Pediatric Patients Transform Into Superheroes, Complete with Costumes and Movie Posters (Exclusive)

Hollywood designers pair with kids for the annual Lollipop Superhero Reveal

<p>Brian Bowen Smith</p>

Brian Bowen Smith

'Blink Girl' from the Lollipop Superhero Reveal
  • The 6th Annual Lollipop Superhero Reveal gives kids from L.A.-area hospitals a chance to dress up as superheroes with outfits made by professional costume designers

  • Photographs of the kids wearing their costumes were used in movie posters that will be unveiled at the event on May 19

  • “To inspire these kids to be the best version of themselves is the most rewarding aspect of this,” Evelyn Iocolano of the Lollipop Theater Network tells PEOPLE

On Sunday, eight children from Los Angeles-area hospitals will get to live out their superhero fantasies — capes and all.

On May 19, in L.A., the 6th Annual Lollipop Superhero Reveal will showcase the kids dressed up as their superhero alter egos with outfits designed by members of the Costume Designers Guild.

The superhero reveal is spearheaded by the L.A.-based nonprofit organization Lollipop Theater Network, which brings movies and entertainment to children who are hospitalized with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Lollipop’s executive director, Evelyn Iocolano, tells PEOPLE that the event started from a previous music program.

Related: In Life-or-Death Situations, Kids Are Proving Superheroes Come in All Ages: ‘Look Out for Each Other’

“I was in the hospital with our volunteers, and it happened to fall on April 28th, which was National Superhero Day. So I brought capes for everyone,” Iocolano remembers. “And when we were leaving, our volunteers, who were adults, didn't want to take off the capes — and I realized how much fun people had pretending they were superheroes.”

Iocolano says Lollipop’s first event began as a superhero walk. Shen then later met a costumer from Spiderman that sparked the idea of having kids wearing superhero costumes created for them.

“Since that time, we were able to get the Costume Designers Guild involved,” Iocolano says. “They would send out outreach emails, and we got some amazing designers to sign up and do these costumes.”

Ahead of the reveal, Lollipop pairs a costume designer with a kid recommended by a hospital in which the two exchange ideas for the superhero’s costume based on what the child likes.

“We walk through all the meetings with them,” Iocolano says. “We are with them when they're meeting, either at a costume house or just doing their first fittings, or even at the very beginning when they're just coming up with the inspiration and what the child believes are their superheroes.”

<p>Jen Rosenstein</p> Superhero 'Firestorm'

Jen Rosenstein

Superhero 'Firestorm'

Ariyela Wald-Cohain, an Emmy-winning costume designer whose credits include Waitress and iCarly, is one of the participants in this year’s reveal. She partnered with Yoanely Lopez, a 14-year-old in a wheelchair who wanted to become "Mobilizer Girl," a character whose superpowers include speed and brainpower.

“She has these gauntlets on her arms that can stop anything, kind of like Wonder Woman's,” Wald-Cohain says of Yoanely.

“She also told me that her favorite color was aquamarine, which is her birthstone color, so I incorporated that. And she really likes Hot Topic and little animes, so I went with that vibe. She also wanted fishnets, which is not something that you normally see on a superhero," Wald-Cohain adds, "so we ended up putting black leggings. And on top of it, we did an aquamarine fishnet, kind of bringing this anime kind of vibe so that she feels comfortable.”

<p>Brian Bowen Smith</p> Costume designer Ariyela Wald-Cohain with one of the participants from the Superhero Reveal

Brian Bowen Smith

Costume designer Ariyela Wald-Cohain with one of the participants from the Superhero Reveal

The process from costume’s conception to the fitting took about three months, according to Wald-Cohain, who has also been involved in previous reveal events.

Once their looks are ready, the kids get a portrait in their costumes by celebrity photographer Brian Bowen Smith, and those images are used in movie posters designed for the honorees by Vox360 and unveiled at the reveal event. 

Related: Houston Surgeon Turns Kids Into Superheroes Through Colorful Bandage Creations

“We surprise the kids and the parents with a full-size movie poster of that child as their superhero alter ego,” says Iocolano. “It's the first time they've seen it, and it gets very emotional at times. [Vox360, which does posters for the movie studios,] just make it look really professional, and it's cool. I've heard so many stories where it stays up in kids' rooms for years.”

One of the interesting aspects of the project for Wald-Cohain is working with the children's parents, she says.

“I always make the parents T-shirts for the photo shoot,” she says. “And if there's another kid, then I'll make a little something as they're like the sidekick, so they feel involved and part of the process. Because this whole illness or whatever they're going through, it affects the whole family all the time. It's not only that kid.”

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“The quality of the costumes they make for these little people is pretty phenomenal,” Terry Gordon, president of the Costume Designers Guild, tells PEOPLE. “We just love giving back when reaching out to the community. We're storytellers, and these little people have amazing stories. And if we can help them get through some of the trying times and challenges that they have right now, we are happy to do that.”

Sima Perez's son Christopher, who has muscular dystrophy, was a superhero under the alias of Remix at a past event.

“It was just an amazing and memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience for Christopher to feel like he was an actual superhero,” she tells PEOPLE.

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She recalls Christopher’s wheelchair souped up with boom box speakers as part of Remix’s persona. “The whole idea was if he had the chance or the opportunity to change the world, what would it be?” Perez says. “And he said, ‘Through music, I would help people heal every time.’ And so that's where the whole idea sparked of him being a superhero.”

For Iocolano and the others involved in the reveal — which has won support from celebs like Jack Black, Jason Momoa, Tim Allen and Jay Leno — the experience of making these kids and their parents feel exceptional is gratifying.

“To inspire these kids to be the best version of themselves is the most rewarding aspect of this,” says Iocolano. “A lot of these kids’ superpowers are specifically wanting to help other people through acts of kindness, and that's their own choice. Those are the things that always really blow my mind. They're special kids.”

<p>Brian Bowen Smith</p> 'Blink Girl'

Brian Bowen Smith

'Blink Girl'

Wald-Cohain echoes that.

“It's empowering,” she says. ”The day that we do the photoshoots, they have hair and makeup there and everybody pampers them, and then they come out and they're just totally transformed. You can see them just smiling and just enjoying every moment of it. It's really special. It's something I'm proud of … [The parents are] so appreciative of just making their kid feel so special, and it's really rewarding.

"I think I get much more than I give in this, actually.”

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