Reading Time | 22 minutes
Lumo Studio is a game and animation studio established by visionary graduates and winners of MCAD (aka Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s) 2019 PitchFest. Allow yourself to enjoy the lighthearted and friendly voices of Kelsey Maher, Ching Thao, Sarah Steiner, and Rae Bostic as they guide us through the origins of their unique studio. Savor every ASMR sound of drawing in the background as we dive into the benefits of collaboration and absorb all the great insights these four artists have to offer.
Everyone: [00:00:00] Hello hi, wonderful, welcome.
Alicia: [00:00:07] how are you? And I feel like before anyone starts talking, the first thing we should talk about is who are you? There are four of you for our listeners. There are four people here today being interviewed, but they all fall under the umbrella of Lumo Studio, so who wants to tell us what Lumos Studio is?
Kelsey: [00:00:29] Hi, so I’m Kelsey and Lumo Studios is basically a group that the four of us started back when we were all in college together at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and since then, we’ve grown from a group into an actual company working on our own projects and client work both in Minneapolis and also in Seattle where some of us live now.
Alicia: [00:00:52] That’s awesome. We should probably each take a moment to introduce the four members of Studio Lumo. Do you guys want to go around and say your name and talk a little bit about how you became a part of Lumo.
Kelsey: [00:01:09] I’m Kelsey, I became a part of Lumo actually originally with Ching, in fact, Ching and I had gotten into a class at, MCAD together and I wanted to do things that typically one person can’t do and so do Ching. I kind of looked at him and said, hey, do you want to start working on our projects together? So we can make stuff that’s bigger and better and he agreed, so we basically did every single project in that class together as a team and then we took a creating and running a business class that Sarah was also taking and we scooped her up and recruited her into it too and refined that little group and started doing the same thing, but the three of us in other classes.
Ching: [00:01:50] So they don’t know this, but coming to MCAD I was on a mission. I was looking for like-minded individuals to actually start a company. I’m not really into going out there and working for other studios I want to do my own thing and so yeah, that was the goal in the beginning and then I met Kelsey at school and we did a lot of projects together and a lot of our animation classes, it was just a bunch of collaboration going on. So it was like, okay, we got a good thing going on here let’s do something and, you know, we’ll make our own stuff. That’s the journey and so really excited where we’re going to be going.
Alicia: [00:02:23] You want to say your name really quick?
Ching: [00:02:26] Oh yeah. I’m Ching Thao.
Sarah: [00:02:30] Hi, I’m Sarah. And I think I met Kelsey and Ching, or we really started working together through a 2D animation class. I was doing a lot of projects mainly independently before then and then Kelsey stumbled upon me and she was like, you look tired. I said, I am tired. Let us help you. So Kelsey and Ching absorbed me into their little group and then we started making masterpieces.
Rae: [00:03:02] My name is Rae I met Kelsey cause my mom made me talk to her. Kelsey said she studied abroad. My mom was like, my daughter wants to study abroad. So made me talk to Kelsey and then Kelsey got me started to be involved with the animation study group and so we did film festivals together and I would actually end up working with Kelsey and Ching for my first ever finished film at MCAD so that was an experience working with like upperclassmen and seeing how animation collaboration would help the process. I was absorbed into this amalgamation at some point after I’d been working with Kelsey and Ching on a few projects doing sound and a little bit of animation and then, yeah, I think Kelsey was just like, Hey, you wanna, you wanna make some stuff? And I was like, I like stuff.
Alicia: [00:03:53] If I were creating a word bubble, of everyone’s description of how they ended up. Kelsey would be the biggest word followed by collaboration and animation. I’m curious, you talk a lot about collaboration. I’m curious how you manage that collaboration. One of the biggest challenges a lot of people have working with other people is literally just the working with other people part. Do you ever have any issues collaborating? How do you work through those? Or what are some techniques that you guys have invented to help the process of collaboration?
Kelsey: [00:04:31] It helps having someone in the group that is very organized and fine with doing project management, which happens to be me. When issues do arise and they do happen, we’re lucky enough that all four of us are pretty alright with being really honest and up front with each other and we don’t take things personally, if someone is frustrated with the project or wants to change what they’re doing, or if something goes on in their life and so they’re behind on something. So we’re pretty okay with having that open dialogue about issues but then when it comes down to it, a lot of times I’ll act as the final voice in the group work that we’re doing. If someone’s having trouble picking what they want to work on, I’m like, well, you’re good at this. So this is the part you’re going to do and you’re good at that so this is the part you’re going to do. We have skills that compliment each other and then we have areas we excel in, so it’s pretty easy to find where everyone fits in in the project and, you know, move people around as needed. A lot of times, if it’s not us talking about it, if someone’s feeling a little lost what they should do next, I just take charge and act as the project manager and say, all right, well, scene seven has to get done. So do you scene seven? And that usually works.
