Founder of MKTwelve:
interview by Jon Bransky
Headquartered in Kansas City, MO, MK12 is a design and filmmaking collective with acclaim in both commercial and artistic arenas. Founded in 2000 as a means to produce original content, MK12 has evolved into a full-service creative studio, adapting their unique brand of filmmaking to title sequence design, game cinematics & promotion, music videos, and network and advertising projects, amongst other creative endeavors.
How did you decide to pursue a career in design?
My dad was a prosecuting attorney, but he was also a freelance cartoonist that collected books, comic books and toys, magazines and pulp magazines. You know, Big Little Books and everything. I was kind of immersed in an odd, very focused and centered pop-culture kind of history as I grew up. Initially, I wanted to become a comic book artist or writer. Then I found a computer in the 90’s through a job I had while I was going to community college, and that turned into an interesting tool make things. I wanted to get into comics just because of my dad and drawing consistently throughout my childhood.
Describe your educational background
I went to Highland Community College in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas, which is far closer to St. Joseph, Missouri. Being that highland was a dry county, we would effectively bootleg beer and liquor back into the state, thanks to the proximity of St. Joe. I had a couple of buddies that were going to Highland, so I bide my time there. I build up my portfolio and applied to the Kansas City Art Institute and somehow finagled my way in as a Junior. I was in Photo-Video, which was kind of the catchall for any new digital media, but also included traditional photography. I just went straight into animations in a digital space, but utilizing every other thing around me. The animation classes were very simplified and they were working with other programs that weren’t necessarily the 2-D, moving space that I was wanting to work in. I thought that was a far more interesting place to play than to just hold to a canvas or to be only in the darkroom.
How long after finishing school did you start MK12?
1999 is when we ended up starting and I graduated in ‘98, so it was within the year of trying to figure out how to live in Kansas City. Through all my time in school, I had a 40-hour salary graphic design job just to help pay the bills. Like, how to hone craft into a day job, I suppose. It’s kind of what we ended up doing, which is really weird. Because you are doing what you are wanting to do during the day and then you get home at night and you’re like “Ok so… what is my hobby now?” “What am I supposed to do with my down-time because I just took an artistic endeavor and effectively created it into that working 9-to-5 space - which it never really is 9-to-5.
How does MK12 share the role of Creative Director?
We’re a really small shop. There’s like six of us right now. There’s been a couple of projects where we’ve been over twelveish people, but nothing so static that we’ve had numerous folks in the space. When jobs come in, someone just kind of picks up the primary role of Creative Director. We don’t really have titles, we just kind of work. Like - I’ll direct something or creative direct something. But, at the same time, I’ll rotoscope or do the grunt work, frame or composite. So, it’s a true artistic collaboration in the sense that there’s always somebody guiding the bus, but it’s a group effort in navigating the project itself. I think the biggest point for us is having that point person is really on the client side. Having the same voice who is speaking to you throughout the project is very helpful. Thats not to say that we switch on and off, or whatever. We certainly do depending on whats going on, but I think its a little bit more comfortable going through the process with the same voice speaking to them.
Describe a typical day at your studio
We get in at some point in the morning and like on a Monday we usually have a production meeting. We go through what’s on the table, when things are due, when calls are happening. There’s always a lot of conference calls and check-ins depending on where we’re at in a project. We don’t really have offices. Our studio is one giant space. Half of it is dedicated to a green-screen space and half is an open space that has a bunch of art supplies in the back and computers and desks in the front. Sometimes there’s music out loud in the studio, sometimes we will have headphones. We just kind of whittle away. At the end of the day, we either deliver things or get stuff prepped for the following day. Then we kind of play show-and-tell via email as to what we’ve all been working on, just so we can gauge what needs to happen with the following day.
Do you have many local clients, or does most of your
work come from out-of-state?
We have reps in LA and New York. So sales representation exists on the coasts and we just work here. I think we’ve had a couple of clients here over the years that were based in Kansas City, but I can count on one hand those clients as opposed to all of the others.
Are there challenges in working mostly on jobs outside of the area?
Our primary contact and our point person within a project is coming from ad agencies. A lot of clients are either taking it internally or bypassing the agency itself, because they are kind of the middle man space that at one point was a great necessity. But, for whatever reason the thought is to lose that. On the flip side, ad agencies will start building internal studios like us to where they are taking all of the jobs and there’s nothing left for anybody else. So that’s always a pain. There’s no difference in Kansas City, at least for the minimal space that we’ve worked on projects here. Everything is still competitive. You are always pitching against three to five studios all hungry for the same thing and rarely do you get paid for that pitch work. So, that means countless hours of free thought, concepting design, style, and experimentation just to try and win the job itself.
Do you have any advice for
students who will soon
begin their careers in design?
If you a graphic designer I suggest drawing and writing. I suggest doing things beyond work, school, interning. Whatever is going on in your life is huge, but I think finding other outlets will always spark new and interesting ideas within the profession that you choose, if it’s a creative profession. For me, as a visual artist, having that opportunity to work creatively in that space can kickstart ideas and make you better overall as far as concepting and creating. Finding those alternatives to where you can push your creative limits and just keep making things because there’s plenty of time to sleep later on. Maybe condense breaks into a couple of days so you can take a road trip out to somewhere for a weekend. That refuels a lot of creative space and thought. Balancing time is a hard thing to figure out. Until you’re dead, never will you actually figure it out, but it should be a conscious thing that you’re always thinking of - how do I get the full amount out of it that I can. In terms of profession, but also just personal space, because if your personal space is not as level and even as it should be then that will affect everything else.