The Shot Maker

The Shot Maker

Viral video maker goes from trick shots to slow-motion masterpieces

In slow motion, fresh fruit falls through the blades of a string trimmer. A raw egg splats an unfortunate face. A basketball is “shot” through a hoop from the rafters of an arena. Then from 50 yards away using a catapult. Then dropped from a helicopter.

Welcome to Legendary Shots, the viral video sensation started by 2015 marketing graduate Carson Stalnaker and his friends. Stalnaker started filming sports trick shots in seventh grade just for laughs, but by high school the videos were gaining eyeballs and providing revenue. After college they added slow-motion explosions and experiments to the repertoire, revealing the alien shape a water balloon makes when it meets a power drill, for example. With more than 824,000 Instagram followers and 769,000 YouTube subscribers, Stalnaker said that early on they “figured out what we thought was fun and what people would want to watch.”

Auburn Magazine: What was your first big trick?

Stalnaker: I’m from Birmingham, and we got to go to the Vulcan statue that overlooks downtown Birmingham. And we were able to throw a basketball off the observation deck and we made that shot. That led us to shooting at a theme park a week after that, and suddenly, we were on YouTube getting millions of views. So it just kind of became a job by accident.

What makes for a good slow-motion video?

We need it to be something that pops, so we like when there’s a lot of color. We need direct sunlight to basically be able to see things with high frame rate, so we can’t shoot inside. As far as what’s blowing up, we always like when you see something small, and it suddenly fills up the whole frame. And you want to keep the background simple. A brick wall works.

Tell us about doing your video with Bruce Pearl.

Bruce had just gotten hired at Auburn. In July of 2014, we drove to Auburn and shot with him in Auburn Arena. We had him throw me a ball and I hit it in with the trampoline. And then we had him throw from the stands and make it straight in. That was a very stressful shot because there were a lot of times where he’d go to throw it and he would pump fake, and our camera guy would always miss it. So the one he made he didn’t pump fake and the camera just followed it completely.

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The Plainsmen of Pixels

Two alumni build Auburn’s campus in Minecraft

There are times when it’s just so funny.

When the absurdity of trying to do this crazy, stupid project that no one would do just bubbles over. That’s one thing Chris Smith ’09 loves about it. The nostalgia and the newness. The grunt work and the glitches. The confusion that comes from straddling two worlds at once.

Like the day he flew above an empty Auburn campus to a concession stand in the upper West deck of Jordan-Hare Stadium, only to find a random villager and two llamas.

Smith screenshotted the invaders and posted the picture on his @MCAubie Instagram page. He asked his followers what they thought they were doing there.

“Selling Dippin’ Dots for $10” came a reply.

Welcome to the Minecraft Auburn Project.

There are times when it’s the only thing that matters.

In 2011, Trey Long ’19 was a junior in high school when he first played Minecraft. It was two years after the release of the game and its popularity was obvious. Minecraft was started by a Swedish programmer named Markus “Notch” Persson. The game is a 3-D pixelated sandbox world where players can easily build, destroy and create using Minecraft’s basic currency, the building block.

The game has several modes, but Long immediately chose the creative mode, which gives you the full array of blocks and no enemies to battle. Although Minecraft allows you to build with others, he preferred building solo. He created replicas of his childhood Birmingham home and his church. He built train stations and skyscrapers. Even with Minecraft’s basic tools, Trey found he was skilled at recreating what he saw in real life.

So when he arrived at Auburn in fall 2012 with an ROTC scholarship and an electrical engineering degree mapped out, he looked at Samford Hall and saw nothing but digital building blocks.

Long created a single-player Minecraft map named “Auburn” on his computer. Using the Google Earth tool, he was able to get the dimensions of any structure in the world. With this information he created 10 campus buildings, including Samford, Langdon, Hargis, Biggin, Davis and Cater halls.

He posted videos of his progress on YouTube.

With his brother Jared Long ’19, he made a replica of Jordan-Hare Stadium, complete with :01 seconds on the scoreboard. He was nervous when he built it and the proudest when they finished.

“For weeks we worked on that stadium together,” Long said. “While we were working on it, we knew it would be cool.”

Then a funny thing happened to Long. Life. The real one. Between ROTC and the classes and homework and the time it takes to build all those buildings, he got burned out. Around 2015, he put the Auburn Minecraft Project down. Auburn’s campus remained a computerized construction site.

There are times when it seems all too perfect.

Like the timing of the phone call. Trey was burned out. Done, finished with the whole thing. Hadn’t touched it in a year? Two? Who knows?