Alicia: [00:05:40] What is it like for the rest of you to have that producer in your life, the person who can help, with decision fatigue and just go ahead and make the decision. So you can just focus on the creative aspects. Do you guys like having that producer project manager in your life?
Sarah: [00:05:56] Yes. It takes a lot of pressure off of us because you know, if you are the one who has to do like all of the organization, all the thinking and then all the production of everything, that’s just overwhelming but when someone else can take on a part of a task that eases something that you don’t have to do, and you can focus on what you’re doing and excel on the thing that you’re doing and can do then that’s just, it’s a huge relief.
Ching: [00:06:28] Yeah, just having too many voices trying to say something, right? Make a decision. It’s just chaotic. So let’s just have one person take the lead and let’s just do this.
Rae: [00:06:37] It helps a lot with time management because Kelsey takes the time to essentially plot out our pipeline and our workflow in a way that we have tried and we know it works from previous projects. Whenever we’re working on something and Kelsey is like, okay, we need to do this by today and then you guys work on this at this time. It feels very much like it’s going to work because we’ve done it before and Kelsey did it before. So we’re like Kelsey knows time .It’s fine.
Alicia: [00:07:06] Okay we should probably talk about MCAD Pitchfest 2019 and the flame that ignited, Lumo. If you could talk about MCAD Pitch Fest a little bit, but then also talk about what you’ve learned now that you’ve had some time to really create this studio and this business.
Kelsey: [00:07:27] Yeah, so PitchFest was a wild time. We actually didn’t know that we could even apply until less than a week before the deadline to apply. So we, yeah, so we weren’t planning on applying because at the time Sarah and I had graduated and Ching and Rae hadn’t or Ching had just, just graduated. And so we weren’t sure if we could or not and since it was new, they hadn’t worked out all the details, but then last minute they were like, Nope, you guys can – we’re going to open it for recent graduates and so then we went, oh shoot! We need to make our entire application and we have a week and I was moving at the time. So we actually really quickly threw it together. Ching took care of the financial part and then myself and Sarah and Rae worked on the more creative pitch part that we had to present and then we filmed it in my empty living room. And so we applied and we thought we’re not gonna get in. That was the train wreck and then they said, Nope, you’re in and then we said, Oh shoot. Now we have to do the rest. So we threw together the rest and Sarah put together like a really beautiful and awesome pitch deck and we all worked together to write the speech, we had two mentors and with the help of those two mentors, we put together a speech and I remember though, we always knew that I would present it but I forced everybody to practice, non-stop with the mindset of, you don’t know, I could not wake up and miss the event. What if that happened?
Sarah: [00:09:03] She’ll just be pretty sick or something, and then the pressure would be on. We all flip a coin.
Kelsey: [00:09:10] It was really helpful though like forcing everyone to practice it. Not only for just our presentation skills, but also when I would listen to Ching and Sarah because Rae wasn’t even going to be available the day that Pitch Fest was happening. So she wasn’t even going to be there but watching like Ching and Sarah present it really gave like a perspective on how they saw Lumo and what it meant to them and what this specific project, which was our game project Naiad that we were pitching – how they viewed it and so I was able to like, tailor a speech that was like the best parts of all three of our speech givings, which I think probably really helped in the end.
Alicia: [00:09:44] I love it. That’s amazing.
Kelsey: [00:09:46] It was like constant crunch time, but we really tried our best to do what we could with the time that we had and I think it just really came together.
Alicia: [00:09:54] So is there anything that sticks out in your mind business wise that you’ve learned since then?
Kelsey: [00:10:00] Taxes?
Sarah: [00:10:04] All of the actual business, finance, logistics of starting a business is something that you didn’t, you didn’t know until you got in there deep. I mean, Kelsey definitely dealt with a bunch of the nitty gritty of that.
Alicia: [00:10:29] The amount of paperwork I remember being upset about how much more paperwork is involved once you own a business, especially if it’s a partnership because it’s yeah.
Kelsey: [00:10:40] Yeah. Learning all of the business side and the tax side was like probably the hardest thing for us. Particularly since prior we had no money to the Pitchfest and then suddenly we had money. So we had to figure out how to legally have that money. Yeah, that was fun.
