BY JON CRONIN
Queens native and costume designer Laura Cristina Ortiz never wants young people to believe that they do not have a pathway to greatness.
Ortiz, who failed her first year of college, now designs costumes for film and TV show, and has worked on independent movies, the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the horror film V/H/S Viral, the web-series College Humor Originals and Lucas Film at San Diego Comic Con.
She grew up in Corona, then moved to Flushing with her parents—who are still there—and admits that she was “a bit of a cosplay nerd.”
Ortiz, 28, had been putting together her and friends cosplay costumes for comic-cons since she was 13 years old.
Sewing and costume design had always been an interest, but in her late teens—when she was searching for colleges and wanted to break into the film industry—she said that she “felt like [she] probably had to pay a lot of money.”
Ortiz chose a school in upstate New York—it was expensive and she didn’t succeed. That regret haunted her. She then chose to start school at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.
“Queensborough was a game changer for me,” said Ortiz.
There, she met a film history professor, Dr. Thomas Smith—who was the chairman of Speech, Communication and Theater Arts—who inspired her.
“He was definitely a film geek, but was he was really witty and smart,” she said, adding that she connected with him.
Ortiz said that Smith died just after her graduation in 2010. She noted that she will never forget his class.
“He was a fantastic professor, a testament of how a teacher can really change someone,” she said.
She added that the students in the class also influenced her, and she recalled them as a mixed group of recently graduated high school and continuing education students.
Shortly after the class, she started volunteering on film sets. Her film industry bug had given her the itch. She decided to apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Her aunt was an alumnus and her grandmother had worked for many years in a garment factory. Working as a team, the three put together a portfolio of original designs that fit the school’s entrance criteria.
“It’s totally understandable if you can’t afford NYU,” Ortiz advised. “Start in a CUNY.”
She said that the CUNY schools—such as Queens College, Brooklyn College, SUNY Purchase and City College—are “known for being performing arts schools.”
“You can also do a lot in independent study,” she added.
Looking back at how she created her own cosplay costumes in her teens, Ortiz said that she is astounded at the free learning tools currently online.
“There are so many resources now,” she said. “It’s so popular. I would be over the moon if I had that at 13. I had to MacGyver everything.”
In her youth, Ortiz created costumes in the style of Mini-Moon from Sailor Moon and Chibi-Moon from the popular Japanese anime. She also created an outfit for Selphie Tilmitt from Final Fantasy VIII video game and creatures from Bio-Shock.
“I was a broke-ass student, so sometimes I had to choose between fabric for school projects and fabric for hobbies,” she said of her past work.
Ortiz and her husband, who also works in the film industry, moved to Los Angeles five years ago after discovering that they wanted to try “something different.”
“We have roots in New York City, so we knew it was always an option,” she said.
She still comes back to the East Coast for work. Last year, she worked in Brooklyn and Queens on the film Tu Me Manques (which means “I miss you” in French). She also worked on Are We Not Cats?, which was shot in Queens and Staten Island in 2014, and has a limited theater release in 2018. It will premiere at the Cinema Village in Manhattan on Feb. 23.
Oritz said that she chose to dress the actors in Are We Not Cats? in a street fashion inspired by the funky styles of Japanese fashion in the early 2000s.
“It’s eye catching and eccentric, but understated,” she said.
She encourages young people to reach out to people in the film and costume industry about their interests.
“New York Comic Con is becoming more of an industry convention,” she said. “Motivate yourself to reach out to people about your interests.”
Reach reporter Jon Cronin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 125.