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iMedia student's drone footage offers bird's-eye view of Dominican Republic

While visiting the Caribbean nation in January, Brandon Booker and his 2015 Interactive Media fly-in group captured breathtaking aerial footage, offering a new visual perspective for the graduate program’s annual Winter Term projects.

Elon University graduate student Brandon Booker had just two weeks to perfect his drone piloting skills before heading to the Dominican Republic in January with the Interactive Media master’s program. His early results could be considered mixed at best.

“The first day I got the drone out of the box, I flew it and crashed it a few times,” the Winston-Salem native recalled. “I broke just about all of the blades, crashing into a house, a car and the cement – but it still worked. After that, I knew I didn’t have to worry about damaging it.”

A few days later, Booker – with the Phantom 2 quadcopter tucked safely into his carry-on luggage – accompanied six other iMedia students and two Elon faculty members, David Copeland and Phillip Motley, to the city of Cotuí. As part of the master’s program’s Winter Term fly-in trip, the group gathered video footage, photographs and interviews to promote Creaciones Ecologías La Colonia, or CRÉELA, a women’s cooperative in the Dominican Republic.

During his visit to the Dominican Republic during Winter Term, Interactive Media student Brandon Booker (second from left) was a popular figure with the country’s residents thanks in large part to his drone, a Phantom 2 quadcopter. Photos courtesy of Booker

‚ÄčThanks to the drone, Booker documented the Caribbean country’s landscape, often 300 to 400 feet off the ground. That’s the ideal height for a drone flight, Booker explained. “With the wind, you have to find out where the drone likes to sit.”

Booker’s finished project, a nearly three-minute-long video, provided an astounding aerial perspective of the island country unknown to most, including its residents. It was the first time an iMedia group incorporated the use of a drone into its Winter Term project.

“Brandon’s drone footage and the video he created really opened our eyes,” said Copeland, Elon’s A.J. Fletcher Professor and graduate program director. “It really changes the way you look at the projects we are doing, and it provided a view that we have never had before.”

While Booker’s final product was stunning, Copeland pointed out viewers shouldn’t confuse its graceful appearance for light work.

“I don’t think everyone will realize how difficult it was to use the drone,” the professor said, adding that Booker’s background as a videographer did shorten his learning curve. “Brandon didn’t have any controls on the ground to see what he was filming. From the video, you can tell he really mastered it. Though I have to be honest, when the drone went over, I ducked more than once.”

No footage confirmed Booker’s talents more than his shots filmed at tree height on a rural dirt lane. If one looks closely, they can see Booker’s precision control to move the shoebox-seized device around an inconspicuous power line. (Birds are also a constant worry, the pilot added.)

While being filmed by fellow iMedia student Tyler Ballentine, Booker (left) pilots his drone above a rural road. 

‚ÄčThis maneuverability may trace back to Booker’s youth. He recalled he loved piloting RC helicopters as a kid. This interest in aviation never left, and it convinced Booker to purchase the drone, GoPro camera and accessories for his graduate project.

Despite capturing more than four hours of footage while traveling abroad, Booker crashed the drone just once. A gust of wind caught the device and slammed it into a fence, but again the drone was unharmed.

While the drone couldn’t technically break walls, it did tear down cultural barriers between the Elon University contingent and the country’s residents, Copeland said.

“Wherever we went, when the drone came out, all of a sudden there were children and bystanders everywhere. They came out of the woodwork,” the professor explained. “You didn’t need to speak the language because there was a connection and a curiosity. The drone was a way to break barriers.”

Often times, kids on bicycles pedaled in fast pursuit, keeping close tabs on the flying object. The country’s police officers also seemed more curious than concerned. (Thankfully, airport authorities seemed indifferent to the unusual aerial device.)

While he’s travelled internationally before, Booker said the Winter Term fly-in project was more authentic and moving than his past trips overseas.

“Most of the time when you travel you are at a tourist location, and you are not seeing the real poverty and challenges people face,” he said. “Because of the iMedia program, I felt like I was in the trenches, and not just a bystander. The group and I were really doing something to help these women and better their lives. Through this experience, I know you can change the world through interactive media, and that’s what we did.”

Tommy Kopetskie,
3/23/2015 7:15 AM