By Richard Massey
It all started with a phone call back in 2014.
An old dorm was being imploded on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. The project manager wanted a drone video of the event, so he called Jordan Nelson, a local who was known for the entertaining videos he’d been posting on social media.
Nelson, owner and founder of Nelson Aerial Productions, took the job. Good decision. The contractor on the project, D.H. Griffin, had plenty of more work in terms of demolitions, so Nelson became part of the package, shooting a total of 11 implosions with the wrecking company.
That body of work, compiled over the course of four years, went into “The Big Boom.” The video earned Nelson Aerial Productions the C+S Engineering Drone Video of Year award during live voting this spring at the AUVSI XPONENTIAL conference in Chicago. Footage from 10 separate projects – shot primarily with a DJI Inspire 2 drone carrying an X5S camera ¬– included demolition of the Georgia Dome, coal plants, and office buildings. The compilation, from eight projects filmed for D.H. Griffin and two for Pettigrew Inc., took 12 hours of intense editing, and effectively chronicled an entirely new business line for Nelson.
Earning the lion’s share of the more than 18,000 votes cast at AUVSI, “The Big Boom” represents a groundbreaking triumph for Nelson, who has spent countless hours in the field and in front of the computer honing his craft. Now, the world knows what he’s been up to the last few years.
“This is a huge honor,” Nelson said. “All the hard work paid off knowing people saw it and appreciate the creativity and effort. Every video I create, I want it to be better than the last one.”
Video runner-ups were “Contact Inspection Drone for Civil Engineering Structures” by CATEC, and “Longmeadow Parkway” by Civiltech Engineering, Inc. “Aerial Buzz,” a division of Spiracle Media, won last year’s inaugural event.
Nelson, 30, did not go to college for what he does for a living. Self-taught with the help of YouTube, online tutorials, and old-fashioned trial and error, he graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in Geography, and only jumped into serious video production after college.
So, the story begins on the ski slopes around Boone. Using GoPro cameras, Nelson captured his snowboarding adventures and posted them to social media. He took a keen interest in how the cameras were mounted, and when he saw one attached to a drone, Nelson was hooked. Moving beyond snowboarding, he ventured into aerial shots in and around Boone, situated in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. And it was those videos, not so much the snowboarding pieces, that captured the public’s imagination – and caught the eye of the project manager on the dorm demolition.
“He just decided to call me up,” Nelson said. “That phone call started all of it.”
Fast-forward to today, and Nelson is enjoying the payoff, both in contracts and in notoriety. The Boone Chamber of Commerce honored his big AUVSI win with a major press release.
Not content to sit still, Nelson plans on expanding his production team, and cracking into yet another business unit, inspections. Nelson also documents natural disasters, such as hurricanes Matthew and Florence in 2016 and 2018, respectively, the 2015 flood in Columbia, South Carolina, and the 2017 flood in Boone, which garnered a plump one million views on Facebook.
Nelson records in either Cinema DNG or Apple ProRes at up to 5.2K resolution. His current fleet of drones is composed of an Inspire 2, Mavic 2 Pro, Phantom 4 Pro, Inspire 1, Mavic Pro, and a Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual which is used primarily for search and rescue operations. To ensure that his work is always at hand, he relies on a network of storage systems or, as Nelson likes to say, “back-up for the back-ups” anchored by multiple 12-terabyte drives.
While there are plenty of technical aspects to Nelson’s profession, there’s certainly room for art, and it’s something he always strives for. Of his videos, he had this to say: “They might not remember what they saw, but they’ll remember what they felt.”
Richard Massey is managing editor of Zweig Group publications. He can be reached at email@example.com
*This article was originally published in Civil + Structural Engineer in July 2019
The 2019 Engineering Drone Video of the Year Winner
The 2019 Engineering Drone Video of the Year Finalists
“AUVSI was filled with hundreds of people all looking forward to the next 10 to 20 years, and that was the exciting part. It was a giant think tank. The drone industry is filled with such great promise that when you put that many people in a room together it’s hard not to get excited. When I saw the opportunity for the C+S Engineering Drone Video of the Year, I knew I had to be a part of it.”
“We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to participate in the C+S Engineering Drone Video of the Year. Our experience from this contest has been very positive, so we are enthusiastic about participating again next year. As we are a technological center with multiple innovative drone technologies, we will need to carefully select what we are going to present next year because our objective will be to win the first prize.”