Delu Duan is an acclaimed composer and skilled sound designer based in the vibrant metropolis of New York City. Throughout 2022-2023, Delu played an instrumental role in catapulting numerous artists to success, securing over 30 festival selections and prestigious awards. His exceptional sound design work was notably featured in the Netflix-sponsored film, “Sunflower Girl,” while his recent composition and sound design contributions to “Dear Vanessa” took center stage at the NewFest Film Festival.
Delu earned his Master’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition at NYU, with a concentration in Scoring for film and multimedia. Delu holds a BA in Recording Arts with a concentration in Film Sound from the Communication University of China.
Presently, Delu is the founder and owner of ICING MEDIA, a creative agency providing full-production services, where he continues to bring artistic visions to life and create immersive experiences.
Hi Delu, nice to meet you and thanks for granting us this interview.
How was born your passion for the world of cinema?
I think my passion for the world of cinema was born during my childhood when my parents frequently bought me film and animation DVDs, which I thoroughly enjoyed watching. The moment that truly touched my heart through film music was when I encountered the original score of “Up,” a film that also happens to be one of my all-time favorite animations.
“Up”tells a beautiful and romantic story about love, and its music was equally enchanting. I was amazed by how the music seamlessly blended with the visuals and how the orchestration artfully shifted in harmony with the film’s main theme. This experience left a profound impact on me, leading me to watch “Up” repeatedly and even analyze every frame of it after I became a professional composer.
Can you walk us through your creative process when composing music for a movie? How do you typically start and develop a score?
Of course! Typically, I start by having a detailed conversation with the director to gain a comprehensive understanding of the story’s nuances. Together, we create a cue list, ensuring clarity on which parts of the story require specific musical themes or elements.
My creative process when composing music for a movie begins with a strong emphasis on the sound colors of the instruments. After the preparation, I’ll assemble a toolkit of instruments that I believe align with the desired musical direction. These chosen instruments serve as my palette, allowing me to craft a unique and fitting score.
As I delve into the composition phase, I draw inspiration from the story itself, working to develop the score in a way that complements and enhances the narrative. Finally, the last step in my creative process involves mixing the score to evoke the desired emotions and mood that align with the film’s overall feel.
What was your first movie?
My first experience as a film composer was working on an indie film called “Melting.” With smaller budget projects like this, I often found myself responsible for both sound and music. For the musical component, I would seek out free copyright music and edit it to align with the film’s needs. There were times when I knew precisely what I wanted in terms of music, but finding the perfect fit could be a time-consuming process.
One day, I had the thought: “Why not try composing my own music?” So this time, instead of finding existing music, I tried to translate the music in my mind into a original score and the result was surprisingly great. While it wasn’t a complex score, it resonated well with the film, and the director was highly pleased with it. I also experimented with layering several piano libraries to create my first unique instruments. This experience served as a turning point, inspiring me to write more music for various media. Over time, I became increasingly confident in my ability to compose original music.
What is, for you, the main difficulties to create an original score?
I wouldn’t describe it as “difficulties,” but I do emphasize an extended preparation phase. During this stage, I immersed myself in the project by meticulously discussing all aspects of the story with the director. I ponder questions such as the most suitable genre for the narrative, the quantity of source music to be integrated, and the number of character themes to compose, among other considerations. I refrain from initiating the actual composition until I have clear answers to all these questions. Once the structure is well-defined, the subsequent work becomes notably smoother and more efficient, allowing me to deliver the best possible music experience to the audience.
What advice do you have for aspiring movie composers who want to enter the industry?
My advice is “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your skills and abilities. Continuously work on improving your craft and strive to convey the emotions you desire through your compositions. Don’t be afraid to decline a project if it doesn’t align with your creative vision; remember, every rejection is a redirection. Don’t be afraid to expand your network and embrace new opportunities. Building connections is vital in the industry, so actively participate in events and conferences to let others know there’s a talented composer out there. Keep fearlessly pursuing your dreams, and you will overcome all obstacles on your path to success.
What are some of the challenges you face when composing music for a film? How do you overcome them?
That’s a great question. The challenges I face when composing music for a film can vary greatly depending on the project. Take “Dear Vanessa,” for example. One of the unique challenges in this film was the club scene. During filming, the actors had to react as if they were hearing music, even though it was completely silent on set. To address this, I had to compose the music to match the actors’ reactions. To create a seamless experience, I designed a distinctive rhythm in the intro-section, making it special enough to capture the actors’ attention. Additionally, I used audio plugins like EQ and reverb to remix the music and make it sound as if it were being played in the club environment, enhancing the scene’s authenticity.
Do you have any favorite film composers or musical influences that have shaped your style and approach to scoring movies?
One film composer who has undeniably influenced my work is the legendary Hans Zimmer, especially when it comes to the art of mixing. His fearless approach to challenging conventional orchestral norms and his ability to intricately infuse details into his compositions, often inventing unique instruments for specific projects, have left an indelible mark on my musical journey. In addition to this, my persistent focus on the color of sound in my compositions has been significantly shaped by his work. Zimmer’s remarkable talent for blending acoustic instruments with synthesizers has revolutionized modern film music, opening up a world of possibilities. His innovation and creativity are truly impressive.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or films you’re currently working on or have recently completed?
I’m thrilled to share details about my upcoming project, an animation titled “Her Wish. “This enchanting animation will soon be available for streaming on China’s largest video platform. “Her Wish” weaves a wonderfully creative narrative, immersing viewers in a magical dream world. As the sound designer for this project, I had the privilege of crafting unique sounds for creatures that have never before existed. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience, and I’m genuinely pleased with the final result. I can hardly contain my excitement to introduce this captivating story to everyone, so please stay tuned for the release!
Any final thoughts at the end of this interview?
Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas. Currently, I’m leading a studio called ICING MEDIA, based in New York City. Our team is composed of young and talented artists like myself, capable of handling all aspects of the production. We’re always excited to connect with other creative individuals and explore potential collaborations, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re interested! Your passion and creativity are always welcome here.