Alicia: [00:11:03] All right. Creative talk from here on out. I was looking at your guys’ website. There were two main projects that stood out and I’m wondering if you guys wanted to talk about those projects or if there were other projects that maybe aren’t on the website that you would like to let folks know about?
Rae: [00:11:20] We are currently working on a social activist production that hopes to, uplift voices of marginalized people through media and artwork and so we had a lot of fun working on this project and it’s still ongoing, but, it’s more of our passion project and we’re currently working on a secret, um, project where we’re building an animating pixel characters for a game, but that’s all we can say about that.
Kelsey: [00:11:51] So those are two client projects that we’re working on. I should say so, we got approached by someone that wanted to do a whole animated film. That’s the segment that we’re doing for the kind of activist piece. And then we also were approached by another company that is making a fighting game and so we’re doing some character work for them, but that’s all we can really say on those things.
On Naiad I guess, so we were originally pitching it as a 3d game, but it’s pivoted back into the 2d realm. Mostly due to the fact that I am the only one with 3d experience that can get us much of anywhere.
Sarah: [00:12:28] 75% of our group has only done 2D, so…
Kelsey: [00:12:35] But with me organizing things, I can’t do all the 3d. So it was, it was not working how we wanted it to work. We switched Naiad to being 2d and pixel art base and since then we were able to like really progress a lot with the work there, but that work got noticed, which is how then we got these other two client projects so of course that got put on pause for a moment so we could do some work too, pay the rent.
Alicia: [00:13:01] That makes sense. Okay. So I was going to ask you each what you do, but I think it’d be more fun if you each took turns describing what the other three do.
Sarah: [00:13:12] I would say Ching is, Ching and I are actually very similar in what we do. Ching does, 2d animation and illustration, but, definitely dabbles more in the environmental aspects of both as opposed to some of us, but also draws a lot of character artwork. Ching definitely specializes in more 2d illustration and animation and makes these like gorgeous fluid animations and Kelsey is, Kelsey is a lot of things. Project manager, goddess, pixel artist, 3D modeler and animator, a lot of 3d things as far as art, should I be going into personalities as well? Like how deep are we going? Then Rae makes these lovely character pieces just like goofy and stylish characters that are very loud.
Ching: [00:14:23] So Sarah, actually, she does gorgeous work. A lot of colorful stuff and a lot of illustration and she does a lot of 2d animation too, but her area of expertise is the color design. So she’s more the art director and all the projects that we are doing. For Rae her characters are poppin. No, she has cool 2d animation too, that is really dynamic and she does sound as well, so, yeah, Rae I love your sound and Kelsey! Her hands are everywhere. She does pixel art, 2D animate, 3D, producer. She’s great! Love to have her in the team. She’s there to bind us all together.
Sarah: [00:15:08] Definitely be a dumpster fire. Just chaos, there’s just too much chaos without her. She’s like calming tea.
Alicia: [00:15:16] Awww
Rae: [00:15:18] When I think of Sarah’s work, I think of rendering and color. When we do shop design and stuff, Sarah and Ching – they usually have pretty good framing ideas and they may not storyboard for every project, but I think they have a good sense of not film theory, but staging and such for animation, but Sarah specifically, like I said, is like more rendering color and if we need to illustrate something I would think Sarah first and her animations, they have breath to them. Like, they feel like they’re flowing and breathing. That’s pretty cool. I think Sarah is the art director, like Ching said. In my head I’m like, I don’t know how this looks; I should ask Sarah. Ching in my head is like an animation god. He’s like, Oh, I know how to do this turn around really fast or I’m going to animate this in five minutes or I can’t figure out this angle. He’s like, Oh, it’s just like this. And I’m like, what? So Ching is really good at understanding spatial awareness, for like character as well as environmental, motion with animation and drawing, which I think is really good. His sketches and gestures are very helpful for later parts of the process of our work. Ching’s also really good at rendering. Usually Sarah gives ideas and Ching’s like, Oh, I’m going to do that and he cranks it out really fast. So he’s the engine, if it was a car, Kelsey, you’re the machine. Sarah is the steering wheel and Ching is the engine. Yeah. So Kelsey, as like the- not even the navigation, but the car is internal computer in terms of , it tells you when the oil needs to be checked, it tells you when you have to go in the brain in the car and so Kelsey even though she tells us what to do a lot of the time and kind of organize things. It’s not like you’re doing this or else it’s like I said, through trial and error, we’ve figured out how we work well together. And Kelsey’s the one that keeps that compartmentalized. So then she’s able to move us along without us feeling like, why are you telling me what to do? Kind of thing. It’s just like, Oh yeah, that makes sense. Kelsey said it so it makes sense. Kelsey is also really great at compositing and doing a lot of technical post-work as well and that’s extremely helpful when we’re just chugging along with a project and Kelsey’s always reminding us, make sure it’s like this so that when it gets to me, like I can do this, so we can streamline the process as much as possible. We kind of compliment each other and so that’s why I used the car reference and I was like, this, this is the closest thing I can think of.
