Industry Speaks: Special Make-up FX Artist Norman Cabrera

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“Never be discouraged…” This was just one of many pieces of advice that Norman Cabrera gave to a room full of peers, fans, MUD students, graduates, and aspiring make-up artists attending Make-up Designory’s Industry Speaks. With over 20 years of special make-up FX experience and a resume that is just as tall as he is, it was certain that this advice would leave a lasting impression and serve as food for thought for those who were hungry to hear more about Norman’s roadmap to a career as one of the most sought after special make-up FX artists.

It was an informal gathering, almost like having a beer with an old friend — discussing work, family and the thing you loved most, in this case FX make-up. “I want this to be informal, like a chat,” he said, and encouraged the crowd to throw out questions as he talked. The first being, “How did you get started?”

His eyes lit up behind dark frame tinted glasses and with a reflective smile he began to talk about his start and journey as a make-up artist. “I’ve always loved monsters and make-up FX. I was obsessed with it,” he started. “I remember watching Planet of the Apes and it blew my mind. After seeing Rick Baker’s work I knew that was what I wanted to do.” He continued as he flipped through youthful pictures of himself surrounded by pictures of Return of The Jedi posters and masks he created. “I was sculpting by the age of 14. At 16 I, built up the courage to show people my work, and when I was 17 I sent Rick Baker pictures of my work.”

Realizing this was a teachable moment he briefly deviated from his story and took a minute to plant a seed of wisdom. “Always have something to show,” he advised. “Building your portfolio is one of the most important things you can do. No one is going to hire you if you don’t have anything to show them,” he added with a tone that was high-spirited yet still conveyed the importance of what he was saying.

Pens feverishly jotted down the tidbit of advice before Norman resumed telling the story of how he started his career. His moment of reflection took the attentive audience on a journey through his work and his experiences working on films like Hell Boy I and II, Drag Me To Hell, and Men in Black 3. He talked about his work with directors like and Guillermo Del Toro and fx make-up artists like Rick Baker, who had inspired and mentored him throughout his career.

“So, you knew beyond a hobby that this is what you wanted to do?” Gil Romero, School Director, asked.

Without hesitation and with a confidence supported by talent and years of experience, he answered, “For sure. I would always read magazines and I searched through the TV Guide looking for anything that had to do with make-up.” He talked about working in a supermarket as a teenager and saving his money to buy latex so that he could make masks.

“So, is the passion still there,” an enthusiastic audience member asked.

“Absolutely,” he answered quickly and assuredly. “I think about this stuff all the time. I’m always working on something. He then took another second to impart advice to the listening audience. “It’s important to always keep working. Do more stuff. Every waking moment you should be working on something.” He paused for a second and then added. “And always keep learning. Just as important as building your book you have to keep learning.” His words resonated with the crowd. But the wisdom coming from years of experience did not stop there. “Keep learning. Study anatomy,” he said adamantly. “Study all the creatures of the earth. You can find ideas and inspiration in all of this.” It was simplistic but still profound advice.

As Norman continued to talk about his experiences the audience hung on his every word, some writing them down hurriedly while others simply nodded in agreement. Before wrapping up his informal chat, he left them with some final words of advice. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to build your book. You have to have a kick ass book. This is a competitive industry but never be discouraged to follow what you want to do.”

As I wrote down these final words of advice I realized Norman’s gems of wisdom could be applied to all aspects of life. I recognized the motivation stirring in the room and the sense of inspiration emanating from the crowd. Just like the line waiting to shake hands and take pictures with Norman Cabrera, I left not only feeling the urge do more, but believing that I could. “Never be discouraged,” I thought as I scribbled the last notes before I closed my notepad. Wise words indeed.

— Jarrell Mosley

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