While Long had forgotten Minecraft, the world had not. By 2015, it had exploded in popularity, in part through people like him posting videos of their builds on YouTube (to date, Minecraft-themed videos on YouTube have been viewed more than 1 trillion times). It crossed the threshold from game to phenomenon. Kids started wearing Minecraft Halloween costumes. There were toys and plush dolls and phone cases and a cartoon. The whole country of Denmark was recreated using the game! In 2014, Minecraft was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Chris Smith had graduated from Auburn in graphic design, and even went to graduate school in 2005 to study game development. But he had no interest in Minecraft. His daughter Gianna did, however, and around 2016, they start playing on their own server, bonding over the building and discovery that’s baked into Minecraft’s digital DNA. And then she showed him some of Long’s videos and he decided he wants to be a part of this. He had to be a part of this. And so he called.

“Before Chris reached out, I wasn’t looking for help,” Long said. “But he had a vision of where we could take this and how we could finish. That was so energizing to me.”

One of the first big projects that Smith took on was not even a building. It was the Minecraft Auburn Project terrain. It was not like the real experience of walking Auburn’s rolling campus. Smith used GIS (Geographic Information System) servers to get accurate topography of the campus, built it out and then placed it in the world. At one point he pasted more than 1.2 million blocks into the file.

“I held my breath for about 30 minutes while it pasted,” he said.

There are times when it seems all too real.

Over the last three years, Smith has run the project and put the map on a server, which enables Long to help with construction. Smith built out the Twitter and Instagram accounts and gives their followers regular building updates.

Their recent projects have included Plainsman Park and the soon-tobe-demolished Hill dorms. They are opening the project to some selective builders. They want people to eventually be able to tour a 3-D replica of campus from anywhere in the world.

Could the two imagine building anything else? The answer is unequivocal.

“It’s Auburn or nothing,” said Smith. “I mean, I’m not going to spend this much time building my hometown. Neither is Trey. Auburn just means everything to everybody who’s ever been there. We wanted people who went to Auburn and loved it to be able to tour and not have to leave their house. You can get it on your Xbox. Or any PC or game console. That’s the dream.”

The Auburn world that Long and Smith have created is becoming so consistent and fleshed out that sometimes you can almost taste the tart lemons in the Toomer’s lemonade.

“We’re both very detail oriented. We want this to be ‘this is real, but it’s Minecraft,’” laughs Smith. “I was recently in the game taking some screenshots of the old art building. I’m [using the] zoom tool, which makes for real good pictures. So I back up into the street at Toomer’s Corner, and I literally take my finger off the zoom tool to look around and see if cars are coming.”

There are times when it just all works out.

For Long, the effect of Minecraft and Auburn on his life is hard to measure. This hits him full force when I ask what he’s doing these days for work.

“I am now a construction manager for a company out here in Atlanta building apartments,” Long said, laughing. “And I’m really happy. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. But yeah, it’s interesting that I built them virtually and now I’m doing it in real life.”

How To Make A Building in Minecraft

Using Google Earth Pro, get the dimensions of the outside of the building.

Put down a corner block. This is your cornerstone.

Start down one exterior wall. Note that each Minecraft block is a meter. Create a one- or two-block-high perimeter wall that matches the outline of the building.

Build all the way up to the roofline, wall by wall.

Note the location of any windows and doors and use blocks to recreate them.

Create the roof and roofline (Long uses stair blocks).

Put the floors down (Long says most floors are 5 Minecraft blocks high).

Put torches out for the lighting.

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Free Your Mind

Free Your Mind

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A mix of educational innovation and counterculture zeal, Auburn’s Free University Movement empowered students and infuriated administrators

Lady standing in doorway
Talking with Miriam Saxon ’72 is as pleasant an experience as you’ll have. She is soft spoken and thoughtful and measures her words when she speaks. It’s disarming when she says, “In a few minutes’ time, I have to go take our rooster… we got busted for having a rooster in town, so I have found a new home for him. Yeah, we had somebody rat us out.”

You see, Miriam Saxon is many things. An Auburn native. Daughter of two Auburn faculty members. An Auburn alumna. An Episcopal priest. And a bit of an undercover radical, even in her pet choices.

Fifty years ago, Saxon (then Miriam Scarsbrook), along with friend Marion Cox ’71, led one of the most experimental and fun educational movements in Auburn’s history: the Extra-Curricular Studies Program (ESP).

