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A marvel on wheels: Man creates cosplay costumes

by BETH N. GRAY Special to the Tampa Bay Times on July 27, 2014 1:50 AM

In the world of cosplay — that’s costume play — “I don’t know what I’m doing,” Ronald Seaman maintains. Yet, others in the field are lining up to ask him how he does it.

The “it” is the designing, building and techno-accessorizing of other-worldly costumes that replicate characters in war-themed video games and movies.

An admitted novice in the craft, Seaman, 53, concocts his costumes from foam board, spongy floor mats, recycled plastic soda bottles, bits of copper wire, even a sink stopper. Such materials alone test the imagination. But the disabled, retired 25-year Army sergeant from Spring Hill, Fla., repurposes them into characters around his wheelchair.

Seaman was not long out of military hospitals for treatment of nerve damage three years ago when he and his family — wife, Barbara, and five adult children — gathered for a vacation in Orlando.

“We kept seeing these characters all dressed up, and I wondered how,” Seaman recalled recently. “My son — he’s a graphic artist, Ronald III — said it would interest me.”

With a satisfied sigh, the former Special Operations paratrooper added, “It pretty much saved my life.”

“I went from the top of my game as a paratrooper to this,” he gestured, frankly and without rancor, to his wheelchair.

Because of the clandestine nature of Special Ops, Seaman said he isn’t permitted to say where he served or what he did.

His disabilities, mainly central nervous system vertigo and other nerve damage that affect his mobility, are service related. He is wheelchair bound.

But his ability to imagine how things work and creatively design their parts is boundless.

“Since I don’t know how to do it, I do it any way I can,” Seaman said from his home workshop, a converted bedroom.

Drawing on his military background, he built a replication of a Cog soldier from the video game Gears of War. He aimed to exhibit it at MetroCon, a convention of cosplay aficionados in Tampa last July.

There, as his wife unloaded the techno-creature’s components and Seaman began assembling them on the curb, “I got mobbed,” he said.

He still wonders why, but concedes, “It was pretty massive. It was a full suit of armor. The whole chair was done up. People started asking me questions and I didn’t even know the words they were saying.”

Urged to compete in costume judging at the convention, he gave it a soldier’s best.

Rolling across the stage, Seaman fired his mock weapon, startling the audience and judges with a bang and a flash of fire. He won second place among more than 100 entrants.

On he rolled to MegaCon, an anime convention, in Orlando, Fla. in March. Not only did he win Judges’ Choice, but found himself giving a half-hour impromptu lecture on design and construction techniques.

“I keep telling them I’m a beginner,” he said. “They think I can inspire people who are new.”

That said, he plans to join the sci-fi and fantasy cosplayer parade at DragonCon in Atlanta next month.

Seaman will be dressed in his most lavish and extraordinary costume to date, that of Silverback, a heroic-sized fully armored robo-warrior with a helmet housing monitors for peripheral sight, a camera mounted on its head, an interior air and cooling system, plus lighting and sound-wired clomping feet outside his chair wheels.

Seaman said his next challenge is to do something for kids, especially handicapped children. Already, he has responded to the request of a girl who saw photos of his productions on Facebook. She wants her wheelchair equipped with special tires that Seaman designed.

Seaman said he never harks back to “what if.”

“I don’t count what I don’t have,” he said.

Gesturing to the make-believe characters towering around him, he declared: “If I hadn’t been put in a wheelchair, I’d have never found this.”

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