Orange Coast College’s 164-acre campus is located in Costa Mesa just minutes from Southern California’s beautiful beaches. Founded in 1947, with classes beginning in 1948, OCC has grown into one of the nation’s largest — and finest — community colleges, enrolling more than 25,000 students each semester.
OCC features exceptional facilities and the latest in technology and offers more than 135 academic and career programs, including one of the nation’s largest and most acclaimed public nautical programs. Nearly half the students on campus are enrolled in one of OCC’s Career and Technical Education programs.
OCC ranks first out of Orange County’s community colleges in the number of students it transfers to the University of California and California State University systems. Over the past decade, thousands of OCC students have transferred to UC and CSU campuses. Additionally, many Orange Coast students go on to transfer to private colleges and universities within California and across the nation.
A member of the Coast Community College District, OCC offers fall, winter, spring, and summer classes and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Rizo.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started? It all started when I was just a little kid. I loved getting up early to watch all the Saturday morning Cartoons and reading the newspaper comic strips that my dad would bring. My family is a very creative bunch and have always been supportive in the arts, so it was no surprise that I started to become interested in drawing. I was always drawing on any kind of paper I could get my hands-on like receipts, accidental print paper, napkins at restaurants while we waited for our food or getting in trouble at school for doodling animals on the math homework. My mom would take my sister and I often to the library and it was then when I discovered “how to draw” books. I couldn’t believe there was a book that could teach you how to draw animals and people. I was always leaving the library with too many books that my little body could carry, I mean I was just so excited! It was one particular trip to the library that I came across one of my first “art of” books. It was a wide landscape book that was popping out of the bookshelf, it caught my eye and I pulled it out. It was Tarzan art of book, I felt like I had just found gold. As I flipped through the pages, I was inspired by all the beautiful art that the book was filled with, from Character Design, Background paintings and visual development. Then I saw these very expressive animated drawings that Glen Kean had drawn, it read that he was a character animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios. That’s when I knew that I wanted to work in animation!
As I got older graduating from Highschool in 2010, I headed to Orange Coast Community College. My goal was to finish my GED and transfer to an art school or university. During this time, I learned about the college’s Narrative illustration program and the art center on campus. It was really awesome because that is where I met some of my closest friends and created such a fun art community. We each realized that we had the same goals of wanting to improve, work hard and do as much drawing as we could. Since we all wanted to up our skills and portfolios for art school, we started to attend CTN (Creative Talent Network) back in 2013. It was such a great time to meet artist that inspired us and get feedback on our work. Once I had a portfolio ready and GED done, I was accepted to Laguna college of art and Design. It was the closest art school in southern California and found that their animation program was great. Though I was thankful for some scholarships that I was able to receive, I still had to take on a big loan for the next four years. Being a first-generation Mexican- American, I have been fortunate to have love and support from my family the moment I knew I wanted to become an artist and of course, they were worried of the challenges that I would have to face but they were and have been always cheering me on. So, I felt that this was too much of a debt to take. I knew that a lot of these classes I could take Online and at community college. I wanted to make my parents proud and still get an education but with an affordable budget, we could manage.
I returned to Orange Coast to finish the Narrative Illustration program. Once I started this art journey, I knew I had to work a lot more in finding different kinds of resources to expand my knowledge of the fundamentals in animation and the industry. I was still keeping in touch with my close art friends and one of them ( Victor Calleja) had been attending Cal State Fullerton and they told me about a club called PMC (pencil Mileage club) The club would bring in speakers once a week, who have been working in animation/ illustration/ Entertainment and share their experience and journey. So, I would sneak into these events and take as much notes as I could, to just absorb as much knowledge. In 2015- 2016, I finished the Narrative illustration program and was thinking about the next step to take. I was still working on my portfolio and applying to any jobs or internships but all I got was rejection letters. Though I felt defeated, I knew that I had to keep pushing and work harder, I kept attending CTN every year and there I learned about Schoolsim courses run by Bobby Chiu. They were great because they offered classes with instructors who have worked in the animation industry at an affordable price! I also came across Chris Oatley Academy as well, what I loved about his courses was that he didn’t teach you how to draw but it was more about understanding the animation pipeline and expanding your knowledge in storytelling. Then Eva Lacy reached out to me on Instagram to see if I was interested in participating at her pop-up event called The Artist Lodge. She had seen my work and felt that I would be a good fit for it. I was nervous about it because I didn’t think people would be interested in buying my work but I took the chance and went for it. It was a great experience and gave me a lot of confidence and motivation to share more of my work on Instagram. As I kept posting my art online and shared my work, it leads an awesome opportunity to do some Freelance Character Design work on Unikitty T.V show at Warner Bros. Andrea Fernandez had found my art and passed my work along to Lyn Wang. I was thrilled they had reached out! Even though it was only for a short amount of time, it was a great experience and learned so much on the job.
