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Victoria native makes it to Hollywood (Video)

By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Feb. 5, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 5, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.

Eric Zapata and Kris Kobzina were partners for a challenge in one episode of SyFy's "Face Off." Zapata was born and raised in Victoria. In this episode, the contestants designed nightmarish creatures for the "When Hell Freezes Over" competition.

Are you ready to 'Face Off'?

The show is on at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the SyFy Channel. Eight episodes remain.

One might simply write off a 7th grader's replica of the iconic blade fingers of "A Nightmare on Elm Street's" Freddy Krueger as a curious child's hobby. But when that playful exploration becomes a career, well, that's a whole new world - as Eric Zapata found out.

Zapata is on SyFy's "Face Off," a show in which special effects artists compete against each other to win $100,000, a 2013 Fiat 500 and the chance to be a guest lecturer in New York and Paris among other prizes.

The show premiered Jan. 15 but was shot in summer 2012, the 23-year-old said, and the hardest part has been keeping his family in the dark about the final results.

"I can keep a secret really well," Zapata said in a phone interview. "But I have, like, 10 aunts and uncles on each side of the family."

Zapata, who now lives in Austin and helped found Archimedes Media Lab, watches the show, and it all feels like a blur, he said. His parents and extended family watch religiously and have made it a family affair.

On Tuesday, some of his aunts, uncles and cousins watched the show, nervous about the outcome.

The family ate menudo and had the TV loud, screaming, sometimes mouths agape at some of the costumes other competitors were making.

Zapata survived another episode of the show Tuesday. He even won a challenge in the beginning and was safe on the final challenge of the night. But now, the process starts over again, his aunt Rita Zapata Adame said.

"We're just a really close family and to see a member of the family not just on a commercial, but on national TV. It's such a thrill for us," she said. "And just to see his dream coming true - it's just amazing."

Growing up talented

How Zapata really started is difficult to pinpoint. He had always been artistic, but when he began dabbling with arts more in junior and high school, it began to flourish.

"He dreamed about this career all his life," said his mother, Sylvia Zapata, who lives in Florida. "It's just something that he loves to do. I don't know where he got it from."

When he was in junior high, he built a robot that he saw on Mystery Science Theater and sold it on EBay for $500. That, his mother said, was when she began to realize just how talented he was in the craft.

"I don't think he realizes how amazing he really is," she said. "I'm so proud. I can't even put it into words."

Zapata's father, Richard Zapata, still lives in Victoria and is also very proud of his son and his work.

"It's just unbelievable," his father said about seeing his son on cable TV. "I support him 100 percent and just want him to pursue his dreams."

Zapata said he first fell in love with the idea of being a special effects artist when he worked at Movie Gallery on John Stockbauer. His love for movies and love for art melded together, and he realized he could make that a career.

"I owe who I am to a lot of people," he said. "I'm such a big fan of the show, and it's surreal to see myself on television."

Here, now and the future

After graduating from Memorial High School, Zapata went to Douglas Education Center in Pennsylvania to hone his skills in special effects.

Right now, Zapata is working with his Archimedes Media Lab company, but in 2012, he decided to apply for "Face Off."

He sent in his audition tape, did all the paperwork and got a call weeks later.

"I was kind of flabbergasted," he said about being selected. "You have to drop it all and just do it."

The show focuses on various challenges to test special effects artists' talent.

On the show, he faced off against 13 other contestants. As of last night, four were eliminated.

The show has several judges, including Neville Page, who has done effects for several blockbuster movies, such as "Superman Returns," "Planet of the Apes" and J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek."

Working with people of that caliber was amazing, Zapata said.

His favorite challenge that has aired was the demon challenge, in which he and contestant Kris Kobzina worked on a nightmarish monster.

"I was really happy to be teamed up with someone like him," Zapata said. "You learn from them."

For now, family and friends are going to have to wait to see whether Zapata makes it to the end. His goal, however, is to make it big and work on blockbuster movies.

"I'm really good at that. The show allowed me to break outside of my comfort zone," he said. "I have a lot of younger cousins, and I want them to see me chasing my dream. That shows them they can do the same thing."

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