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Come Fly With Us: Otis College Extension Offers Build-A-Drone Workshop

image of flying drone with controller in the background
Halley Sutton

This summer, you can build and fly your own drone through the Extension program at Otis College of Art and Design! The class will utilize a blended learning format to discover the intricacies of drone flying, explore the different uses and types of drones, and conclude with a one-day, hands-on workshop where students will build and fly their own.

We sat down with Eugene Ahn, lecturer at Otis College and the leader of the class, to discuss what students will learn, how drones are useful to artists, and more.

Q: How did this class come to be?

A: I’ve taught digital media courses in Extension for years, we’re always interested in what new technology is coming out and how creatives can apply them to their work. In the photography world for instance, the drone has already surpassed being a novelty option and is now an essential tool in the field. 

Q: What will students do in the class? What will they learn?

A: There are other classes at Otis that specifically highlight the drone as a tool for photography, but this class is mainly about showing people how accessible flight is, giving them hands-on flying experience, and underscoring how the drone could be applicable to many creative practices.

Students will leave with an understanding of the basic principles of flight and how those apply to an individual operating a drone. Similar to other workshop courses, the course will emphasize safety principles including flight etiquette and the laws of airspace. Of course, in the one-day workshop students will get experience building and flying a drone.

Q: What can students expect in the hands-on workshop?

A: Students will have a chance to build drones, either from a kit or from my personal collection and modify them in different ways. There are many different reasons someone, particularly an artist, might want to use drones. The workshop will give students a chance to see why you might want a particular kind of drone or a certain modification to get different results. Students will fly different models of drones to figure out what they’re looking for. I hope it inspires people to think about how they would use drones for their own projects. 

Q: Who should take this class? Do students need to have a background in technology?

A: Absolutely not. This class is designed so that you don’t have to know anything about drones ahead of time to be successful. 

Q: Where do you see the most intersection between drone technology and making art?

A:  The drone as a tool [for artistic expression] might be the most compelling purpose driving the industry. Artists may want to use the drone for observation, taking photos for the images themselves or for reference in a larger work. Documentation via drone is a great option for artists who may wish to archive their work or extend the life of a performance piece or even better, bring it to new audiences that would otherwise be unable to view it. Another emerging category is the use of the drone itself as performance art, a great example was at the Winter Olympics. Intel choreographed 1,200 drones to fly in formation for that performance. There are so many different applications where a drone can be useful to an artist.

Q: One last question: What excites you the most about this class?

A: As an artist, I’m very aware that the tools I work with and master are the things that enable my work. When you talk to almost any artist, you get the sense that one of the goals of the practice is to make the tool an extension of the art. One of the joys of flying a drone is seeing the aircraft up there and knowing that somehow you’re up there with it. What I love about this workshop is it gives me a chance to share the idea that an artist can have that kind of relationship with their drone as a creative tool.


Eugene Ahn is a lecturer at Otis College of Art and Design. He holds a master’s degree of arts degree in humanities from Pacifica Graduate Institute, and a bachelor’s degree of art in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is an artist, photographer, and web designer.

Build Your Own Drone starts August 6, register now. 

Halley Sutton is a graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design MFA Writing program. 

Photo by Diana Măceşanu on Unsplash