Queen of the Overworld

Published by Judith Kim on

Queen of the Overworld

Michelle Sleeper of Overworld Designs discusses the main passion she derives from her work.
Diana Ward | Avant-Youth

When she started Overworld Designs, Michelle Sleeper’s plan was simple: To make what she wanted and sell it.

However, her ambitions caught up to her when studios like Cartoon Network and Marvel would approach her for jobs that no one else could figure out how to do. Yet this is her speciality.

“I like making stuff I’ve never made before, things I’ve never seen before, things that push me,” she said, “A lot of it is wearable cosplay-type stuff, and we do a lot of 3D printing.”

With her extensive background in game design, Sleeper dabbled with 3D printing just as the technology matured. Sprung from the 3D modeling techniques she learned for game development, Sleeper had no clue what she was doing when she made her first piece ever: a gravity gun from Half-Life 2. “I want more of that,” she said. Sleeper dove headfirst into changing her life’s course.

Henry Thomas chats with Michelle Sleeper in her Atlanta studio.
Diana Ward | Avant-Youth

Through many trials and errors, the self-taught maker is now an invited guest to major conventions like Twitch Con, Dragon Con, and for the fifth time most recently, MomoCon.

Sleeper’s work is predominantly in cosplay, creating full-scale props and special effects, but the work she enjoys most is educating others on how to build their own things.

“So I do panels at MomoCon… I want to teach, I want you to feel comfortable learning the process and not feel like these things just materialize,” she said, “or that if you’re not born with a natural gift, then you’d never be able to do it.”

Sleeper’s philosophy is hard-wired into her professional views too. “If you can’t give things away and still find a way to make money, then you’re not very good at your job,” she said.

Indeed, as Sleeper sees it, having information doesn’t mean much since anyone can go online and research whatever they see fit. Sleeper said, “Until you actually get the practice and put the skills into use, learning to apply your knowledge is where the real value is. That’s, again, what I want to give to people.”

Her end goal, then, is not only to invite people into the creative process, but into the logistics and know-how’s of its system as well. Sleeper aims to make the trade more accessible to others.

She cites Bob Ross as a source of inspiration, saying that his business model is informative of who she is. Ross, infamous for his decade-long PBS show The Joy of Painting, earned little from the actual show itself. Rather, he made his living by selling art supplies (PBS would air a brief ad after each episode).

“Education and… [helping others learn the craft], is a really big part of my identity as a maker and an artist. That is a big part of what I enjoy,” Sleeper said.

Few walk the talk as Sleeper does. Eager to sing praise, her colleagues chimed with earnest.

“Michelle has built a community by empowering other people to know how to do the things that they want to do and that has been the cornerstone of pretty much everything she’s done in the group that exist around her,” Elliott Kirkpatrick said.

“It’s more than just us, we have a whole group of friends that all go to the con’s together. We all meet, we all make stuff together… but that’s core to who… she is. So much so that [when] I also walked in 4 years ago… I had no clue what the fuck what any of this was, and I didn’t care about cosplay, at all,” Kirkpatrick said.

“I just wanted to know how to make all of it–I wanted to know how 3D printing works, and so she taught me everything I know, and now it’s my job.”

Jeff Grabowski (L) and Elliott Kirkpatrick (R) stand with Michelle Sleeper in their studio, which they acquired December 2018. Diana Ward | Avant-Youth


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Judith Kim

Judith Kim

Judith Kim is a hard-nosed journalist with an appetite for the difficult, no matter how controversial. She always has at least 35 tabs open on her Mac, which range from deep TED talks to exposés on the 1st amendment. A former surfer, snowboarder, but current skater and beer-enthusiast, Kim was born and raised in Glendale, California — Kim Kardashian’s hometown.


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