Bringing MASS EFFECT To Life: From FemShep to Turian Batman

Bringing MASS EFFECT To Life


BioWare recently released a live-action trailer for their upcoming game, Mass Effect 3. The trailer featured, amidst the destruction of Earth, mindless synthetic husks. In the games, these machine-zombies are created by the Geth with devices from the Reapers, both artificially intelligent races, but in real life they are created by Crabcat Industries, led by Holly Conrad.

Frequent con goers may already know Conrad, or at least her amazing N7 armor. For the uninitiated, we spoke with Conrad about what it takes to be an N7 soldier, the process behind Crabcat's big creations, and where you can see them in action at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2011. 

Newsarama: Holly, can you start by telling our readers what exactly Crabcat Industries does? How are you applying that to BioWare right now? 

Crabcat Logo

Holly Conrad: The company is called "Crabcat Industries". We work out of Hilary [Shapiro, Crabcat team member]'s garage and we jokingly call that the Compound (if we ever had employees, we decided we'd call them minions or evil-doers haha). We couldn't think of a better way to spend our time than make costumes, go to conventions, and love games (though we do have an affinity for BioWare). Which is awesome! Because right now we're making costumes for them for Comic Con. We're making Garrus, Wrex (animatronic like Grunt), and Maleshep. If you guys want to see more videos of us making it and just crazy shenanigans, go to our youtube channel! I also may be involved in the first official BioWare costume contest, but you'll have to wait for that Friday to see!

Nrama: You are the “Commander” of Crabcat Industries, with a very talented team surrounding you. Do you ever feel like you are living out your own version of Commander Shepard’s life?  


Conrad: Actually it was really funny, when we went to Comic-con last year that was the big joke. The Masquerade was the suicide mission [the final mission in Mass Effect 2], and if anyone got upset they wouldn't make it. Thankfully everyone came out alive, so I must have done something right. I like to use Mass Effect metaphors for my life, it makes things a lot more exciting.

Nrama: Crabcat Industries is a very unique idea. Can you tell us a little bit about how you started out?  


Conrad: I've been making creatures and costumes since I was a little kid, even if it was something made out of a pillow. My first costume was a koopa from Mario Brothers, I taped a pillow to my back when I was five. Eventually I ended up dressing up and going to BlizzCon, Comic-Con, etc with a few of my really good friends. When I finally started to work with and meet people who did this as a living, I thought "Why not?!" and got everyone back together to make the biggest and best Masquerade group for Comic-Con that I could. Everyone helped and learned things and it was amazing. That's when Jessica suggested we become a company and do videos and teach people how to make awesome costumes. Crabcat is actually what we called Turians, they look like a crab and a cat mashed together. And here we are today!

Nrama: To many, you have become a symbol for “Femshep.” In your opinion, what is it about “female” Commander Shepard that demands the same attention as male Shepard, who has been used in the marketing thus far?


Conrad: Female Shepard really stood out to me when I played Mass Effect because I could relate to her. She was a strong leader, a little awkward, a little too real to be saving the galaxy. Jennifer Hale does amazing voice acting with her character, and to me her relationships with the other characters seem so much more meaningful. Shepard is what we all want to be, what we wish we could be. I'm more then flattered that anyone would see me in my costume as a symbol of that, if anything I'm proof that Shepard is what we all want to be like, because I could definitely never be a space marine. I'd die in like two seconds.

Nrama: Crabcat Industries did an incredible job sculpting the husks and making the costumes in the live-action Mass Effect 3 trailer, “Invasion.” Can you talk a little bit about that project and how it felt to see your work in a BioWare trailer?

Conrad: That project was crazy! We had a really short deadline, but we made it happen. All of us worked incredibly hard and once we were on set it was completely worth it. It looked like we were in the Mass Effect universe, and when the husks were all suited up it was surreal. Alliance symbols on crashed helicopters, husks running around, I was ready to duck behind some waist-high boxes and shout combat commands.


Nrama: All of your work is extremely detailed. Can you describe the process of sculpting a husk or a Krogan? On average, how long does it take for you to finish a piece?

Conrad: It really depends on the deadline. If I have the time to take my time I will, but usually we have to get the projects done incredibly fast. In that case, it can take me from three days to a week to sculpt something. The husk's head took me about three days; Wrex took me about five days. Grunt was my own project, so I got to fiddle with him for a few weeks, which was awesome.

Nrama: Is Crabcat Industries available for commissions?

Conrad: We are! We're booked until after PAX Prime this year, but we can still do quotes and pricing right now if anyone has an interesting project.

Nrama: One of your next projects is called “Bad Fan Fiction.” Some of the details you have revealed so far include “Grunt being a creeper” and “Dinner at Chile’s on the Citadel.” Can you tell our readers more about what this project entails?


Conrad: This project is actually Jessica [Merizan, Crabcat team member]'s big thing right now. She's been super excited about it and is in the process of writing the scripts, etc. It's not officially a Crabcat project, but Shepard may appear now and then and punch people.

Nrama: Now for the hard questions. Who is your favorite character in the Mass Effect series? And similarly, what is your favorite character to sculpt? Any particular reasons why?

Conrad: Other than female Shepard, my favorite character is Garrus. He's your best friend, always there for you… and with a giant sniper rifle. Then he goes to Omega to more or less become Batman, so of course my Shepard romanced him after that. You can't say no to Turian Batman. As far as characters to sculpt, I love any of the creatures. The Krogan are really fun to sculpt because of all the cracks and wrinkles on their plates and skin, Salarians too. Pretty much I enjoy sculpting any of the aliens. The armor? Not so much.


Nrama: In your video to BioWare about FemShep marketing, your Shepard’s personality seemed to be on the “Renegade” path. Do you prefer to play as a “Paragon” or “Renegade”?

Conrad: I actually played through my first games as a total Paragon because I'm way too nice, though I like both paths. I like being renegade in costume because you can look a bit more extreme, a bit scarier with the scars (even though my paragon Shepard looks like my costume too). It gives me an excuse to get some awesome contacts and scars and randomly threaten to punch people out windows. I love the renegade attitude and persona, I would have played through as a complete renegade if she hadn't trusted the Illusive Man....that guy has glowing eyes, an ugly suit, and brought you back to life. Not ok.

You can follow Holly Conrad's work with Crabcat at her personal twitter account, the company twitter, and the official Crabcat website.

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