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The Lifeline

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Our Neighbor Totoro

Featured Photo from Our Neighbor Totoro

Longwood’s John Taylor gets a celebrity makeover... just not quite how you’d expect.

Publisher’s note: John is the husband of Lake Mary Life’s very own community director, Samantha Taylor. But, with a story this good, we couldn’t hold that against him! So please indulge us, if you will, as we share this fun and funny experience from a great Longwood neighbor who also happens to be a member of the extended LML family.

Have you ever wanted to wear a really cool costume for Halloween? Like a really, REALLY cool costume? Multiply that feeling by about 10, add some creative science and engineering, plus a meeting with one of your celebrity idols, and it equates to the experience John “JT” Taylor had earlier this summer at the world-famous Comic-Con International in San Diego.

JT, a software engineer at Electronic Arts in Maitland, has always been a creator – someone who just has to make things. So it’s no surprise that he found inspiration in former MythBusters TV show host Adam Savage’s YouTube channel, called Tested. That’s where Adam, a special effects designer, explores and recreates anything and everything from science, technology, and pop culture.

In late 2016, JT watched a Tested episode in which Adam created a life-size costume of the popular Japanese anime character Totoro from the film My Neighbor Totoro. The creative itch flared, and JT knew just how to scratch it. He called his friend, Ken Chen, and the two decided to work together to simultaneously build two Totoro costumes. A little over a year later, their Totoros were beginning to take shape. 
“We love Totoro in my house. 

It’s sacred,” JT says of the project’s appeal.

A self-professed geek, JT explains that you can geek-out about anything – it simply means loving something so much that you go deep into that subject.

“And mine happens to be technology, pop culture, and movies,” says JT, “so this combined all those things!”

“I had my doubts,” JT’s wife Samantha says of her husband’s idea. “And then, six months later, Totoro was standing in my living room! JT had never cosplayed before [dressing up as a character to attend an event like Comic-Con]. So he went from never cosplaying to making one of the most intense, involved costumes possible. But in full JT fashion, he went all in. And I was really proud of him that he pulled it off.”

The plan was to have the Totoros ready for a grand debut at MegaCon in Orlando at the end of May. Although Adam’s build was finished in 14 hours, JT estimates that it took a solid six months and well north of 200 man-hours before his Totoro was finally complete. Even though Adam included instructions and plans for the build on his website, JT and Ken found that many details for things like materials and measurements were missing. Figuring out all the missing pieces was the most frustrating aspect of the build. But they pushed forward with creative solutions and dogged determination. 

Building such a complex creation required a variety of skills, most of which the guys had to learn as they went. They figured out how to set up video systems, fabricate backpack/harnessing contraptions, and create elements of the costume out of household objects. Most notably, JT actually learned how to sew (with a few lessons from his mom). The guys also employed their friend Chris Quagliani to teach them how to sculpt foam.

Nearing the end of his build, on a whim, JT decided to send Adam a message on Twitter: “Almost done with my Totoro. Will there be a meet up at San Diego Comic-Con?”

To JT’s complete and utter surprise, the celebrity responded, “I love this idea!”
Adam and Tested then retweeted JT’s suggestion, and a Totoro meet up was organized for San Diego’s Comic-Con International in July. JT and Samantha, along with Ken and his wife Christy, had already planned to attend the Con, now they had to figure out how to bring two six-foot-tall, 50-inch-wide Totoros on the trip, too. (The answer was FedEx.)

Amidst all the excitement, JT and Ken debuted their Totoro costumes at MegaCon right on schedule.

“Walking the convention floor and hearing people’s reactions – when they literally squeal with delight at seeing Totoro – that was the most satisfying part,” says JT. “It was so much fun because it brought happiness to so many people.”

In July, the Taylors and the Chens flew to San Diego to meet Adam Savage and enjoy Comic-Con. They had lots of interaction with the creative icon and time to ask him detailed questions about his Totoro build. Seven other Totoros joined the meet up and Tested filmed it all for its YouTube channel, all coincidentally on JT’s birthday.
“Meeting Adam and being a part of the Totoro army was the highlight of it all for me,” JT says.

The Totoro costume has become part of the Taylor family now, and even Samantha admits that she missed the creature when he wasn’t in the living room. The project was also a unique lesson for the Taylor kids who got to watch their dad take an assemblage of materials and, over time, transform it into something special.

The Taylor family can’t wait to visit more Comic-Cons around the country, and JT and Ken have already started thinking about their next big cosplay project.

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