Dan Braga came to Australia as an international student, all the way from Norway. He came to study with us at Billy Blue College of Design at Torrens University Australia because of his passion for telling stories creatively.
He has achieved success as a film director and was recently selected for the Australia Antenna Documentary Film Festival. His fascinating work, titled ‘By The River’, is a documentary about India’s so-called ‘Death Hotels’.
We spoke to Dan to find out more about his creative mind and what being an international student with us is really like.
Tell us a bit about your background and where you are originally from.
I’m from a smaller city in Norway called Trondheim. It’s actually the third biggest city in the country, but that doesn’t mean much on a global scale. I got my first taste for creative thinking during my Media & Communication course in high school where I got to play around with web design, filmmaking, journalism, you name it. Looking at my grades at graduation, it was pretty clear where my interest was, so fast-forward past a year in the army and some backpacking, I made the decision to pursue it as a career.
What was behind your decision to study in Australia?
My dad used to work for an airline, so I was lucky enough to travel a lot growing up. However, we never made it to Australia, so when I was about 17, I got this crush on Australia for some reason.
I researched universities and began daydreaming about a life on your white beaches. The crush faded, as crushes do, but I guess it stayed with me on some level because as I applied for a college in Norway three years later, something felt off. As if I was wasting an opportunity.
I pulled my application and applied for Billy Blue instead. Looking back, I’ve always had a tendency to seek the unknown, so maybe Norway just felt too safe at that point. Leaving the comfort zone forces you to make friends, connections, and memories you otherwise wouldn’t imagine, and the world suddenly feels small and connected.
How did you first hear about Billy Blue?
Through one of Billy Blue’s partner schools, Norwegian School of Creative Studies. I looked through their studies abroad program, and there it was.
Why did you choose to study at Billy Blue?
The fact that it’s so focused on the practical was a big selling point for me. I’m very much a learning-by-doing kind of guy, so I wasn’t looking for anything that involved endless theoretical lectures. Theory is important, but for me personally, it has to go hand-in-hand with the practical for efficient learning.
The various directions you can choose at Billy Blue was also something that got me interested. Even though I was fairly certain about wanting to do Motion Design from the beginning, it was nice to get a taste for Interactive Design and 3D, and have the options handy.
What did you like most about studying at Billy Blue?
I really liked the independent nature of the courses. The fact that I was given twelve weeks to go off and create the best possible work with very little limitation, really appealed to me.
I had flexible lecturers who allowed me to explore things outside of the learning outcomes. This meant that I could create projects that propelled me towards what I wanted to learn, and where I wanted to end up.
Tell us about your career path since graduating.
I began freelancing as a Motion Designer/3D artist halfway through my degree, something I continued doing after graduation. I was working for a handful of studios around Sydney, doing everything from commercials and projection work to title sequences. The most significant project was being able to take part in lighting up the Sydney Opera House sails during Vivid Festival 2017, alongside Tim Clapham and Mike Tosetto.
However, at some point, I realised that I wasn’t quite on the right path anymore. A small course correction was needed. Filmmaking was always a hobby of mine since being introduced to it in high school, and I got to explore it even further by directing a couple of live-action short films at Billy Blue.
I realised that I was missing the human element both behind and in front of the lens, and my interest in the technical hurdles of digital creation faded more and more, so I slowly figured that film directing was what I needed to pursue.
How did your degree contribute to your current career success?
My degree at Billy Blue led me into the professional industry of advertising and animation. It set the platform for me to dig deep into my craft and commit to, dare I say, an ‘alternative’ career path. Through three years of creative experimentation, trial and error, it also gave me the confidence to enter the industry early on, explore the ins and outs of it, and get hands-on professional experience.
All the experience I gained in creative concepting, editing, lighting, collaborating with composers and other artists all led me to where I’m at today.
What’s next in terms of your career?
I moved to Berlin back in July last year to pursue a career in film directing. To be honest, it has been tougher than I expected, and I’m still trying to find my feet, but I’m taking it one step at a time. The goal is to establish a commercial career path, bringing my touch of storytelling and emotion into that world, while I keep writing and working on my own short films on the side.
To be making feature films is the pinnacle, but that’s still far, far down the line. I have lots of learning and growing to do before that time comes.
What advice would you give to students currently studying at Billy Blue?
Use the facilities and the lecturers as a support in finding your passion. When you’ve found it, commit to it fully and use the time at Billy Blue to learn as much as you possibly can about your craft.
Billy Blue isn’t there to figure this out for you, or hand you a job, they’re there as a mentor, a supporting network, for you to reach your full potential. I saw the three years there as a competition against myself – “how far can I go?”. Set ambitious goals and hunt them down. If you see the potential to explore a course in a slightly different way than presented, talk to your lecturer and communicate what you want to achieve.
You might be putting more responsibility on your shoulders by going off on your own dirt road, but you’ll be closer to where you want to end up.
For more details on the amazing range of Billy Blue courses and details of how to apply, check out our extensive list of courses.