An Interview with Rana McAnear – Part I
Rana McAnear is best known as the face model of Samara and Morinth from the Mass Effect series. Recently, she’s made a habit of cosplaying those characters and playing an active role in the Mass Effect fan community. Her participation has garnered her an overwhelmingly positive reputation. I was lucky enough to sit down with her for a Skype interview after this year’s Dragon*Con.
Robyn: I understand that you’re a model and an actress, and you’ve taken a recent interest in costume design. I was curious as to what inspired you to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Rana: I guess that I’ve always had that bug. Ever since I was in kindergarten, I was in plays. When I was in 7th grade, I was in a play, and I got really good reviews from the teacher. There was a girl in the class whose dream was to become an actress, and I’d gotten a role that was better than hers. I just thought “Wow, that sounds like a really cool job! If she wants to be an actress, why can’t I?” Then, it kind of evolved into more behind-the scenes kind of stuff. I don’t really do as much modeling and acting because I sort of found my love and my passion in costume design. That’s where I am now.
Robyn: I imagine that getting a role in a videogame is kind of uncommon for you, so how did you get cast as Samara and Morinth?
Rana: I was on a website called Model Mayhem, and I’d signed up for it not really thinking much of it. Someone had suggested it to me because I wasn’t really doing much modeling at the time. It’s a trade site, so you could potentially get free headshots out of it. Photographers need people to sit in front of their cameras to play with different lenses and practice with different lighting, so it’s this networking site where photographers, models, makeup artists and hairstylists can all network, work together, and trade if they need to. So, I was on that website and happened upon a casting call that Bioware had posted. One of the Bioware employees was also on that website as a photographer, and so he suggested it to them. So, luckily for me, it all kind of fell into a right place at the right time kind of thing. I submitted and sent a few non-modelly shots of my face, and they picked me. It was a pretty easy, painless process.
Robyn: It sounds like it. So, what was the process like? What was it like to show up for the 3D recording and have such a role in the game?
Rana: When I showed up, Casey Hudson was there. He was really nice, and he explained what they were going to be doing. I went to a 3D scanning facility downtown, just south of LA, in a place called Torrence. I went down there, and it wasn’t pretty—I had no makeup on, and I had on a wig cap. They sat me in this chair, and the chair rotated. They just scanned my face. Casey mentioned that normally they just like to have just a very non-descript, clean face, but for Samara they wanted a very stern look. So, I guess I conveyed that.
Then, they took me to another room where they took pictures of my range of motion. They had me do [facial expressions] like “Haha! I’ve caught you!” “Can you raise one eyebrow?” How did you know that I can do that? Yes, I can raise one eyebrow! A lot of people think that I did motion capture or stuff like that, but I didn’t. All I did was the 3-D scan, and the amazing programmers made it work. It’s interesting to watch Samara in motion because it’s not the way that I talk; it’s not the way that I move. I’m pretty expressive, so it’s funny to watch that. It was a half-hour process. I was in and out and done, and nine months later, the guy at Bioware—the photographer—sent me a link to the introduction of Samara. Lo and behold, there I was on screen—in blue—with someone else’s voice coming out of my face!
Robyn: I imagine that must be kind of weird for you to see your likeness on this character. So what was your initial reaction to seeing the characters themselves? It sounds like you didn’t have an idea going in there that you’d be this blue alien, effectively.
Rana: Yeah, I had no idea. I remember reading the description when I was in the office, and it just said that she’s a high priestess. They had a vague description of who she was. I had no idea that I was going to be an alien. It was just this very surreal moment of “Oh my gosh, there I am, onscreen, blue, and, again, with someone else’s voice coming out of my face!” So, it was very, very odd and just completely amazing.
I still look at it and cannot believe [it]. The detail they got on my face is just amazing. They used all of my freckles; they used my eye color. They used everything. That was the interesting thing, too—they never told me that I was going to be two characters. I found that out on accident because, whenever it was, 3 or 4 months later, I was flipping through [the game guide] because I hadn’t played the game yet, and I see this picture of Morinth. I noticed this freckle that I have right there, and I was like “Wait a minute! That’s me! They used my freckle!” It was, again, really surreal.
Robyn: That sounds like a really cool experience. Do you find that you associate more with one character over the other? How do you feel about Samara and Morinth themselves?
Rana: Samara’s so regal and so stern and so powerful. She’s this amazing presence, I think, but Morinth is so fun, as far as cosplaying her goes. I got so tired of doing my Samara face. Any time that I’d take pictures, I’d just go Samara with no expression whatsoever, but, with Morinth, I kind of get a little smirk on. I feel like I get to be a little more playful and a little more sassy, and I think that’s more up my alley. Her outfit is a lot more comfortable as well, and I like that a lot. I did find, at Dragon*Con, that my face ended up getting sore because I was smirking so much. It was just like “Ow, my smirk hurts!” You can’t win, you know!
Robyn: [laughs] You either have to be stern, or you have to have a sore face.
Rana: Right. It’s such a cool experience to be able to play with different poses and have that ability to portray this character, and it being me is even more amazing, so I love that.