At this time, I was working at Starbucks during the day and freelance at Night. Even though I was getting a taste of what it was like to work for a studio as a freelancer, my goal was to work at a studio full time. One-night PMC had a special alumni speaker event and had some really awesome artists to talk about their journey. One of them was Matt Roberts, a recruiter for Walt Disney. After that wonderful talk, I decided to introduce myself and share a visual development art book my partner and I made. He thought it was awesome and liked to work and kept it. We thought it was awesome and didn’t think much of it after that night. Time passed and one day Matt reached out to me and asked if I was interested in applying towards the storyboard apprenticeship program. I was happy he had reached out but also conflicted because I was focused on character Design and not story. But I took the “Leap of faith” and said yes. I had about 1-2omths to work on a storyboard portfolio. I was freaking out and stressed, for the next few weeks I did everything I could to learn about boards, references and thing of a story to tell for my portfolio. Once I wrapped that up, I applied and hoped for the best. A couple of weeks later, I was told I was accepted for an interview at the studio, and after that I received a call asking if I wanted to be part of the program and I said YES. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
I joined the program in 2018 and it lasted a yearlong and it was the most fun and exciting experience. Though I felt like I was thrown at the deep end of the pool, I wasn’t alone. I got to work with such talented artists in the program with me, Allen Ostergar, Alishea Gibson, Hillary Bradfield and Morin Halperin. I learned so much from each of them and it was awesome to see a diverse group with different backgrounds pushing each other to learn as much as we could about storytelling. Also, some of the most talented and well-known artists became our mentors. Michael Herrera was my mentor and taught me so much. He pushed me to do my best and always was so encouraging and patient with me. After a year of training, the apprenticeship wrapped up in 2019 and it was time for my next adventure.
I was unemployed for about three months, but it wasn’t long till Sony reached out to me about a possible job opportunity working as a story artist. I had always admired Sony animation films and loved how fun and animated their stories so I was very excited. I later find out that the position was for the sequel on Spider-Verse! I owe many thanks for Miguel Jiron for passing my work along and be part of the Spidey team. I was so thrilled to be working with some incredible people like our Directors Justin Thompson and Joaquim Dos Santos, the story crew and art department have been such an inspiration and I am learning so much with this incredible team. I still can’t believe I have been so lucky to experience so much in such little time. I am very thankful for all the support I have had along the way from my friends, family, mentors, instructors who have been pushing me to do my best. I am forever grateful for everyone who has had faith in me becoming an artist because if it wasn’t for their endless support and motivation, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect? The challenges came from the choices I made from the get go. Since I didn’t take the traditional art school path, I had to find my own sources, community and classes. Post-Graduation, I started to work at Starbucks as a barista. I really enjoyed that time there because I was able to expand my communication skills and customer service. Though I enjoyed making latte foam art on customer drinks, I would daydream and wish I was at home drawing, working on my portfolio. There were days where I just felt defeated and time was just passing me by. I would spiral to think that perhaps it was a mistake that I didn’t attend Art school and things would have been easier? I kept feeling this pressure from my parents to make them proud even though they have been supportive of my career path, I still didn’t want to let them down.
What really helped to keep myself motivated was attending Speaker events, whether it be at Cal State Fullerton or gallery events and Workshops. As things started to look up when I started the Story Apprentice program at Disney, it was another challenge. Since I started college, my goal was to work as a Character Designer, I mean I really liked every aspect of the animation pipeline but creating characters was my sweet spot. So, when this opportunity came to me, it felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool. I had only learned how to “float” and there was so much for me to learn about being a Story artist. I feel very fortunate to have had a great mentor along the way to help me understand and have a voice with my art. I feel very blessed to have these opportunities come my way, but I will say that each one comes with their own challenges and obstacles that help us learn and grow as artists.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work? I am a Character Designer and Story artist working in the Animation industry for Film & T.V.
