Wednesday, January 20, 2016

DisEnvy Interview: Traci Hines

Traci Hines has made a name for herself over the past few years. With videos going back 7 years on YouTube,  Traci started small and worked her way to the prominent figure in the Disney fanbase, with her own take on the classic Disney songs. Watching her videos, you see that Traci has even taken the looks of the characters to become her own, so much so, that she created her own clothing line that you see many young girls wearing in the parks. We were lucky to have Traci answer a few questions for us. Please go and support this wonderful and talented artist!

What is your history with Disney and makes you so passionate about the Disney Culture?

I've been a Disney fan ever since I can remember. I think Snow White was the first movie my mom ever took me to see in theaters. My parents tell me I made them play Cinderella on repeat. As a toddler my favorite song to sing was "I've Got No Strings" from Pinocchio. But it wasn't until I saw The Little Mermaid (in theaters!) when I was about 4 years old that I remember actually feeling that Disney magic. I saw something in Ariel that went beyond make believe. I knew someone had to give that beautiful animated mermaid her voice, and I decided that was what I wanted to do one day...sing and give my voice to cartoons! I became inspired and very driven from a young age towards music and voice acting. And even though I was already "designing" Disney princess gowns (with crayons and coloring book pages) for my grandmother to sew for me back then, I had no idea that I would still be wearing them today! 

I'm not exactly sure why Disney specifically became the fandom that I gravitated most to, both as a kid and still to this day, but I think it's because the classic Disney films, at least my favorites, always took me away to fantasy worlds. In Disney movies anything can happen. There is also so much nostalgia wrapped up in Disney for me. Especially with the movies Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. The notion of never growing up, exploring new worlds, storytelling through music and finding true love and happy endings are all things that speak to me deeply. I'm a dreamer and an optimist, and I love the ideals that Disney instilled in me and countless others like me who've grown up with it: Anything is possible.  It might sound cliche, but I love getting lost in a fairytale, and I love the feeling that I get when I explore these films and characters. I find bits of myself in so many of them, and find so much inspiration in their stories.

What got you into cosplaying and what was your response when you started getting recognized as a prominent role in the community?

I always say that I've been cosplaying my whole life, because my obsession with dressing up in a costume began when I was a little girl...only thing was, I never grew out of it. But for me, costuming has always been attached to performing. I often refrain from calling myself a cosplayer because I'm honestly not quite sure that I am one. (Shocker! I know! haha). It depends on your definition of cosplay I suppose. Most of my costuming now is created for music videos, and I design all my own Disney inspired costumes, but I'm not skilled at sewing by any means, so I usually collaborate with other designers that I love to create the garment. (I have made some of my own costumes in the past, but I'm never fully happy with the quality of my work when I'm the one at the sewing machine!) So for those that consider true cosplayers to be the folks that make absolutely everything themselves, and do it primarily for convention appearances or photo shoots, I wouldn't exactly qualify. But if you're like me, and you consider cosplay to have a broader umbrella and use the term for anyone who dresses up in a costume to celebrate a fandom they love (in any way they choose, and anywhere) then perhaps I am one after all. I usually just refer to myself as a singer (and designer, when I'm asked about my costuming and clothing line, 

I feel like I found the cosplay community for the first time with my first visit to Anime Expo years ago. I had already been a huge Sailor Moon & Pokemon fan and had been dressing up in Sailor Scout costumes for Halloween for years, but I had recently begun branching out and exploring other anime, and I started attending AX every year, usually in an anime costume of some sort. (Some that I made myself, some that I made with friends, and some that I purchased). When I decided I wanted to cosplay Ariel (my lifelong favorite character bar none) I worked for months with my Aunt to make my very first walking mermaid tail. My dad helped me rig together a mermaid top made of real seashells (that I painted and blinged out to smithereens) and off I went! The response I got that year was mindblowing. I had never experienced anything like that. And that was also the same year I made it as a finalist for AX Idol, the singing competition they used to hold there, and immediately I felt a shift happen in my life. I had already started my youtube channel at that time, so I had a small following for my covers on there, but I think the combo of that first Ariel costume and my exposure in the anime community from being an AX Idol finalist really started it all. I thought it was so funny and wonderful that once I paid homage to my favorite character, (something I did just for me, not because I thought it would be a successful costume). I somehow fell into my niche! Back then, cosplaying as Disney characters at anime conventions wasn't the norm like it is now. In fact, some people who did that were even bullied or made fun of because "Disney isn't anime," but because Ariel was in Kingdom Hearts, I felt justified haha. I did even get some rude comments and some flack for cosplaying Disney at AX that year, but those few negatives were drowned out by all the others who were so vocal about how much they loved Disney, just like me. 
And as for my response to it all, I mostly just felt shocked at how well it was received. That was also around the time that I started making character inspired videos on youtube covering my favorite Disney songs. Those videos, along with a few other pop covers, seemed to do the best, and it was becoming more and more evident to me that I had found my niche. I feel pretty lucky that I fell into such an amazing career. I always knew I would pursue music -and voice acting too if the opportunity came along- but it's really awesome that I am able to integrate even more fantasy elements into my projects with costuming and cosplay. 