Robyn: Have you had the chance to meet other cast members from the Mass Effect games or other Bioware staff?
Rana: Yes! I have. I got to go to the midnight release of Mass Effect 3 at a Gamestop here in Los Angeles. Courtenay Taylor was there; Kimberly Brooks was there. The voice of Tali and Ali Hillis, the voice of Liara, was there. Casey Hudson was there. I’ve met, of course, Christ Priestly, who was the community manager for a long time. I got to meet Dusty Everman—one of the writers. He was so great and so fun! He fanboyed over me. He was like “Oh my gosh, can we get a picture together?” It was the coolest thing. He posted it on his twitter right away, and he was like “I met Rana!” I just loved that. I met Mac Walters, another lead writer, so, yeah, I’ve met a lot of the team. Of course, Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale, too.
Mark and I hang out at every convention we get to. I get to tag along with him, and he’s just a riot. He’s so fun, and I feel like he kind of showed me the way. He helped me branch out into that community because I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never done anything on this level, on this scale, or anything near it. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. It was pretty awesome.
Robyn: If I understand correctly, it’s your first cosplay, and that’s a pretty ambitious cosplay to tackle. So, what inspired you to dress as Samara and Morinth to begin with?
Rana: I had a modeling picture that was just of half of my face with this metal piece on my head, and a fan photoshopped that picture to look like Samara for class. My cousin went on there and was like “Rana! You should cosplay as Samara!” I had to go on Wikipedia and look that up. I didn’t know what “cosplay” was! I mean, I had friends that do it, but I didn’t really associate it with that term. So, I looked it up and I was like “Yeah, that would be amazing. But how do I get the money for it?” Another fan suggested that I do a Kickstarter kind of thing. I set the goal pretty high, and I had 5,500 dollars in four days.
Robyn: Wow! That is awesome!
Rana: Yeah! One guy, who wants to remain anonymous to this day, donated 3,500 dollars. He was just like “I’m not really a fan of Mass Effect. I like the game, but I’m a big fan of cosplaying, and I think it’s an amazing thing, so here you go!” I got to meet him at New York Comic Con last year. The generosity just completely blew me away. I was just so overwhelmed with it. All of the sudden I had all this support.
I assembled my team and made the costume. It took a while to get it all together, and we did two different life casts of my head, which was kind of a pain. It’s all been a great learning process for not only me but everyone who’s worked with me. I know that the Mad Masker—my friend Aubriana who made my head piece—she’s learned a lot from it all. I’ve actually gotten to help with it. I do all of the repairs on the costume itself. I did go to fashion school, and I do know how to sew, but the Samara costume is Neoprene. It’s wet-suit material; it’s not something that you just go ahead and sew. I got new armor from WM armory—Will made that. I’m so impressed with these people that I know. They can do all these amazing things, and they’re so generous with their time and their craft. They’re also the kind of people who love what they do, do it very well, and want to share with everyone else. Like “These are the skills that I have, and if you can’t pay for me to make it, then here are the tools for you to make it.” That’s just such an incredible thing to be around. It’s helping people, and it’s very cool. I’m very, very lucky.
Robyn: Yeah, it’s pretty phenomenal how talented they are, and the fact that they’re so generous and kind obviously speaks highly of the community. I want to know about your first time actually in costume, as I imagine that was quite the experience. Could you tell me a little bit about your first day in cosplay and the sort of reactions that you were getting?
Rana: It was pretty surreal. We had three different versions of the headpiece. I couldn’t hear very well in the first version of the headpiece. Luckily, I also had a friend who’s a special effects makeup artist, and she did my makeup for me. So, she did a really amazing job on that. Of course, the reaction was “Oh my gosh, you look just like her!” and “Wow, that’s a really good Samara!” You know, I was kind of shy about it all! It was this surreal thing where people wanted pictures with me, and it’s one of those things where I kind of had to get used to “Yeah, you want a picture with me”, almost forgetting that I’m in costume, and practicing my posing. Putting my Samara face on. Like I said, the reactions were just off the charts. I had some squealing people. I love the ones that are just like “That’s a really good Samara,” and then they just kind of walk off, and I’m like “Oh, thanks, I am her…but you didn’t say anything, so bye!” Those are the people who write me later when they find out. Like “Oh my gosh, it was you! I had no idea, and I wish that I would’ve stopped!” I’m just not the type of person who’s going to run you down and say “You need a picture with me!”
Robyn: Early on, did anyone actually pick up that you are Samara?
Rana: There were some people who were following my progress, so they were like “Oh, wait! You’re her!” I’m still going to conventions [where] people don’t know it’s me. People are still saying “Wow, that’s a really good Samara” to this day. The other thing, too, was that I wasn’t credited in the game—models typically aren’t—so I was the one who went on the forums and to be like “This is me! Here’ s the pictures to prove it!” It was a lot of self-promotion, it was a lot of putting the word out there and, of course, when I put it out there, it spread like wildfire. That was pretty great. It’s been very well received, and that’s really cool.
This concludes the first of part of the interview. If you’d like to know more about Rana, feel free to follow her on Facebook or Twitter for additional content. Of course, keep an eye out for part two tomorrow!