If you’re a fan of American Ninja Warrior, you may be familiar with Kevin Brekke’s work to flip, twist, and ratchet up contestants.
Last year, the Las Vegan was one of seven winners — out of 2,500 entries — in a nationwide design challenge for the competition series. Brekke’s creation, dubbed “Crank It Up,” continues to be an upper-body nightmare for Ninja Warrior contestants, who had to “crank” ratchet-like handles upward before lurching forward to the next set of handles.
“Crank It Up” was such a hit that it helped Brekke, ’17 BS Entertainment Engineering & Design, land a job with The ATS Team, a Burbank, California-based firm that has provided production, rigging, challenge, art, and stunt work for every major television network and studio, including designing obstacle courses for American Ninja Warrior and bringing them to life.
For Brekke, it’s been a whirlwind start to a career that he’s been eyeing since he designed haunted houses as a childhood hobby. “I’ve always been pretty good at math, and I knew a lot of people who are good at math gravitate toward engineering,” he says. “So designing and creating things using engineering has always interested me.”
While Brekke had a career blueprint in mind, he wasn’t sure how exactly to get from A to Z. After graduating from Green Valley High School in Henderson, he spent two years at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles as both a math and vocal performance major. But when he discovered that UNLV offered a degree specifically geared toward entertainment engineering, he packed up and returned home in 2013.
“It was exactly what I was interested in — exactly the type of engineering I wanted to do,” he says. “Then I researched [the program] and found out that it’s a combination of a lot of different types of engineering — everything from civil to mechanical to electrical to structural to computer. We didn’t just focus on one thing, so I feel like I got a well-rounded degree.”
Brekke put those well-rounded skills to use since joining The ATS Team, where his bosses have given him the freedom to create—a rarity for many recent college graduates. “Most first jobs out of college, you’re told what to do and how things must be done,” he says. “Here, you’re encouraged to be creative and actually provide input—and input that’s valued instead of being dismissed because of how young you are.”
It comes as little surprise that when Brekke joined The ATS Team that he was assigned to the group that works on American Ninja Warrior obstacles. He’s had a hand in creating such fan favorite obstacles as the Double Twister, Lightning Bolts, and Ring Turn.
This fall he plans to return to Las Vegas to pursue his original career plan: building his own haunted houses (and perhaps some more escape rooms).
He sees entertainment engineering as a blossoming industry with endless opportunities, which is why he encourages students now to form tight bonds. “Try to make connections with as many people who are in the program as possible, because you’re going to run into them on jobs after graduating,” Brekke says. “Or you might need a job, and they’re going to be the people to help you.”
That’s good advice, no matter the major.