Music production school student Danny Burns was like any other film festival nominee: he did not expect to win. And yet that’s exactly what happened at the 2020 NXTUP Festival hosted by Academy of Art University when he won for Best Music Score and Best Sound Design.
NXTUP Festival is an annual event where students from various departments, including the School of Acting, School of Motion Pictures & Television, and the School of Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media (collectively known as the Schools of Entertainment) get to showcase their craft and skills, film festival-style.
His project, Avisterra, is a miniseries based on the popular video game Minecraft, which he first thought of doing way back in 2015. It may have taken him five long years to see it fulfilled, but as the wait was well worth it, thanks to the recognition he received.
“I was just honored to be nominated. I didn’t expect to win one, let alone two, awards–the other work submitted was really, really good,” he said. But while he was “really surprised,” he also had “the entire cast and crew screaming congratulations in my ear through Discord.”
A Winning Project with Friends
“The music actually came before the script for Avisterra was written and inspired the narrative–it happens a lot that way for me,” Burns explained. Helping him bring his ideas to life were his friends, both online and in real life. Also playing a significant role in the production was Matt Duarte, another Bay Area student whom Burns credits for much of the influence he gained during the screenwriting process.
Describing the creation process for the project, Burns likened it to a half-baked clay sculpture. “Now it’s this marble statue. We’ve been able to chisel it into this thing that I could have never done alone.”
Hands-On Practice at the Academy
As a student at the School of Music Production and Sound Design at Academy of Art, Burns has had plenty of opportunity to hone his skills and craft. Through the facilities available on-site, as well as the software he has access to as a student, he was able to create a style and practice with more “practical sound design.” For example, he learned that when it comes to world-building, the sci-fi and fantasy genres work best. “Those universes are more flexible creative playgrounds to work with,” he explained.
For Avisterra, he used foley and stock audio, which he edited to create sound effects. One of the more notable effects he had to create, apart from the crashing spaceships and other odd, curious things in the unique Avisterra universe, was the Enderlings.
These Enderlings are primarily characterized by the shrieking sounds they make, which Burns in turn recorded using his own voice, modulated through FL Studio. To achieve that “beastly feel”, Burns added snorting sounds and distortion.
Burns credits his production classes at the Academy for the huge strides in improvement he’s taken, particularly with his mixing and mastering techniques. He recognizes that he’s still a young artist, though, and so would still have a lot to learn from his classes–a commitment that he is willing to take on.
“I think I will keep having a lot more to learn–and that’s completely fine with me.”
Encouraging Teacher’s Feedback
This commitment he has to the craft of music production and sound design is not something that has gone unnoticed. For School director Brad Hughes, the mere fact that Burns opted to collaborate with another artist for this project exemplifies this commitment, and thus makes his submission all the more impressive.
“Usually, those three roles–animator, sound designer, and composer–are done by three different people in collaboration, but Danny did all three of those things himself.”
Hughes, through email, further noted, “Danny is an enthusiastic student who really absorbs information given in class and makes a good effort to incorporate what he is learning into his own work. What impresses me the most is how he takes that new knowledge and makes it work for his own artistic expression.”
With his strong passion and clear commitment to the craft, this, without a doubt, won’t be the last time audience will hear about Danny Burns and his sound creations.
Article originally posted by Greta Chiocchetti in ArtUNews.com
Hero image screenshot from Avisterra