McAnear has plenty of those: large, deep set eyes, a strong chin, sharp, high cheekbones. The Los Angeles-based model/actor got the job. The company 3D scanned her face. Nine months later, McAnear was Samara, a major character in Mass Effect 2. It changed her life. These days, fans can spot her at conventions like San Diego Comic-Con dressed as Samara or Morinth, another character for whom she is the face.
On the Saturday morning of this year's San Diego Comic-Con, inside her hotel room, McAnear prepares for transformation. She wears no make-up and her red hair hangs long and wavy down her back. Stare long enough and you'll catch the resemblance between McAnear and Samara, but that's not obvious right now. McAnear, after all, is not a blue-skinned video game character.
Just doing the make-up is a three-hour process. McAnear has an case full of special effects products with long names and brushes to help make the thick application of make-up look more like skin. She'll contour and blend and wait for layers to dry. She will wet her hair — it helps keep her cool in the Comic-Con heat — before wrapping it up under a headpiece. Blending is crucial for the area where her face and the headpiece meet. “You have to work it and let it dry,” says McAnear.
Today, McAnear plans on wearing Samara's “loyalty outfit.” It's a special costume that one can earn while playing the game. The costume came courtesy of the Mass Effect Cast Cosplay Initiative, a group that set out to get a few cast members dressed as the characters they portray. The costume consists of a bodysuit that is custom fit to McAnear's body. “This costume is a lot more breathable than my last one,” she says. “My last one was neoprene. It was wetsuit material and it was hot and miserable.”
A few years ago, McAnear didn't know about the cosplay community. She had attended San Diego Comic-Con — McAnear actually grew up in the area — and had friends that wore costumes. Still, the cosplay world wasn't hers until after she modeled for Mass Effect.
Once people learned that McAnear was the model for Samara, people tried friending her on Facebook. One of the fans had photoshopped a photo of McAnear to look more like Samara and her cousin suggested that she should cosplay the character. The problem was that cosplay is expensive, especially when you're portraying a character whose design is as complicated as the ones in Mass Effect. The headpiece alone for McAnear's costume is $300. Based on the suggestion of friends, McAnear tried crowdfunding her Samara costume. She raised $5500.
The intent of the campaign wasn't simply to have a convention costume. When she was 16, McAnear was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, having survived the disease, she wanted to do something to help raise funds for charities. At PAX East, a video game convention in Boston, she was part of a group that raised over $6000 for St. Jude's. She has also been working on a calendar with a group called Love 12, which supports cancer survivors. Additionally, she's involved with a camp near San Diego for kids who are going through cancer treatments or have survived it. It's the same camp that McAnear attended when she was a teenager.
McAnear's venture into cosplay has changed her in more than just temporary, physical ways. “I feel like it's made me very empathetic,” she says. “I feel like it's really opened my eyes to people in tough situations.” McAnear hears from fans who have close relationships to Mass Effect. She mentions that some were encouraged to come out after playing a game where same-sex relationships are an option. She has learned to communicate with fans who have trouble actually talking to her. “It's an eye-opening experience,” she says.
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