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Precision and Storytelling: Reid Hu’s “After the Mudslide” Wins 2021 Engineering Drone Video of the Year

Precision and Storytelling: Reid Hu’s “After the Mudslide” Wins 2021 Engineering Drone Video of the Year

By Luke Carothers

The 2021 Engineering Drone Video of the Year Contest (EDVY)  reached new heights this year with 68 videos entered from across the globe.  With more than 14,300 votes cast during the initial voting round, the competition was stiffer than ever.  Three finalists emerged from this intense voting period: “Bois d’Arc Lake Project” by Freese and Nichols, “Interstate 74 Bridge Corridor” by IMEG Corp, and “After the Mudslide” by Reid Hu. In addition, this year featured an inaugural partnership with SPH Engineering who offered several impressive prize packages to the top three finishers that included their flagship software.

The final round consisted of a review from our prestigious panel of judges.  After much deliberation and intense discussion, the panel came to the conclusion that Reid Hu’s “After the Mudslide” is the unanimous winner of the 2021 Engineering Drone Video of the Year Contest.

Hu, a student from the Pacific Northwest in the United States, was drawn to shoot his project through family ties.  His uncle worked as a structural engineer on the project, and he approached Reid about flying his drone through the building.  Reid jumped at the chance, and, ever mindful of the power of storytelling, seized the opportunity to incorporate cinematic elements to contextualize the project. 

Located in the Pacific Northwest, the subject of the video is a residential construction project.  The house that previously stood on the site was washed away in a landslide two years prior.  The impetus for rebuilding this particular house is seamlessly blended in the video as the camera navigates the steel beams sunk deep in the ground to prevent the house from washing away in the next landslide.   

The video begins low, rising through a truck before skimming over some timber and rising behind the retaining wall above the house.  This opening shot sets the stage for the building narrative tension as the point of view is rapidly pulled back through the building being constructed.  The viewer is given a wide view of the project including the completed house to the left, the project being worked on, and the wreckage of the previous house strewn in the water.  The point of view then shifts again, bringing the viewer back through the construction and turning to pan over the watery horizon. This demonstrates an ability to give the viewer “different information than what is usually available,” something that judge Alexey Dobrovolsky, CTO of SPH Engineering, commented on during the judging process.

The video also stood out from the competition in terms of both its use of narration and natural noise.  By employing construction noises such as a truck backing up, a generator running, and a hammer pounding, the video is given its first layer of context.  Simultaneously, Reid’s voice narrates the project, telling the story behind the site and its importance in being rebuilt.  This aspect in particular stood out to judge Margot Moulton, who said these elements made the video feel, “very human and personal.”

According to the panel of judges, “After the Mudslide” was the most technically advanced entry of the finalists.  Panelist Jean-Louis Weemaes noted the blending of technical skill and storytelling to create a powerful final video.  This technical skill is evident in numerous places throughout the video, but perhaps nowhere better than when the drone is flown backwards through the beams of the house.

Reid credits his use of FPV drones for this ability to navigate tight spaces and create stunning shots.  FPV in this instance means First Person View, meaning Reid’s drone has a small camera mounted on the front.  This small camera transmits real time images to the drone operator, giving them direct control of the flight.  This also means that FPV drones, according to regulations, cannot be operated without having another pair of eyes on the drone.  For this video, Reid employed his father as the visual observer.  Their work on this project consisted of first planning the video.  This ensures not only clean, effective shots, but also the safety and security of everyone working on the project.

According to Reid, after the planning was done, he “went for it.”  Although several shots took multiple attempts, the most difficult, according to Reid, was the backwards flight through the building.  To accomplish this shot, Reid and his father had to work together, first planning the correct site lines, then giving audible feedback as the shot progressed.  It was this creativity in blending short technical maneuvers with long creative shots that impressed judge Vincent Haldy during the judging process.  Judge Will Anderson also took note of this ability, calling it, “seamless.”

In addition to demonstrating breathtaking skill and control in shooting the video, Hu’s entry demonstrated the power of drones to highlight the humanity and necessity of engineering projects.  Panelist Caitlin Burke noted Hu’s storytelling ability, saying that the video has the ability to “inspire young people, and women, to enter the industry or become drone pilots.” 

“After the Mudslide” certainly stands as a testament to the multiplicity of uses for drones within the AEC industry.  While drones and other UAVs are capable of performing complex and intense tasks that are vital to sectors such as infrastructure and agriculture, they are, at the same time, capable of revealing a very human element that is often lacking in discussions of projects within the AEC industry.  Reid Hu’s video and capacity for storytelling offer a glimpse of the power for drones to open a new pathway into the industry.  

Watch the winning video and visit Reid’s website if you are interested in working with him to create a video of your own project.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.

This article was originally published in July 2021.