A bird's eye view of campus

A trio of Digital Arts students are mixing new and old technology to capture striking aerial photographs of the University of Oregon campus.
Simon Sanchez, Trevor Till and Kevin Barth attached a GoPro — a tiny and hugely popular camera often used to capture video and still photos of outdoor adventures — to a $20 helium-filled weather balloon.

They set the camera to take a picture every 10 seconds, and maneuvered the balloon with three lines of high-test fishing line.

The pictures provide a unique perspective on some familiar campus landmarks, including the atriums of Lillis and Willamette halls. They were able to get the balloon about 300 feet high over the Memorial Quad.

“It’s a point of view that’s unexpected,” Sanchez said. “It’s a bird’s eye view.”

The students are each seniors in the Digital Arts program, part of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The program emphasize creative thinking, experimentation, visual communication delivery systems and intense research. Digital Arts students are encouraged to  combine new media and visual art theory with strong technical sophistication, a rich sense of visual design, and an ability to articulate artistic research. 

The idea for using a weather balloon to capture aerial photos came about from another, less successful project that explored the idea that more and more “people are experiencing the world through screens,” Sanchez said. “There’s an increasing level of digital mediation of experience.”

They built a helmet out of foam blocks, and embedded an iPhone on the inside of the helmet, which they linked to the GoPro attached to the weather balloon. The idea was that the person wearing the helmet would tow the balloon behind them, and see the world through the video streaming to the iPhone screen.

Technical issues kept the project from succeeding, but they noticed they were getting some cool aerial photos.

The serendipitous freedom to experiment, and fail, led to the photos seen here.

"They encourage us to play for play's sake," Sanchez said.