Turning Cartoons into a Career: Orange Coast Narrative Illustration Alumna Stephanie Rizo Student Success Profile

July 29, 2021

Stephanie Rizo had good reason to enroll at Orange Coast College. She was looking to pass her GED exam, earn a degree or certificate, and transfer to an art school or university. “It was also right next door and I didn’t have to take on any debt,” she said.

It was a life-changing decision. Thanks to the skills she learned through Orange Coast College’s Narrative Illustration certificate program, Rizo has settled into a career as a storyboard artist at Sony Pictures Animation. 

“Originally, my thought was to stay at OCC to get my general education classes out of the way and transfer to a university,” said the 29-year-old Burbank resident. “But the more I learned about the classes they offered, the more I learned about the staff they had, the more sense it made to stay at OCC and keep taking more and more art classes.”

Why animation? “It was something that just made me so happy and excited,” Rizo said. “I liked to draw, read how-to-draw books and watch cartoons. The more I drew the more I wanted to do it every day, I then discovered that you could have a job in animation. After high school, I made it my goal to learn as much as I could about character design, illustration and animation and start building a career.”

Her dedication left an impression with her professors. Among them: Chris Kerins, an OCC commercial art instructor and program coordinator in the college’s Visual and Performing Arts Division.

“Stephanie didn’t settle for just doing class assignments,” Kerins explained. “She set out to develop her portfolio through a personal visual development project, which she showed here in the OCC student gallery. She also went above and beyond in the annual ‘Inktober’ daily drawing prompts where she created original characters for stories that were appealing and entertaining. I’m proud of Stephanie’s success and hope the initiative she showed in and out of the classroom inspires our current students.” 

The Narrative Illustration program is designed to provide students with a solid foundation in traditional and digital art before progressing to advanced media skills and more focused classes in illustration and professional studies. Electives include cartooning, character design, life painting, watercolor, and more. The aim: prepare students to start a freelance career or for acceptance into an illustration degree program.

The program is among the myriad reasons alumni of Orange Coast College and the Coast Community College District are contributing $1.4 billion to the regional economy, according to a 2108 Emsi report.

Storyboard artists, according to Glassdoor.com, are earning an average annual salary of more than $97,000 annually nationwide.

“It’s a fantastic community college,” Rizo said. “It has everything that you need and I always recommend it to those who are exploring what they want to do in their career.”

Rizo began building her portfolio while at OCC and began landing steady freelance work as a character designer for DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon, Netflix, and Warner Bros. Entertainment. She was hired at Sony Pictures Animation about 2½ years ago.

“OCC impacted me greatly,” Rizo said. “I met some of my closest friends there. We all met from the art classes and had the same goal: to work in the animation industry. We hyped each other up and helped one another to push ourselves to do our best. To this day, I’m still in contact with them and all of us have reached our goals of getting jobs where we wanted to work.”