Thursday, March 26, 2009

Furry Weekend Atlanta Observations

This past weekend I attended my very first “Furry” convention, Furry Weekend Atlanta ’09. Over the years I’ve been to a great many comic book conventions and sci-fi & gaming conventions and even to several Manga & Anime conventions, but never to a Furry convention. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been told that Furry conventions were different for Anime conventions. And I’m here to report that they are indeed very different, not in a bad way, but rather in a very interesting way.

The term Furry has evolved from a love for anthropomorphic cartoon characters. In case you are not familiar with the term anthropomorphic, it is a word used to describe animal characters who act and in many cases look like humans. It is the art of humanizing animals or other creatures like fish (Finding Nemo) or insects (A Bugs Life) or even inanimate objects like a tea pot (Beauty and the Beast). So in many ways Furry is not a new movement but these conventions are a new form of cultural phenomena. Furries are people who like to go beyond the love of other people’s cartoon characters. They, in many cases, like animal characters so much that they invent and create their own anthropomorphic persona. They visualize themselves as a character and then proceed to evolve that character into physical existence.

My daughter, Rachel, is an aspiring cartoonist who has created a web comic called Last Resort. It is a very interesting fantasy tale set in the world of Reality Shows gone wild. Like any cartoonist wanting to increase their comic’s readership, Rachel attends many conventions and promotes her work. I accompanied her to Furry Weekend Atlanta ’09 as a supportive father and as a curious observer.

Rachel's booth in the Dealer's Room at Furry Weekend Atlanta

The first thing that you observe at a Furry convention is that it is much like stepping into a hotel fully of strange but very friendly human like animals. I described it to a friend as it’s sort of like a sports mascot convention, but not actually. These characters aren’t sports mascots or even Disney characters but rather they are unique individually customized character personalities. Pretty much reflecting the creative personality of the person inside the “fur suit” itself. That’s a definite Furry term, fur suit. A fur suit is a costume that is lovingly assembled or constructed by a furry in an evolutionary process of bringing their individual vision to reality. In my own observations of furry behavior at the convention I have concluded that there is a sequence of steps that most furries follow in their transformation from plain Jane or plain Joe to their furry incarnation.

These two brothers traveled a long way to be at Furry Weekend Atlanta. They are die-hard furries and I learned a great deal about furry culture by talking with them. Thanks guys.

The first and most important step is the visualization phase where the want-to-be furry starts to create a character. This usually entails making sketches and drawings of the character in 2D. Often the commissioning of one or more artists to draw renderings of a character idea is the next step. This is often reflected in the creation and wearing of these renderings as “con” (convention) badges.

Here is a proud furry displaying his character on his con badges

The next step I observed is to start the long and often rather expensive task of finding and procuring bits and pieces of a fur suit. Often the jumping in point is to get a tail. Tails are universally the first piece of fur wear that furries seem to acquire and they are everywhere to be seen at a Furry convention. (click on the arrow to view the slides)

After getting a tail, the next usual piece of furry attire is often a set of ears followed by paws or forearms. I suspect that over a period of months and more likely years of hard work and saving up lots of money to make acquisitions, the true of heart furry finally builds up or buys a custom created fur suit.

There is no wonder after the time, expense and care that go into the creation of a fur suit that furries love to wear them at the convention and the love to be praised and shown lots of attention. No matter what kind of character a furry assumes, at heart they are all “hams”. If you aim a camera in their direction they start striking poses and performing.

One interesting observation of furry behavior is all the hugging. Furries really like to hug. I asked several people “what makes furries so affectionate?” and the response was that it is not really easy to talk and communicate in a fur suit so physical gestures like hugging and head patting are a significant form of expression. At a furry convention, it is the one place where people get their heads rubbed and patted by the dogs instead of the other way around. (click on the arrow to view the slides)

Unlike an Anime convention where people love to dress up as their favorite Anime film character, there are few people at a Furry convention who choose to dress as someone else’s character. And furries aren’t as focused on watching videos or even reading comics. They are more oriented to being a big part of the show not just watching it.

I would be remiss to not mention that there is a more adult side to a Furry convention but I choose to focus my observations on the childlike innocence aspects and I’ll let someone else chronicle the “dark side” of the force. (click on the arrow to view the slides)

Yes, a Furry convention is different from other types of media and entertainment conventions like Sci-fi, Gaming, Comic Book or Anime conventions. Furry conventions are very focused on role playing and role play exchanges. But even saying that, furries aren’t playing the role of other people’s characters. They are playing the role of their own inner most personal character. They are the character they want to be, the expression of the persona they can’t be in normal daily life. In most cases, furries out of costume and character are very shy and introverted folks. But when the fur suit or fur attire goes on they flip a switch and it’s “show time”.

Some furries add plush puppets to their ensemble, this fellow entertained me with his furry pal.



Blogger Kyle said...

How curious, I stumble across your website looking for tips on animating flour sacks - then I click onto the front page and find another of my interests, furries.

11:45 PM  
Blogger cyan said...

This is my favorite con of all times I love FWA and every one that go's. You even got a pichture of me out of suit hugging my friend Frisbee. I am so glade you had a positive experience at are con, and hope you come back to us for many years to come.

7:58 PM  

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