I specialize in creating Character Design and Stories that have emotion, energy and giving characters life. I like to exaggerate emotions with drawings and it’s fun to see how people connect with these designs.
I am known for drawing lots of animal character designs and illustrations. I have a lot of fun learning about animals and creating characters, whether it be that they are drinking coffee or skateboarding.
I am most proud of how far along I’ve come. Being a First-Generation Queer Mexican-American Women, I feel blessed to have these opportunities come my way. I am always so great full for those who have believed in me and that my work has impacted them in some kind of way.
Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us? I would say the most important thing I have learned along my journey is taking that “leap of faith”. There were times that I was just afraid of failing or not trying something because I felt that I was not ready for it. It is not easy but you have to follow that gut feeling.
John Upton, one of the founders of the well-respected photography department at Orange Coast College who taught there for more than 40 years, died on Dec. 7 in Petaluma. He was 88.
Upton died due to complications from lung cancer, the school announced.
A former San Clemente and Laguna Woods resident, Upton had moved to Petaluma two years ago to be closer to his family, his daughter, Sean, said.
“He always had an eye for photography,” Sean Upton said. “The day that I drove him to the hospital, which was just two weeks ago, he was looking out the window appreciating places that he may photograph someday. So, he was always looking through the eye of the lens of the photographer.”
John Upton was born in Iowa and moved to the San Fernando Valley when he was 5 years old, his daughter said. He went to art school in San Francisco, at the California School of the Fine Arts, studying with contemporaries like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston before he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War in 1953.
Upton came back to Southern California and became a faculty member at Orange Coast College in 1960. He retired in 1999 but continued to teach a gallery class part time for several years.
Upton and his then-wife, Barbara London, published the influential college textbook “Photography” in 1976. There are more than 1.5 million copies in print.
“Things that other people see as common knowledge, John would sort of miss,” said OCC Photography Department Chair Blade Gillissen, a student of Upton’s at the junior college in the 1990s. “He was so tuned into photography. I remember one day trying to talk to him, back when the [Los Angeles] Lakers started doing better again with Kobe [Bryant] and [Shaquille O’Neal]. And he had no idea who I was talking about.”
The gallery class provided joy for Upton later in his life. Gillissen said he and Upton would each drive a van full of students to art galleries and museums throughout Southern California on Saturdays, with Upton acting as a docent.
“I haven’t offered it since he stopped teaching it,” Gillissen said. “I don’t know anyone off the top of my head that could teach it like he did it.”
Sean Upton called her father one of the premier art historians in the U.S. Last January, Orange Coast College opened a survey exhibition of his fine art work at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion on campus. The exhibit ran until mid-March, when the school was shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The survey had selections from four main bodies of work: early work, “Japanalia,” “Jungle Road” and the more recent “Petaluma.” John Upton was an avid fan of Asian art and culture and would visit Japan yearly for decades, Sean Upton said.
The exhibition was curated by Tyler Stallings, director/senior curator at the Doyle.
“He was mainly known as an educator, for the book and what he did for the photography department at OCC,” Stallings said. “He’s always been making work, but as a busy teacher, he didn’t always have the time to get his work out there. That was the angle of the show.”
Later in his life, Upton also collaborated with longtime friend and part-time OCC Photography Department instructor John Hesketh, who would print his photography.
“John was one of the sweetest and most giving people around,” Hesketh said. “I had a commercial father of photography [Dean], and John was kind of my fine art father of photography. He was very, very dedicated to photography itself and what it meant to be a fine art photographer, or an artist that was lens-based … He was like this elder statesman that represented photography in its best, kindest way. He was very generous in encouraging other people to do what they could do.”
I got shat on by so many for returning to community college after receiving my Bachelor’s. No degree is worth getting if you’re not gonna use it. And being a graduate gives me more validation to have an opinion on the matter. Not all community colleges are General Ed farmhouses.