What goes into deciding on who you will cosplay next, and how you will make that character your own?

Typically my musical projects dictate what costumes I'm making next. Once in a while I get a costume together for fun or for an event, like a convention or live performance, but most of my costumes now come about because I was inspired or hired to cover a song, or sometimes they're original songs that I write myself, and I want to do more than just record it. I want to create a fantasy video to pair with the music. Since I get so much joy out of escaping to other fantasy worlds when I watch movies like Disney films, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc., I want to interpret the music into my own telling or retelling of that story. I love translating Disney cartoons into real life, and I love taking inspiration from the fairytales that have shaped my childhood, and using them to fuel my projects now. My goal is also never to create something that is exactly like the original, be it music, the singing performance or the costuming. I want that nostalgia and fairytale feel to translate, but I also want to create my own version of whatever character it is and add a bit of myself into it. I'm not interested in making a costume that "looks exactly like so and so." I would much rather take inspiration from a character's iconic elements and then give it textures and details and richness that it can't show in 2D (or sometimes even 3D) animation. I've realized that my style is much more historical and period, and I like to imagine what a princess's gown would look like in real life....corsets, silks, trims, precious stones...and I often will even make changes to the shape or pattern if it's a better decision for my own figure (ie since I'm short, shortening the corset so the skirt looks longer, thus making me look taller, etc.) or even make changes just because I like another idea or silhouette better. If I can't get creative with a costume and give it a personal touch, I'm not even interested! I love these projects too much to do anything halfway...which is why my projects also tend to take a really long time due to cost and the level of detail my team and I put in.  

You're not only famous for your cosplay, but for your covers of multiple Disney classic songs, what came first, your cosplay or singing career, and how do they impact each other?

So sorry, I think I accidentally already answered this Q above! (-; But reiterating it a bit, they kind of came hand in hand, at least publicly. I've always pursued music and even began voice acting (singing for and playing a character on a kids radio show) when I was in elementary school, so technically I think the music came first, but I didn't really become known in the community until I began my youtube channel and started posting videos in costumes and wearing them to events. Now it's hard to even consider covering a Disney song without at least considering making it a costumed video! It's truly a blessing that I get to be so creative on a regular basis, and I'm so grateful that my audience seems to enjoy these videos. My YouTube exposure even helped open the door for me to get more work as a recording artist and voice actress. Now I'm in the studio pretty regularly recording for kids commercials, radio, apps and video games (though not as many people know about that side of my work) Getting to perform in either capacity is so much fun, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world because I'm truly living my dream. I'm proof that even if doors slam in your face, (and believe me, they sure did for me back when I tried out acting / VO / music the "traditional" way) if you don't give up and are willing to be flexible and work hard, anything is possible! ...Just like those Disney movies we love so much!

What was it like working with Disney for the show's music in the Tokyo Disneyland, and are there hopes to work with Disney for music in the American parks? 

I had a phenomenal experience working with Tokyo Disneyland last summer for their summer water show. Tokyo Disney is the Disney theme park I want to visit the most-I've always dreamed of traveling to Japan, and now at least my voice has! My producer, Adam Gubman, composes, writes songs and arranges for TDL, and I had actually been recording demos for them with him for years before I was brought in to do the actual session. On this last one I was brought in for the first time as a choral/group singer, but they had me try out a solo line, and ended up liking my voice for the song so much they had me do the vocals for the lead English voice on it! It was an amazing experience and everyone there was so wonderful to work with. I definitely hope I get to continue to work with them. I think we may have something else coming up soon, we'll see! As for singing for Disneyland in CA, that would be a dream come true. As of now there is nothing on the horizon that I know of for working on music for my home park, but I would love the chance to sing for them too if the opportunity ever came up!

Thank you so much Traci for your time. You are a great influence for all the young people aspiring to do what they love. Keep up the great work!

Want to keep up with Traci? Here are some links. 
Social Media:
SnapChat: tracihines

Support her YouTube Content by becoming a part of the MerCrew

Support her art and passions:
Clothing Line
Mermaid Me App (Apple Store)

Snail Mail:
Traci Hines c/o Adorkable Apparel1679 E Orangethorpe Ave. #131Atwood, CA 92811-1202

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