Kelsey: [00:17:40] The three of them I think are much more talented than me in terms of their artistic ability , which I’m fine with because I like being able to facilitate that. Specifically talking about Sarah, she is definitely the art director the other two mentioned in the sense that she has a really good eye for color. She’s really great at illustration and concept work and the world building of a project and what it’s going to look like; does good turnarounds, that kind of thing. So she’s for sure the person that hones the artistic vision. If I am the overall person coordinating the project, Sarah makes sure that it has a look that fits across the board and then Ching he’s definitely our animation god as it’s been stated. He’s the fastest at animating out of the four of us. He has the most extensive animation knowledge in terms of his use of space and ability to go from different styles of 2d animation. He picked up pixel animation really fast, and is now a really talented pixel animator too, so that was really cool to see and so a lot of times Ching will do a lot of our rough animations and then other people on the team might clean it up so that he can just keep spouting out animations, like the crazy machine that he is. He’s also really great at backgrounds and environments so he does a lot of our background and environment concept work and then Rae does, she also does, like, I feel like Rae does like a number of things, kind of like me in the sense that Rae dabbles in sound and does a lot of our sound design and music for different projects. She helps a lot with concept work with Sarah. Does a lot of really good object drawings and work and then her characters, as we stated, are poppin. She’s really good at exaggerated characters and character shapes and that can be really helpful when we’re trying to break out of more standardized looking character creation and Rae really good at that. As well as being a good animator, she’s often really helpful, such as Ching turning out animations, helping with cleanup and things like that, and going back and polishing stuff. Rae also did storyboard one of our most recent projects. So now she has more work on our storyboarding level. And so she does that too.
Alicia: [00:19:51] Dang! That was really, really good you guys, everyone that was so good. The last piece that I like to end with all of these interviews is if you have any advice for people who are just getting started and I think in this case – do you have any advice for, let’s say there’s another group that’s very similar to you that is just getting their start or there’s a little Kelsey out there who’s – she’s finding her first little team and they haven’t met their little Sarah yet, but is like over, off on the side, just kind of like they haven’t been pulled up yet. Do you have any advice for them as they’re forming?
Kelsey: [00:20:35] Yeah. One thing that we wanted to impart our wisdom onto people is -don’t get discouraged with how long things might take. I think for us, that was something that we really struggled with when we first won Pitch Fest and then I think a lot of people are like, well, what are you doing now? When’s the game coming out? There’s this expectation to just succeed overnight, which doesn’t usually happen and so a lot of times things can take longer than you’d expect, but it’s okay for them to take longer. Just as long as you’re slowly making steps each day towards that end goal, that’s what really matters. We’ve had to table our game project Naiad a number of times just because it’s not making money and we need to pay rent and eat and that’s okay. Like we have to have other jobs. It took a while- I think we were, it was almost an entire year after the Pitch Fest before anyone approached us about working on any sort of client work, specifically as Lumo. So that took some time and so it can be like really discouraging when you see people on Instagram or wherever else you’re looking on social media and you see a company that seems to just take off right away or a project that takes off right away but , it doesn’t matter so long as you’re making those steps, you’re going to get there in the end and that’s what people will see and remember, and it’s okay if it feels like you’re working on the same thing forever, because so long as you’re enjoying it and you’re enjoying it with good people. That’s what matters most
Ching: [00:22:08] Yeah, like back at MCAD, we did an animation study group and I really pushed people to really collaborate with one another with all of the events that we have, there’s the 48 hour film collaboration and so part of the idea was to get people to work together and maybe one plus two, something can happen and that was the idea of it just to get people to get into the habit of working with one another.
Sarah: [00:22:34] Yeah, of course, making friends along the way, because I think there’s always a lot of pressure for networking, especially like I’m MCAD. It was always like, make sure to talk to people and make sure to network which- yes you should but then sometimes I feel the best connections come from people who you are actually friends with and those are the people who generally want to help you. It starts to get ingrained in some people’s heads that they just have to meet as many people and almost use people to get where they want to go. And I just don’t think- it doesn’t seem that is a method that works for anyone. Knowing our group, we’ve all brought opportunities for everyone and we’ve helped each other grow based on just knowing each other. So I think going out and making friends as opposed to going out and finding people to use for yourself.
