They’ve come a long way from the days of making clay snowmen in the kindergarten art class at Christ Church School in Fort Lauderdale.
Now Bailee Madison, 13, is an actress starring in films with A-listers like Billy Crystal and Jennifer Aniston, and art teacher Rob Cabrera is a rising star in the field of animation.
The two reunited for Cabrera’s first animated short, Monica, about a tween girl with superpowers. The six-minute film, in which Bailee voices the title character, will be screened Saturday at the Young at Art Museum in Davie at a fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a pediatric cancer foundation for which she is a spokesperson.
Cabrera says he knew Bailee was special the day they met at Christ Church School.
“You must be the famous Mr. Cabrera,” she said, sticking out her hand to shake his.
“It wasn’t something that a kindergartner would normally do,” says Cabrera, who still teaches at the school. “That told me I was dealing with someone unique.”
The creative, energetic little girl from Lauderdale-by-the-Sea had begun appearing in commercials as an infant. Her career took off at age 5 when she landed the role of May Belle in Disney’s Bridge to Terabithia.
Film production took her to New Zealand, “but I came back to Christ Church whenever possible, because it kept me grounded,” Bailee says. “I could put on my uniform, go to school and be a regular girl.”
She went on to appear in Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place; Brothers, with Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal; Conviction, with Hilary Swank and Minnie Driver, and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, with Katie Holmes.
Meanwhile, Cabrera had wrapped up a three-year deal with United Feature Syndicate that had his Silo Roberts comic strip, about a multiracial boy, in more than 200 U.S. newspapers. A Miami Heat fan, Cabrera famously drew Dwyane Wade into the strip, and he has been recognized by the NBA and ESPN for his Heat-inspired cartoons.
Deciding to get into animation, Cabrera enrolled in a master’s degree program at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Monica was his thesis project.
Witnessing a girl defending her younger brother against a bully, he says, inspired him to create a character with superpowers to fight tougher, meaner kids.
When Bailee was in fourth grade, he approached her and her mother about collaborating on the project.
“I was really excited, because I had never done just voice work,” Bailee says.
Prep work included filming her reading her lines so Cabrera could capture her expressions for the artwork.
Working on a specially built Mac computer in his Fort Lauderdale studio, he used a pressure-sensitive stylus to create the characters directly on the screen. From storyboarding to animation and voice recordings, the project took nine months.
The recordings were done in a Los Angeles studio with comedians Eric Price and Tom Clark voicing other roles and the air electric with wisecracks on “one awesome afternoon,” Cabrera says.
“Bailee had just finished doing Just Go With It with Adam Sandler two weeks prior, so it was no big deal for her to keep up with two comedians,” he says. “When it came time to work, she was incredibly professional and brought that character to life better than I ever imagined.”