“Shoot for the stars, but never forget what got you there.”
On the website for his Mudwing Media art studio, founder Leon Kelsick includes this sentence as part of an explanation for not only the origin of his Chicago-based company’s name, but also an outline of the philosophy by which he and his people approach every project they tackle.
“The word MUD represents the ground we all come from,” explains the site’s “About” section. “WING represents success and passion. Put them together and they become one word that embodies the idea of ‘shoot for the stars, but never forget what got you there.’”
For Kelsick, a significant part of the “what got you there” is Eastern Illinois University, where he received an bachelor’s degree in art in 2010. Before leaving Chicago to pursue his degree here, he was essentially an untapped well of artistic talent and creativity.
“When I went to Eastern Illinois, I think I was older than most students,” remembers Kelsick. “I was already working in Chicago for a while; I had a job at a hospital. I couldn’t pursue the art thing because I didn’t know how to get away from the job. I was supporting a kid and a wife.
“When I went down to school, it let me focus on something. I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, but after the first week I realized I had a ton of time on my hands. It was really nice. I got to push the work aside, and the family was easy to handle down there. I got to focus on what I loved to do.”
Kelsick arrived at EIU thinking he’d focus on graphic design. He says that interest evolved into motion design and then into motion graphics.
“Then I just figured out animation is what I want to do,” said Kelsick. “It really helped guide me to where I wanted to go. When I first got (to EIU), I had no clue what I wanted to do. I probably didn’t know what I wanted to do until a year before I graduated.
“But once I found it, it was probably something I could’ve only done by leaving the city … going out there and discovering a pot of gold or whatever you want to call it. Discovering my dream job.”
Animation, while being Kelsick’s self-described “bread and butter”, is just part of what Mudwing can do. Nestled in Chicago’s West Loop amongst giant studios like Harpo Productions and Resolution Digital, Mudwing doesn’t pigeon-hole itself into any one category. Animations, videos, illustrations, web/graphic design … if it’s creative, Kelsick and his crew are confident in putting their spin on it. And he’ll follow the work anywhere.
“My main source of advertising, I guess, would be social media, and social media is not very targeted,” said Kelsick. “You target a certain group of people, but they’re just from everywhere. I tell people ‘I can go to you’, so I was in New York and we did a music video there one week. The very next week we did a kickstarter video. Then we actually went back not too much longer than that and did some hair salon things. Then we went to Seattle and did another music video.
“We just go wherever people call us.”
Mudwing’s clientele is as diverse as its collective skill set; major companies will come looking for things like animated training videos for internal use, but a lot of individuals will seek him out looking for a more personal touch.
“Corporate projects are great because they pay the bills, but then there are too many people involved and the art of it kind of gets lost,” says Kelsick. “I get used more like a toolbox to make what they want. I do get to infuse some creativity into some corporate businesses that are sometimes not used to it.
“But my favorite clients are people coming to me with their own projects they want to make. Usually those might pay a little less, but those people really come to me with a confidence because they’ve seen what I’ve made. We offer this to a lot of people in the city who cannot afford the bigger studios.”
Kelsick was a key player in the creation of a “Think Before You Shoot” anti-violence PSA video that caught a lot of traction and ended up garnering attraction from national media outlets … so much that several follow-up videos are in production.
“We were on Fox News, ABC, we got a whole bunch of radio and TV interviews,” remembers Kelsick. “I wasn’t really ready for that. It was kind of another personal project that I worked with somebody else on, but once it was released we realized this thing was bigger than us. We thought we were just making something hot and we’d move on to something else the next day, but it was received so well we ended up having to put more work into them.”
Additionally, Kelsick has designs on eventually producing television programs and says his “dream project” would be his own cartoon.
“I think animation was always something I wanted to do, but I had no clue how,” said Kelsick. “In the early 90s, I was always drawing. I always loved cartoon, but in the early 90s there was no way to just do them at home. It took me 10 years later to finally figure out what Adobe was and what AfterEffects was. I was then able to marry the two things I love the most: animation and art. I put them together, and now I have animated art. I love it.”