On its face, ESP was simply an attempt to offer free classes to students on topics the faculty were unable or reluctant to cover. With no tuition, no grades and no set meeting place, the classes quickly became boom-or-bust litmus tests for the interests of the student body, many of whom loved Auburn but were dissatisfied with its conservative nature and resistance to change.

“I think it was just starting it to do something fun and a little bit off the track for the rest of the university. I think Marion and I and John (Saxon, now Miriam’s husband) and some others were looking for something that wasn’t just the standard state university stuff, maybe in a tiny bit of poking-a-finger-in-an-eye way, to be honest. Just a little bit,” Saxon said.

Free The University
ESP was part of a larger free school movement that was born in early 1968. That year, A.S. Neill’s “Summerhill,” a small book about an alternative education school in England, sold a million copies. Soon, progressive writers like Jonathan Kozol, Nat Hentoff and John Holt were arguing for more open
and participatory education that lived alongside or outside of the public education system. This meant giving more power, control and access to students.

Winter quarter of 1969, a group of Auburn students launched a “Free University” program, announcing in the “Deserted Village” underground newspaper that Auburn students today were “less frivolous, better informed and chronologically older” than their counterparts from 50 or 60 years ago. The movement offered a range of supplementary courses in religion, law and even “Sgt. Pepper & other Bands.” The movement’s reasoning was made clear in the preamble to their announcement.

“Undergraduates across the country are seeking to realize their dreams of what education ought to be: not only should teachers be free to teach what they want, but students should also be free to learn what they want.”

At the start, the Free University Program was not funded by the university, and Jean Ford ’69, a student organizer at the time, made clear that the program should not concern administrators.

“We are stressing that this program will be optional and is in no way an attempt to overthrow the university,” Ford said in the Auburn Plainsman.

“Undergraduates across the country are seeking to realize their dreams of what education ought to be: not only should teachers be free to teach what they want, but students should also be free to learn what they want.”

Early returns looked promising as more than 400 students met in classrooms, restaurants and bars to discuss topics such as “Field Work Archaeology,” “Kite Flying” and “Problems of Communism in Asia.”

By late 1969, SGA was providing some funds for the Free University (causing the Plainsman to run several editorials bemoaning its lack of autonomy), and the program suffered from waning interest because of its idealistic courses and difficulty finding meeting spaces. The program changed the courses to shorter seminars and installed more practical classes, but without consistent student support, the one-year experiment ended.

Seeing The Future
Enter Saxon and Cox.

In late 1971, the Kappa Delta sorority sisters bonded over their love of Auburn and willingness to shake things up a bit. Looking around at schools like UNC Chapel Hill and University of California, Berkeley, they decided to create a better version of the Free University that had failed at Auburn before. That included coming up with a title whose acronym would double for extrasensory perception. “We thought we were so clever,” Saxon says with an eye roll.

“She was a little bit different than the norm; she had more of a progressive outlook on the world. I was beginning to develop a more progressive outlook, and we became fast friends,” Cox said of Saxon.

ESP’s mix of student empowerment, ’60s cultural idealism and innovative educational thinking was evident right from the start. The forward to their spring 1972 brochure questioned many educational assumptions in a direct appeal to students.

“Ask yourself why you are caught up in a maze of university red tape, boring classes, staying up all night to get a degree. In a university concentrating on highly specialized skills, ESP is an attempt to relieve the monotony of the classroom, to stimulate students to widen their scope, to motivate students to think and explore, to provide students with a creative outlet for their expressions, and to create an experiment in education at Auburn.”

Miriam Saxon posing for headshot

Miriam Saxon around 1972

“Ask yourself why you are caught up in a maze of university red tape, boring classes, staying up all night to get a degree.”

ESP’s inaugural six offerings in January 1972 were a mix of the practical and idealistic. Courses on photography, macrame and first aid were offered alongside “Women’s Lib,” “Radical Educational Change” and “Encounter Marathon.” Sixteen courses were offered in the spring quarter, with an increased emphasis on hands-on learning and more faculty involvement. But the relaxed atmosphere, no cost and no grades remained.

But after two quarters where almost 500 people participated, getting continued support proved difficult. Poorly attended courses were dropped, and Cox and Saxon worked tirelessly to get the word out and keep the students and teachers (some of whom were Auburn faculty, students
and members of the community) engaged and committed.

Speaking Of Controversy
ESP’s influence extended beyond the classes. A series of invited speakers roiled campus in 1971-72. National luminaries like feminist Gloria Steinem and consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader were among those who spoke to packed houses on the Plains.

