By Chosalin Morales, student news writer and photographer, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — “‘You should work at Disney!’ I was told as a young artist,” Rob Cabrera, Emmy Award winning animator, story artist and educator, said to art and design students at Campbellsville University.
Born in Bronx, New York, as a young child, Cabrera started his art interest with cartoons and movies like Spiderman as well as comics, lightsabers and giant robots. He would draw everything he saw and realized the more he drew, the more he saw he wanted to make a living out of it.
In his adolescent years, Cabrera’s interest diversified. He joined a Team Production Club at his high school, the wrestling team and worked at a movie theater. As time went on, he carried with himself three life lessons: time is valuable, art requires time and art is business.
Cabrera’s first lesson on the value of time led him to invest his time in his future. In turn, he realized art was his strongest interest and pursued higher education on an art scholarship.
“I did improv, stand-up comedy and commercials,” Cabrera said. “I wanted to be creative in different ways than the regular drawing and painting courses. The experience gave me my first glimpse of what show business and production was like, which I found quite valuable.”
After graduating college, Cabrera became a public school teacher while working to get his art career off the ground.
“I loved the experience because it taught me how to organize and lead groups, which is important when you collaborate with others in animation or game development,” he said.“At last, a win.”
Every summer, Cabrera worked on his portfolio to pursue one of his goals—have his own comic. For two summers, he developed what would become a media-syndicated newspaper comic called “Silo Roberts.”
“Anything you’ll create will require time,” he said. “You’ll have to put in the work to create good art. There is no other way.”
His second life lesson—art requires time—led him into animation software. Cabrera’s art was now a paying career but also work that required time. Cabrera said at one point “Silo” was going to be in animation, but plans fell through at the end.
“I wasn’t an animation guy, I was a comic strip print type of guy,” said Cabrera. “As a result, I went on a mission to earn my Master’s in Animation and Visual effects at Academy of Art University in San Francisco.”
During graduate school, Cabrera opened his own studio, Creative Squirrels LLC, to work on his clients’ projects while balancing his education. He produced a short animation thesis film with young actress Bailee Madison. His production, titled “Monica,” received first place in the Academy.
“At last, I headed to the place everyone thought I should be at…Disney Animations,” Cabrera said. “However, I already had things rolling with Creative Squirrels and had plenty of paying work that I was interested in.
“Going to Disney would have been a huge life change and semi-permanent move. After consulting with mentors, I chose to keep working with Creative Squirrels because I had more control over my own destiny.”
“This move had shocked many as I had went on the road not taken.”
That led to his third rule in life: Art is a business.
“We may love to draw but what tends to drive this thing we have to do is—the business of art,” Cabrera said.
After years of working in the industry, Cabrera was burnt out and decided to take a leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. With his time off, he returned to teaching at the college level at the Academy of Art University.
“I get to help guide the next generation of artist to live their dreams, which is rewarding. I do not regret passing on the road to Disney,” he said. “While the experience would have been cool for sure, it was not my dream, it was others.
“I have accomplished so much—I have made my own comic, my own studio, I have received both my bachelor’s and master’s degree, learned to do animation and more.”
Cabrera started his career in public education after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in Animation and Visual Effects from the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
While he is working on a metaverse web3 project, Cabrera is also teaching artists at his alma mater, Academy of Art University, in the Game Development Department as an instructor and lecturer.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that has enrolled up to 12,000 students yearly. The university offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, masters, bachelors, associate and certification programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.