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Students Defy Gravity at Out of Bounds

Timing, patience and determination were key for drone photography competition winners Austin Esposito and Kris Everett

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Mike Hoppe freebords down Lombard Street in Austin Esposito and Kris Everett’s Out of Bounds overall winning entry. Image courtesy of Austin Esposito and Kris Everett.

On the night of Oct. 21, an eager crowd of Academy of Art University students and photography enthusiasts packed the 111 Minna Gallery to witness the high-flying video results of the first-ever collegiate drone photography competition and exhibit Out of Bounds. Made possible by the sponsoring partnership of Red Bull and Cyberlink, this challenge of stratospheric skill gave the Academy’s ace drone pilots the opportunity to truly get their heads in the clouds.

Competing students entered the contest as a team of two or as an individual, taking it upon themselves to rise to the following photographic tasks: Best Zoom Out—start with a product shot of a can of Red Bull, followed by a max altitude zoom out that leads the audience to an environment fitting to the can; Best Long Exposure—capture something the eye doesn’t normally see; and Best Free For All—create a 30-second video that takes advantage of a specific San Francisco location during sunrise. The creative teams at Young and Hungry brought this fledgling concept to fruition through multimedia advertising and were not disappointed by the talented student entries in response.

The challenges were judged on three criteria: originality, visual impact and storytelling. The winners were selected by judges Matt O’Brien, participant of Red Bull Illume collegiate workshop; Patrick Egan, editor at SUAS and drone production instructor at the Academy; and Senior VP of Global Marketing for Cyberlink Richard Carriere. After a careful viewing of many thrilling drone flights, three winners were chosen: School of Motion Pictures & Television student Calvin Li won Best Individual Free for All entry and fellow MPTV student Daniel Opocensky won Best Individual Long Exposure. For their efforts, they walked away with a runner-up prize of a Cyberlink Director Suite and Red Bull swag, including the brand new release of the snowboarding thrill ride, The Fourth Phase, from Red Bull Media House.

hree categories was a team comprised of Austin Esposito and Kris Everett. Their Zoom Out captured the seemingly impossible. In a perfectly timed shot, a freeborder takes a sip of Red Bull before launching his board down a hill. The drone continues to catapult upward to reveal the skater pivoting around the famous snaking curves of Lombard Street, climbing to a dizzying height above the city before tilting up to reveal a cityscape glowing in a San Francisco sunrise. Getting this perfect shot was a mix of happy coincidence, saintly patience and rock solid determination.

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Cross street of Columbus and Lombard. Eight long exposure photos blended into one. Image courtesy of Austin Esposito.

As Esposito and Everett were outside brainstorming a plan to film someone going down Lombard Street, Esposito shared that “not even five minutes later, [former professional freeborder] Mike Hoppe came riding down the street on a freebord.” Esposito explained that a freebord is like a hybrid between a longboard and a snowboard. Using two extra free-spinning wheels, the board allows the rider a sidewinding ability that was showcased in the smooth snowboard-like ride down Lombard in his drone footage. As soon as Esposito saw Hoppe roll by, he ran over, introduced himself, and asked the skater if he’d be willing to be featured in a drone video. He agreed, and a week later, Esposito and Everett were shooting the skater cutting up Lombard, getting the final cut in only four takes despite traffic, slick streets and the ever-present Lombard tourists. 

“It was challenging,” said Esposito. “We had to do it in four takes, so our issues were timing everything; getting the tilt of the camera just right, keeping Mike in frame and matching his speed, all while trying to zoom out and show everything else I wanted.” 

At some point, Esposito and Everett had a window of time that treated them to a deserted Lombard and dry street conditions at dawn—and they nailed it on the fourth and final take. The duo later scored their video to a perfectly appropriate and catchy surf rock music track. “In the end, it all worked out magically,” said Esposito.

In return for their award-winning flight, Esposito and Everett walked away with the motherload of Red Bull prizes, including VIP tickets to a Sharks game, the VIP experience to an ambient light installation exhibit, Red Bull Illume, the Cyberlink Director Suite and more. 

For Esposito, the most exciting thing about this competition was getting the chance to work with Red Bull, noting that their exhilarating style and daredevil films have been a source of inspiration for his own work. “I’ve always had aspirations to work for Red Bull’s media department, so when I found out that Red Bull was partnering with the Academy of Art to do this contest, I was really excited about that. It’s always something that’s been really inspiring to me and something I’d like to be a part of.”