course what you’re capable of off your own back. Show your range of skills, show your passion for your work, your motivation and if possible show you’re able to work as part of a larger team. If you want to work in the TV or Film industry then nobody works in isolation so collaboration and teamwork are important skills, but most importantly you need to show what you’re capable of – personally I’d choose a prospective employee that can show me a good range of practical skills and a lot of motivation over someone with a piece of paper with a degree printed on it, every time.
Connecting With Readers
Please talk about your methods of building your audience. Have those strategies evolved over time, or do you have a formula that’s worked since the beginning? How do you feel about social media?
Getting noticed is hard work, it’s as much of a full time job as actually making the things sometimes. However, you have to be selective in the platforms you focus on. Personally I have my own website which acts as a hub and the main point of contact for me, but attracting people to that hub takes effort. Facebook Pages is probably my first point of call as a platform but it certainly has its limitations.
I would say Pintrest is currently one of the best platforms for getting your work seen, it’s a great source for visual inspiration and as a result a lot of professional clients will look to it as a source of ideas. One of the main things I ensure is to add watermarks to all my work, and I mean ALL my work. Sadly the internet is often seen as a free source of images, many of them are shared without crediting the original source or even badly cropped, so if you don’t include your details on an image of your own work it can very quickly become anonymous online.
Instagram is a major culprit for this with its square image format which is why I’ve now resorted to making every image I produce, of my work, square rather than 4×6 format. This way it’s far more likely that a shared image will still carry my details and thus enable people to find me easily online if they’re interested in enquiring further, no matter where they see my work.
I think it’s fantastic that you actively engage with your audience on Twitter and Instagram. When did you start doing this? Has this helped your business in any way?
It wasn’t ever really a conscious decision to engage with people online, if people are kind enough to take time to get in touch or comment on your work why wouldn’t you respond? We’re all just people in the end. If being open to answering questions helps encourage people to approach you to enquire about potential work then all the better.
Of course some platforms are obviously better than others for conversations, some are better for just showcasing pictures, each has their merit I guess, you soon get to discover which approach works best for which platform. I would say that Pinterest has possibly generated the most international business enquiries, but Instagram is probably the fastest growing platform in terms of followers for me. Facebook probably offers the best platform for conversations and general engagement but their algorithms certainly don’t make it easy these days.
What other methods of connecting with people do you engage in, to help increase your audience?
Occasionally I’ll attend festivals such as OldTown in Poland or Wasteland Weekend in the States and I have others such as Junk Town and Road To Ruin that are on my to-do list, it’s always nice when people can see your work ‘in the flesh’ and you can get to talk to people properly in these sorts of environments. I’ve been interviewed on a few podcasts, had articles in one or two publications and I’ve attended a few conventions as a guest speaker or a trader but, whilst fun, these all take time away from your workbench and in the end it’s the things I sell that pay the bills. But generally I like to think I’m approachable wherever I may be and I guess that’s as important as anything?
Have you collaborated with other artists, or would you consider collaborating with others on future projects? If so, what are you looking for in a collaborative Partner?
Obviously during my work with TV and Film productions I’ve been part of a collaborative team on frequent occasions and also when I’ve been involved in running my various LARP (Live Action Role Play) events. These days I tend to work more alone, but if the right project came along I’d certainly consider another collaboration, you definitely get more opportunity to bounce ideas around when you’re part of a group and I do enjoy the process. What would I be looking for in a collaboration? Lots of fresh ideas and a real passion from the people I’m working with I guess?
How can people find out more about you, and if they’re interested how can they connect with you?
My main point of contact is my website at www.markcordory.com, this is where I direct everyone if they have enquiries for work or commissions and it also has fairly comprehensive galleries of my work to date, but you can also find me on a number of platforms, mainly:
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/markcordorycreations
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarkCordoryCreations
- Pintrest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/markcordory
Thanks for the opportunity to answer all of these questions – it’s been fun.