This was on the heels of Yale chaplain and anti-war speaker William Sloane Coffin’s controversial appearance in February 1969. Auburn President Harry M. Philpott vetoed funds that had been set aside for him to appear. A lawsuit was filed and a ruling against the university was made by judge Frank M. Johnson in Montgomery. The lawsuit, and Coffin’s appearance, caused an uproar for a year over censorship and the university’s role in bringing new ideas to campus.

Nader, author of the 1965 book “Unsafe At Any Speed,” exposed the automobile industry’s safety issues (particularly in the Chevrolet Corvair), and had become a force in the growing consumer rights area. Cox and a group of students picked up the perennially disheveled Nader at the Columbus, Ga. Airport—in a Chevy Corvair.

“We promised that he wasn’t going to die in the car before we could get into Auburn. He was a good sport about it, but boy, that really threw him for a loop,” Cox said, laughing as she recalled the incident.

Unlike the previous Free University, ESP had quickly become part of the SGA infrastructure.

girls learning about auto mechanics

In ESP’s free auto mechanics course, you could learn how a motor works.

In a glowing feature in the Plainsman in February 1972, SGA president Jimmy Tucker cited it as one of his administration’s best achievements. After all, it was about improving access to ideas and education, something that aligned with Auburn’s land-grant mission.

And then the “General Bullshit” controversy hit. Saxon had sent their spring of 1972 class schedule to be printed at University Duplicating Services. A worker had balked at the title of one of the classes and notified J.H. White, director of university relations. Called into White’s office, Saxon explained that the class would feature Frisbee throwing and creek banking and would discuss other ways to have fun. White told her the word would offend students and alumni. Saxon asked where in university policy that word was forbidden. White couldn’t directly cite any source.

“We thought it was, again, a funny title, that it would catch a lot of students’ attention, never thinking we’d catch unwanted attention. I remember being really surprised that they wouldn’t publish it,” Saxon said. She eventually changed the word to “Bulls&^%” and got it published. 

Both Cox and Saxon recall getting called into administrators’ offices several times, a by-product of their participation in the culture wars. Cox recalls the feeling after getting called into Dean of Women Katherine Cooper Cater’s office in 1972, after Gloria Steinem visited campus and critiqued many of the rules governing women students on campus.

“I think when we walked into the office, probably our knees were trembling a little bit. When we left the office, we were probably doing high fives because, I mean, we didn’t break any rules. We thought we had pulled off the coup of the century,” Cox said.

“I think that college has always been a time when folks are trying to figure out who they are and where they are in the world. That’s always been true. I think it was especially true in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” John Saxon ’72, Miriam’s husband added.

Final Exam
Like its predecessor, ESP eventually burned out. In fall 1972 it was renamed the Free University Program, with the old name labeled confusing and worn out by new leadership. What is old is new again.

Saxon and Cox had graduated. The program was gone by the following fall. But the significance of those classes and the movement is all too obvious today. Things like the massive open online course (MOOCs) movement which provides free classes online, is animated by the same impulses that Cox and Saxon made real in Haley Center more than 50 years ago. Even Auburn’s own Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (one of 122 nationwide) provides alternative courses outside the norms of traditional classrooms.

While Miriam Saxon and Marion Cox both know that ESP, the black armbands on campus and the fiery speakers all challenged the mainstream at the time, they did so out of a love of Auburn and a feeling that it could be better. That it had to be better.

For Cox, the radical ecology class offered by ESP was the beginning of her love of the environment, something she has spent 40 years protecting as an environmental planner, consultant and mediator. For John and Miriam, now both clergy, their time at Auburn provided opportunities for them to stand up for what they believe is right, something that has continued throughout their lives.

“We all loved Auburn. We loved the community. We loved the people,” Cox said. “We loved the institution, but it wasn’t serving everything we were at that university to get out of it. We decided to do something about it. It was exciting to us. We thought it was important.”

John Saxon headshot from 1972

John Saxon circa 1972

“I think that college has always been a time when folks are trying to figure out who they are and where they are in the world. That’s always been true.”

The Great Mind Connector

The Great Mind Connector

Connecting students to jobs, companies to Auburn and research to real-world problems drove the rebranding of Auburn’s Research Park

DRIVING TOWARD AUBURN UNIVERSITY from I-85, you’ll see many of the usual fast-food restaurants and gas stations along College Street. But just south of campus, you’ve probably noticed a series of large buildings that dot an increasingly busy greenway inside Shug Jordan Parkway. It’s the Auburn Research Park.

The park recently rebranded, changing its name to simply “The Park at Auburn” in part to avoid market confusion with other Auburn entities like City of Auburn’s Technology Park. But the change also reflects a renewed plan to improve research and collaboration at the university, attract companies to Auburn, provide students meaningful internships, and nurture faculty and student startups.

