Through the smoky haze of airbrush makeup in one of the 13th Gate’s backstage rooms, you can find Baton Rouge artist Grace Lee creating terrifying transformations. She molds scars, darkens fingertips, paints teeth and airbrushes gauntly contours to turn cast members into their ghoulish alter egos that look as if they just crawled out of the darkness.
From live painting to sculpted cakes, Lee says she’s been doing art for as long as she can remember. Her artistic talent got her involved in the film industry about 12 years ago. She even sculpted food props for Twilight: Breaking Dawn when it filmed in Baton Rouge. On that job, Lee found herself watching the makeup artists. She realized special effects makeup wasn’t that different from food sculpting, so she tried it out. Soon after, she booked a makeup gig for a music video shot at 13th Gate and was then asked to audition as a makeup artist for the Halloween attraction. The rest, they say, is haunted history.
We chatted with Lee about spooky season at 13th Gate and her processes.
Tell us about a favorite character like doing the makeup for.
The line entertainers are always a lot of fun to do. They’re a little bit more detailed, because they’re in full light a lot of the time, so doing their makeup is always a lot of fun.
Is there a specific detail that you think makes the special effects looks stand out?
Yeah, doing heavy contour and making people look very sort of sunken in and gauntly with sunken-in eyes and cheeks and stuff adds a dimension to their look. … That heavy, heavy contour really adds to it, because then you could build on top of that with anything, whether it be scars or blood for someone in the insane asylum or making skin peeling off for a zombie. You kind of always have to start with that base of heavy contour to really make them look not human in a way or very sickly.
What three items can you not live without as a special effects makeup artist?
For 13th Gate specifically, airbrush and airbrush paint. That is really helpful, because you have to go so fast. But I’d say liquid latex and probably a good quality alcohol-based blood or stage blood that stays wet looking are some of my favorites.
Does doing the cast’s makeup make the attraction less scary for you?
Absolutely. It’s not scary at all anymore. In fact, a lot of friends ask me to go through with them when they’re scared to go through but they really want to see my work. Now, that doesn’t scare me at all. My husband always makes the joke that every time we walk through I’m like, ‘Oh good job! You scared me! Wait, let me fix your makeup or something before anybody else comes.’ I’ll touch them up in their scene if anything looks out of place.
What’s your favorite part about working for 13th Gate?
Working with so many creative people. It’s a joy for me to be able to walk in there. You feel proud to be a part of something that is so heavily talented with the cast and the artists. It just becomes this spooky little family, and everyone stays friends outside of working. The people that you get to work with in this business are the most fun for me and seeing what they bring to the table.
What other creative work do you do?
I still work in the film industry. My husband and I own a wedding and events company where we have DJs, photographers and videographers. It’s called Complete Weddings + Events. I shoot weddings for them as well and do videography. We also do commercials and things through the company, and I do makeup for that. We also have a few scripts that we’re working on right now to produce a couple of movies. We’re just kind of still in the film industry and doing whatever we can in this sort of a broad spectrum industry.
What do you like to do when you’re not doing makeup for 13th Gate?
I like to do all different types of art for myself. I like to paint, and I still do sculpting and stuff like that. I’m fortunate to have a job that is almost equal parts hobby and work. It’s hard work, but I enjoy it so much. When it’s our company, it’s our business, so every day is our work. We’re just fortunate enough to do something that we love to do.