Rae: [00:23:29] Building on what Sarah just said, if you see someone doing something super cool and you want to work with them, there’s a level of not pride, but this feeling of , I have to do the whole thing so that I can make it exactly how I want it. When you’re first starting out with any kind of artistic process, whether it be comics, animation, anything and part of learning more and building from yourself and excelling at what you do is being able to bounce things off of other people, as well as letting someone else do something. Because someone else’s brain is entirely different from yours- you may think you’ve tried every option, but someone else can do something once and be like, Oh, have you looked at it this way? And that could actually help your idea grow and form into something even cooler than you could even have imagined. If you feel apprehensive to collaborate with someone because you feel like you’ll lose your idea. That’s not usually the case. Usually you just come up with a better version of your idea, or you can say, Oh, you know what? I don’t like that. I’ll come back. But at least you tried it- compared to you just doing your own thing and secluding yourself. That was something that Kelsey dragged me into with a 48 Hour Film Fest. I had never animated with other people before MCAD so it was a good lesson.
Kelsey: [00:24:47] It’s okay to take a back seat when it comes to group work or studio work or any sort of work that involves not just you. Sometimes for artists that can be really hard to relinquish that control as Rae and Sarah stated but there’s a lot of times where all of us take various backseats and a certain project shines more with somebody’s style or look but I think all of us have come to realize that in the end, if you end up with something bigger and longer than you could have ever created on your own – you still contributed to it so you’re splitting hairs at that point. You might as well just go for it and embrace working with other people to the fullest extent instead of being worried about it.
Alicia: [00:25:28] Have you guys encountered anything that dramatically changed the way that you approach something or dramatically changed your habits or how you work together or how you even just perceive your work together?
Rae: [00:25:42] I feel like when we started the social activist project, that was a new way of viewing our work, at least for me because Naiad is like our house project and it’s very personal to us and it’s definitely a passion project of what we want to see in games, in general. That’s why we’re making it. But to do client work that is for a cause that is also personal, was like cool.
Sarah: [00:26:06] I want to say it’s definitely nice when, like Rae was saying that our Naiad project is something that we love and that we’re putting out in the world because it’s something that we wanted to make and not based on anyone else’s anything. But with the project that Ray was talking about is that it is something that’s a combination of work, but also something that we’re also very passionate about and sometimes it can be really difficult when doing work to always find passion in that client work. Because you’re being hired to do this and you’re like, yeah, okay. We need money, but it’s really great when you can work on something that you’re also passionate about. And I think that’s kind of rare to come by.
Kelsey: [00:26:47] I think another good turning point for us was probably when we solidified as a group. Prior to that, we’d sort of done some stuff like Ching and I had done some things, Sarah, Ching and I had done some things, there was like different combinations of the four of us doing various things and then sometimes we did things with other people even and so that always creates a different dynamic. With every group you’re figuring out the roles and we’ve worked with people in the past that we probably wouldn’t work with again, or that just didn’t really match well. I think once we really became Lumo as the core four of us, that’s when we started really figuring out our workflow and what we like to do and what we want to do, and just were able to really get to a point of being very open with everybody about our creative work- which ultimately led to getting faster, better workflow. Projects that we are interested in and want to keep working on and refining them. That I think was like a really important point. Figuring out , Hey, we’re actually going to work together. We’re going to just get to keep doing it until one of you says you don’t want to do it anymore. It’s like a real thing.
Alicia: [00:27:50] It was a turning point because it was on paper or turning point because you officially, like, are we all going steady here?
Kelsey: [00:27:58] I think it was like a slow change from like sometimes working on things maybe with some other people involved. Sarah and I did a project together just by ourselves for the first year out of MCAD. So there was these slow progress towards going steady as the four person group but within like the last, six months I’d say that’s when a lot of our projects have really become just the four of us, always working on these things and then maybe some things here or there outside of it but it’s like the core work that a lot of us are doing, which has been different and I think we’ve learned a lot from it.
Alicia: [00:28:35] Well, dang. I feel like this was a good interview. Thank you guys so much for sitting down and, A) letting everyone get to know about Lumo Studio and then also individually sharing about each other. That was really fun.
Everyone: [00:28:55] Thank you.
Alicia: [00:28:59] Cool.
Everyone: [00:29:00] Goodbye.
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