Skywalker Sound Designer to Join Comm Arts Faculty

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

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By Jessilyn Justice, Lee Clarion Editor-in-Chief

The swivel of a robot. The patter of cockroach feet. The shrill of the wind through cubified trash on an abandoned planet. It’s the beginning of Wall-E; and each sound was carefully produced by Hollywood sound editor Dustin Cawood.

Cawood, who is known for his work on Lincoln, Toy Story 3, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Up, among other films, has signed a contract to join the digital media studies faculty this fall.

The Cleveland native is returning to the area with his wife Patti, a Lee alumna, and their children, three boys under the age of four. Cawood learned about the professorship through his wife’s connections at Lee.

“When I moved to California, I had a ten year plan,” Cawood said. “We didn’t want to stay out here forever. Now’s a good time to move back because of our growing family.”

He worked his way up through the sound-editing world with companies like Pixar and Skywalker Sound, though he got is start at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and before that, Bradley Central High School.

“I’m excited about all aspects of digital media storytelling,” Cawood said. “That’s what I fell in love with and why I want to be a professor in the film business.”

Digital media studies lecturer Mary Dukes said that Cawood’s MFA in film making from Florida State University set him apart during the application process.

“When the position came open, Dr. Kailing knew that he had the correct academic credentials, which is always the challenge when you’re dealing with someone in the professional world,” Dukes said. “He applied, and he affectionately became known as the ‘Pixar dude’ when he did, though he’s not technically from Pixar.”

Cawood will join the Communication Arts Department as a full-time faculty member in August.

He hopes that the wealth of knowledge he’s accumulated through his experience, as well as the contacts he’s made in the film industry will benefit his students.

“My intent is to be an approachable professor, and I don’t want [students] to be intimidated,” he said. “I’m just little old me from Cleveland, Tennessee, and I want to be open and have a mentorship relationship and give back.”

Cawood said that he is ready to hit the ground running, and students like digital media studies senior Daniel Howat are ready for Cawood’s arrival.

“To get Dustin Cawood is a huge deal,” Howat said. “In the past three years, film at Lee has blown up, and to get someone like Dustin who’s at the top of this field is crazy.”

Cawood climbed through the film industry in what he describes as a traditional way.

After his UTC graduation, he pursued his master’s and connected with a “fantastic sound professor with a long history in the business, who kind of took me on in a mentorship role, and made a phone call for me in time for graduation.”

In the ten years since, Cawood took advantage of nearly every opportunity thrown his way.

The academic calendar will allow time for Cawood to work on sound editing remotely, and he won’t give up his connections in the industry any time soon.

For the new professor, it all comes back around to teaching students how to tell a great story in all aspects of media.

“Do that, and they can succeed in any craft in the film business,” Cawood said.

(as published in the Lee Clarion on March 24)