The digital art group bringing cosplay to life in Dubai

Friends Saif Zulfiqar and Aeron Costaa are behind the passion project Phantasm Photography Art

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Superman, Shazam and Black Adam are just some of the superhero cosplayers artists Saif Zulfiqar and Aeron Costaa, who live in Dubai, have taken on as part of a passion project.

The pair, who work under the name Phantasm Photography Art, use their skills to help cosplayers in the UAE. They run photoshoots and digitally enhance the pictures. Think images such as DC's Black Adam with lightning bolts coming out of his chest or X-Men's Cyclops with lasers beaming from his eyes.

“Initially, it was just something we did with our friends and other cosplayers we knew at the time,” Costaa tells The National. “We were just doing it because we’d see a lot of people getting their pictures taken at conventions and there would be this thought like: ‘Hey, you know what, I have this image in my mind and I’d really like to get it out’.

“Eventually, we were encouraged by a lot of people to just start this as an official project.”

While Phantasm Photography Art officially began in late 2019, they've been around longer. These days, the pair meet up with cosplayers at events and help them create a specific vision for what they want the end photo result to look like.

Aeron Costaa and Saif Zulfiqar. Photo: Phantasm Photography Art

Costaa says the photoshoots are the easy part and typically do not take very long. They can last anywhere between 30 seconds to 30 minutes.

“We look at the art placed in front of us and we are able to visualise it as if it were a movie scene or a comic strip and that’s one of our biggest strengths. The post-production part is the area that is more time consuming,” says Costaa.

“During shoots, our biggest priority is making the person we’re photographing feel comfortable and, in doing so, we’ve seen that pay off in our images as well as in the responses from the community. It’s important that people feel like it's a safe space to express themselves.”

Zulfiqar calls it a “dynamic operation” because of the collaborative efforts from all parties involved.

“Generally, it takes a lot of time for the editing process as we want it to look as close to our own vision as possible and reach our own standard of perfection,” he says. “That could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on how big or crazy we want to take it.”

During post-production, they use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and other tools if needed. While they also have a vast library of assets, effects and stocks, sometimes they need to be creative on their own.

“Both Aeron and myself are also avid digital artists so sometimes, when we can’t find what we’re looking for online or in our library, we end up painting our own assets into the scene. Sometimes it's props, or it can even be things that are on the cosplayers themselves. We try to make it look very cohesive and proper,” says Zulfiqar.

“We have the most fun during this stage honestly because we get to play around with different colours, textures and visuals and that's where all the magic happens.”

The positive feedback from the cosplay community is one of the best responses to their work. What makes this even more special is the two artists are also cosplayers themselves. Costaa says he enjoys the feeling of escaping ordinary life by getting to be someone else, even if just for a day, while Zulfiqar likes being able to embody his favourite characters from TV and film with other like-minded individuals.

"I feel a lot of people don’t understand how much work goes into cosplays. I think it's impressive that people love something so much that they go and pick up new skills, find materials, buy or build themselves these costumes and props just to be that character for a day," says Zulfiqar.

"That’s raw passion and I think that's something that people who don’t cosplay might not understand. We try to combat this misunderstanding by trying to shine a light on these amazing individuals and their fantastic hard work."

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Updated: August 09, 2022, 7:10 AM