An interview with Lee Tomas, Global Projects & Operations Manager at Celestial.
What sets Celestial’s drone technology apart from its competitors?
The specialist team of creative and innovative people in Celestial who are behind every event!
Celestial’s team is always using innovative thinking to improve the visual impact of our drone swarm. We are always looking to set new records and push the flight envelope as much as we can in a safe and efficient way.
All of our shows are bespoke to the customer, and use the latest technology and most experienced creatives to tell stories that will stick in the minds of the audience.
What developments in the drone industry have influenced Celestial’s approach to innovation?
We always try to utilise the very latest innovations across all formats of cultural artist expression to be at the forefront of the entertainment industry.
We create award-winning drone art by fusing music, poetry, scriptwriting, and animation. We have taken the standard quadcopter-style drones and transformed them into a larger swarm to deliver one-off breathtaking creations using an extensive light pallet.
How does Celestial plan to evolve its drone technology in the future?
We are looking to develop our technology so we can launch much larger shows.
Our ambition by the end of the year is to routinely deliver shows with a number of drones in the thousands and be a global leader in delivering swarm events.
How many drones can be used in a typical Celestial show?
This year we have delivered shows that have ranged from 60 upwards to 640. These shows were delivered across a range of diverse environments; densely populated cities, busy seaports, and countryside hollows.
What types of events or occasions are best suited for a Celestial drone show?
We love working with customers who are as creative and passionate about ‘telling the best story’ as we are.
We love collaborating on our shows with fellow artists and creatives from any background or genre.
How far in advance do clients need to book a drone show?
Ideally, we like to have at least a three-month lead time in order to execute our planning process required to take ideas from conception to sky.
This allows us a good amount of time to work creatively with clients and make sure we deliver the brief as well as create the very best execution of it. We also understand that sometimes things happen at the last minute, so we’re always open to hearing from people with ideas at any stage of the process.
How does Celestial plan to continue pushing the boundaries of drone show technology in the future?
In addition to increasing the number of drones we use, we will also continue to focus on increasing their speed, resolution, and brightness.
What kind of creative control do clients have over the content of their drone show?
We love working with clients to create the very best show possible. While we will always answer the brief, we aim to provide the unexpected, and that includes wowing our clients with creative options they may not have considered.
The story they want to tell will always be theirs, the way in which we tell it, is where we shine.
What are the key features of Celestial’s drone technology that benefit drone shows?
The ability to upscale the number of drones in the swarm and to increase the diversity and fluidness of our animations.
What role does sustainability play in Celestial’s approach to drone shows?
Sustainability is key to everything we do.
Our entire Operations testing site is called ‘The Hive’ for that very reason.
Within the last six months, we have delivered multiple sustainable initiatives that will be released to the public shortly. We also only deploy to a show with a minimal events resource footprint available.
Our shows also produce no Foreign Object Debris (FOD) as fireworks do and no harmful emissions.
What impact has Celestial’s drone technology had on the entertainment industry?
At the moment, we are one of the very few global players in the drone show industry.
The progress we’ve made relative to the age of the company has us on a trajectory to even greater heights.
We delivered the ground-breaking Hogmanay show that presented a new way to unite audiences who were at the time in lockdown due to a global pandemic and unable to experience live outdoor events.
Our London New Year’s Eve drone show in Horse Guards Parade demonstrated the precision that such displays allowed for live broadcast events.
Our drone show at Eurovision in Liverpool combined amazing live music from global artists, projection mapping, and our fantastic swarm, choreographed perfectly to time.
We have also won multiple awards for our fantastic show Sky Song, which we delivered in Australia last year.
How long does it take to set up and take down a Celestial drone show?
It takes around 6 hours to prepare, which might sound like a lot, but when you have 700+ separate drones that need preparing from a hardware perspective and then loaded with all the relevant software and then run through the process to launch, you can see where the time goes.
Once a show takes flight, the preparation time spent is totally worth it! It takes, on average, one hour to pack away.
Can you share any unique or particularly memorable moments from past Celestial Drone shows
London’s globally viewed New Year’s Eve show was amazing and provided me with a moment I won’t forget.
All our modern technology and captivating visuals fused with those historic and iconic buildings and monuments were amazing!
Eurovision was also fantastic as it presented us with new challenges to overcome, but we achieved them, and it was like no other.
Can you describe a particularly challenging performance or event that Celestial’s drone technology faced?
Eurovision was the most complicated drone show we have ever completed.
It was 640 drones divided into 2 swarms, deployed at different times, and a takeoff zone that contained tall trees and high, historic monuments in front of it.
We were also in the middle of Liverpool City Centre! It was a challenge we overcame due to our expertise and how we use our technology effectively.
How does Celestial ensure compliance with regulations and laws surrounding drone usage?
Celestial has a really proactive and positive relationship with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has seen us create a fully compliant Operational Safety Case (OSC) that fully complies with the CAA’s requirements and regulations.
Everything we do within shows is centred around safety and this includes implementing Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM’s), liaising with civil and military airports in the area, and also forging positive relationships with the on site Emergency Services.
What inspires the team at Celestial to continue innovating in the drone show industry?
We want to be the world leader in the industry and aim to inspire everyone who sees our show to unlock their inner creativity and join us in making the world a happier and more visually inspiring place!
How can interested parties learn more about Celestial’s drone show technology and services?
Keep an eye on our social media feed and website for all our latest show coverage, including TV appearances.
There’s also an option to contact us through the website if there’s a specific enquiry you wish to make – we’d love to hear from you!
Lee currently holds the following commendations and accolades:
King’s Birthday Honours 2023 – RAF Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Commendation for delivering ASTRA Strategic Change and Innovation programme in the RAF.
RAF Chief of the Air Staff Academic Fellow and current status – Completed the Chief of the Air Staff Academic Fellowship – King’s College London Masters Degree in Air Power and Strategic Studies – Specialising in Swarming Drones.
Queens New Year Honours 2020 – RAF Deputy Commander Operations Commendation for delivering RAFX Innovation and international NATO CAPEVAL exercise.
MOD Percy Hobart Innovation Fellow and current status- Completed the Ministry of Defence Percy Hobart Innovation Fellowship – Trained to be a Innovation specialist lead for the Ministry of Defence.