Cary Chandler, senior director of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation (ARTF, which operates The Park), said the rebranding was about better telling the park’s story. “This place is really a doorway for partnerships and opportunity, because this is where corporate America ought to be meeting with the bright minds evolving from the university, whether those minds are our faculty or students,” Chandler said. Started with a combined $15 million commitment from the state of Alabama and Auburn, the 170-acre research park broke ground on Nov. 17, 2005. Billed as the “front door” to the university, it has easy access to I-85 and is a key link to the evolving technology corridor stretching from Atlanta to Montgomery.

A new strategic plan created by Bill Dean, executive director of the ARTF, outlines the blueprint to fully integrate The Park into the campus and community. Dean, who has successfully run research parks in Huntsville and North Carolina, crafted a plan that stresses interaction and access to resources.

“The new ARTF Strategic Plan provides partnerships, teams and support services through touchpoints within a streamlined and proactive framework to take advantage of research strengths that are totally unique to Auburn University,” said Dean. He noted that the bold plan is built on interdisciplinary team building, commercialization and
entrepreneurship among people and business who desire

“We’re kind of driven to make a difference in the world. And with the support that’s here, you can do that.”

Recent buildings reflect this integration with the main campus and the community. The Research And Innovation Center (RAIC) opened in 2020 and features the New Venture Accelerator, an event center and Amsterdam Café among its amenities. There’s childcare available at the Big Blue Marble Academy, and the under-construction East Alabama Medical Center Health Sciences Facility will feature not only clinical research internships but an emergency room and ambulatory center that will be open to the public. Employees of all businesses in the research park get access to university amenities like the Recreation Center, Tiger Transit and the library.

Jim Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research and economic development, said the timing couldn’t be better, as the 2018 elevation of Auburn as an R1 research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions has “changed the conversation about Auburn.”

“The Park is quickly becoming a whole ecosystem of innovation, collaboration and business development,” he said. Weyhenmeyer believes The Park can provide meaningful internships for students, as well as a pipeline of tested talent for companies that move here.

“You’ll see more companies moving to this area, because it’s about access,” Weyhenmeyer said.

He also believes The Park will stand out for its investment in early-stage business development.

One of the best examples of this is the New Venture Accelerator—roughly 7,000 square feet of office space within the RAIC staffed with a team of resident experts—which guides startups on how to create business models and pitch to investors. The space is jointly managed by the Harbert College of Business and the ARTF and features 10 current startups, including SwiftSku, which in January finished third in the Amazon Web Services U.S. University Startup Competition.

SwiftSku’s achievement comes just after fellow New Venture Accelerator tenant Zac Young’s first-place finish at the SEC Student Pitch Competition in October 2020. Young, a senior in mechanical engineering and founder of Vulcan Line Tools, created the Wave Timer—a device that measures the sag, tension and temperature of power lines.

Chandler and Weyhenmeyer said that The Park can also be a force for helping to recruit star students and faculty who are looking for a university with a culture of innovation. Faculty like Mark Liles. For Liles, The Park is perfectly set up for the whole lifecycle of research, from discovery to taking a product to market. Liles is a microbiologist who has been trying to solve the problem of a deadly pathogen that has decimated farm-raised catfish in states like Alabama and Mississippi.

The Park provides Liles much-needed office and lab space. More importantly, it offers him the expertise to help turn his research into products that solve real-world problems. Mentors like the staff in the Office of Innovation Advancement & Commercialization helped him navigate the byzantine world of patents, copyrights, licenses and other programs. Liles works with faculty in other disciplines like pharmacy, crop sciences and fisheries, and says this interdisciplinary mindset is baked into The Park.

“It’s been a transformative experience,” Liles said. “Even though we might be in different departments and colleges, a lot of faculty here do very applied research. We’re kind of driven to make a difference in the world. And with the support that’s here, you can do that.”

Talk to anyone associated with The Park and they stress one thing: it’s not about the buildings, but the people. Dean’s slogan of “Connecting great minds” resonates with everyone.

Chandler said The Park’s updated mission is simple. “Everyone we’re talking to—student, faculty or company— we’re asking them the same thing: How can we help you develop the next generation of great?”

WEGL is 50

WEGL is 50

On April 25, 1971, WEGL 91.1 crackled to life in the first floor of Haley Center.

Help us celebrate the station that defied the odds, gave a voice to Auburn students, and defined generations of Auburn alumni. #weglis50

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