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Love of horror inspires Cambridge special effects makeup artist

Alissa Gee is slowly getting back into film and television work after taking time off to focus on family
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Special effects makeup artist Alissa Gee displays a few of her nightmarish creations in her Cambridge home. The female head is a life cast Gee made and painted herself, with hair punching by Emma Lee Hilton. The zombie was sculpted by Neil Morrill and painted by Gee, and the foot and hand were cast by Gee and painted by Paul Jones.

The movie monsters designed to spawn nightmares were instead responsible for inspiring a dream job for Alissa Gee.

The Preston High School grad who moved to Toronto to attend the College of Makeup Art and Design (CMU) a decade ago, is into her seventh year as a special effects (SPFX) makeup artist for the film and television industry.

Her most recent work can be seen on screen in the upcoming sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Other film work includes It Chapter Two and the Netflix movie The Silence. Television credits include the first season of Star Trek Discovery and the first season of What We Do In The Shadows.

Although the new mom has slowed down over the last two years to focus on family, she still loves what she does and is gradually getting back into it with small jobs that don't take her too far away from her new Cambridge home.

Growing up in Preston, Gee says she's always been fascinated by monsters and was surrounded by the ‘80s horror movies loved by her parents and aunt.

She was already making movies with friends in the backyard with an old Super 8 camera when her interest in makeup and prosthetics took hold.

When her aunt allowed her to stay up late to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gee was hooked.

A part-time job at Party City came next, further fuelling her interest in dressing up like a zombie to freak out her mom.

But it was while watching the original Evil Dead in her teens and being enthralled by what director Sam Raimi and his crew were able to achieve on such a low budget, that really inspired her.

“That was that moment when everything clicked and I realized ‘you can get paid to do this kind of stuff,’” Gee says.

She credits George Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead and even the giant worms in Tremors as inspiration for some of her later work.

Then there's the 1985 cult classic Return of the Living Dead, starring scream queen Linnea Quigley, that so impressed Gee she ended up naming her cat Linnea years later.

At 31, Gee is of the generation that grew up with movies that relied more on computer-generated effects than latex prosthetics to create the monsters we see on screen.

By the time Gee was bingeing horror movies as a teen, more than a decade had passed since legendary makeup artists Rick Baker, Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and Rob Bottin had become stars in their own right.

Baker's Oscar-winning makeup for the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London was more than two decades old by the time Gee had any inkling she wanted to follow the same career path.

And by then, CGI had replaced most practical creature effects.

Gee agrees there may have been a point when CGI was getting more screen time but says mechanical props, latex prosthetics, and buckets of fake blood have made a strong comeback in recent years, often complementing or replacing digital effects.

“I don’t think practical effects will ever go away because there’s an authenticity to it,” she says

Not surprisingly, Gee doesn't count any of the giants in the SPFX makeup world among her biggest influences. 

One artist she does admire is Toronto makeup artist Tenille Shockey, whose work can be seen in movies like It Chapter Two and Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

“She’s a fantastic painter,” says Gee, in awe of how Shockey can make a piece of rubber look like rotten flesh.

She cautions anyone wanting to get into SPFX makeup to stay away from the “unsafe” amateur videos on YouTube and instead read books like Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen by Todd Debrecini, or check out Stan Winston’s School of Character Arts website for inspiration.

Gee, who is also a part-time instructor of advanced prosthetics in Sheridan College’s makeup effects program, says she loves helping anyone interested in the art and encourages them to reach out to her through her alissagee.fx Instagram page.

“I’m still a fangirl deep down,” she says.

After graduating from the program at CMU, Gee began working in SPFX shops and jumped around making everything from small prosthetics to full bodies for film and tv shoots.

Gee laughs recalling the first time she showed her partner some of the props she built.

“He isn’t a fan of horror at all," she says. He thought it was "weird” and he’s “still creeped out by it."

But her husband’s aversion to the genre that inspired her career hasn’t stopped Gee from exposing her 18-month old son to some of the monsters in the basement.

He’s since learned to point at the door to her workshop and growl.

“He shared his sippy cup with this guy this morning,” she adds, pointing to the zombie head sitting on the living room coffee table.

Despite the pandemic year, she says, it's been the busiest time she's ever seen in the film and television industry, particularly in Ontario where strict on-set rules are keeping people safe and steadily employed.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alissa Gee (@alissagee.fx)

 

“I turned down a ton of work this year,” says Gee, who before becoming a mom had gone up to six months between jobs.

“In the film industry, they say it’s usually feast or famine.” 

But to keep up with demand for content from the explosion of streaming services, filming for episodic shows is now running back to back instead of going on hiatus.

Fortunately, for Gee, as a member of the local theatrical and stage workers union in Toronto, she can make herself available for work whenever she wants. 

But since Gee moved back to Cambridge to be closer to family, she’s been deliberately slow in getting back into a work schedule that admittedly “can be pretty intense.”

Flexibility is more important than ever for the new mom.

The self-described workaholic says 12 to 17 hour days on set isn’t sustainable for raising a family.

“Right now I’m prioritizing family over work,” says Gee, who is currently doing some prosthetic work for the third season of the Netflix series Locke & Key.

Of course, working closer to home would be ideal, but it’s next to impossible to arrange since call sheets for makeup artists are unpredictable. 

“I was just on Murdoch Mysteries in Toronto,” she laughs after hearing the crew and actors were in Cambridge this week to film scenes for the upcoming season.

Since fall is typically one of the busiest seasons for filming in Ontario, Gee hasn’t had much opportunity to dress up her home for her favourite holiday.

But now that she’s stepped back a bit to focus on her family, Gee hopes to go all out this Halloween. 

“I’m excited,” she laughs with a hint of sinister glee.

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