What Is a Drone Show and How Does It Work?

11th November, 2022

As one of the most exhilarating, prominent digital art forms showcasing pre-programmed patterns, drone shows occupy the dark sky, captivating audiences worldwide. Drone shows have the ability to take storytelling to a magnified level that has never been achieved before through the use of these new technologies. But piecing together these jaw-dropping drone shows can be challenging. Before a drone fleet is capable of taking off, extensive planning, synchronisation and testing are crucial. Innovating drone displays that push the limits of our business is nothing new for Celestial, and our desire is to unite people with a shared sense of wonder.


So, What is a Drone Show? 
It’s a drone art performance in which hundreds of illuminated drones are flown in formation to produce visuals and patterns in the sky. These drones may create any design which is then pre-programmed using the appropriate software prior to deployment. It would be chaotic and difficult to control each drone with hundreds or thousands of pilots, however, only 1 or 2 drone pilots are required thanks to our programming, AI and 3D modelling, which ensures perfect coordination. This is a unique and creative way to experience art, and it’s a fantastic, greener substitute for conventional fireworks shows.

How Does a Drone Show Work?

The success of a drone light show depends on several variables. It includes the drone’s design and the algorithms that direct them along their precisely determined flight patterns. The drone show’s longest stage is the flight planning phase. Designing and choreographing the motion of hundreds of drones can take months to perfect. Exclusive algorithms and 3D animation tools are used during the planning phase so that teams can design the ideal paths for each drone.

What’s the process for creating a drone show?

Phase 1 – Discovery
The first step is to work with the Client to discover the best location for a show. Drone shows cannot fly directly above an audience. So we conduct desktop research to ascertain whether a location is viable for a show. A sterile area 60m from all directions of the flight grid is required for safety. As drones are placed approximately 1m apart from each other on the grid, this gives an indication of the amount of space that will be required.

Phase 2 – Definition
Elements of the show require defining; such as music – will there be a specific soundtrack that the show is to play to? Or narration? Or lighting. Will there be a live audience at the show? Will the show be broadcast live? Finalising the details of the show, enables the team to then carry out a technical onsite survey to ensure all provisions for the day have been considered.

Phase 3 – Development
Creative development of the show is carried out by the animations team along with production and the client. The Client’s brief is received and a response to brief presented back to them using our pre-visualisation software. Clients are able to see what a show will look pre-flight thanks to a complete digital pre-visualization in a digital twin of the actual location, using Depence R3, the industry-leading live events visualisation software.

Phase 4 – Deployment
Before the show date, we have the capability to test the show at our private airfield facility near Bath. Clients are invited to witness any demo flights before the show date. Demo flights also allow for us to film any elements of the show prior to the show date if required. Our virtual collision avoidance simulations are one of the most critical testing features. This is a crucial step in the process given our drones incur significant expense and risk with each flight.

Read more about what goes on behind the making of a drone show here.

How Much Does A Drone Show Cost?

The cost of a drone show can vary significantly depending on a variety of factors, including the number of drones used, the complexity of the performance, the duration of the show, the location, and the specific requirements of the event. Here are some key factors that can influence the cost of a drone show:

Number of Drones: The more drones used in the show, the higher the cost. Small shows with a few drones will be less expensive than large shows with hundreds or even thousands of drones.
Duration: Longer drone shows will generally cost more than shorter ones because they require more battery power and coordination.
Location: The cost of a drone show may vary depending on the location of the event. Shows in remote or challenging locations may require more logistical planning and incur additional expenses.
Licensing and Permits: Some locations may require permits or licences to operate drones, and the cost of obtaining these permits can add to the overall cost.
Animation: If you have specific themes, logos, or branding elements that need to be integrated into the drone show, this can increase the time and cost required for animation.
Technical Support: The cost of technical support, including drone operators, ground crew, and safety personnel, is a significant part of the overall cost.
Insurance: Liability insurance is necessary to cover any accidents or damages that may occur during the show.
Rehearsals and Testing: Testing and rehearsal flights are essential to ensure the safety and success of the show, and they can contribute to the cost.
Additional Effects: Some drone shows may incorporate other special effects, such as fireworks, lasers, or music synchronisation, which can increase the cost.

How Many Drones Do You Need For a Drone Show?

When planning a drone show, one of the most common questions is how many drones are needed. Generally, a minimum of 100 to 150 drones is required to create an impactful display. However, the number of drones needed ultimately depends on the complexity of the content. For instance, a show featuring complex shapes and long words will require more drones than a show with simple shapes and short words.

At Celestial, we typically use an average of 350 to 650 drones for our shows. This number allows us to create intricate and visually stunning displays, but we are capable of using over 650 drones for more complex designs. When creating drone shows for artivism, the number of drones is also determined by the desired impact and message. The right number of drones and the proper content can produce a show that can deliver a powerful message that resonates with the audience.

What Type of Drone Shows Can You Have?

The world of drone shows is vast and varied, with endless possibilities for creating stunning aerial displays. Using computer software, almost any image can be virtually reproduced in the sky by converting pictures into flying orders and transmitting them to drones. This means that the potential for creativity is unlimited, from displaying a company logo to a rotating earth globe in the sky.

At Celestial, we have had the pleasure of creating some truly breathtaking drone shows. One of our most memorable projects was the celebration of Manchester City FC winning the Premier League, where we used 300 drones to light up the sky in honour of their victory.

Another project that we are extremely proud of is the Melbourne New Year 2022 drone show. The display was created to commemorate Melbourne’s escape from the world’s longest lockdown and to inspire unwavering optimism for the future. This incredible display featured a variety of talents, including First Nations art and prize-winning poetry, making it the first-ever Celestial Australia drone show.

In addition to creating stunning displays for product launch events and public celebrations, drone technology has also become a powerful tool for artivism. This innovative approach to activism through art has the potential to drive significant social and political change by using drones to create compelling and thought-provoking visual displays.

One example of drone artivism is the SKY SONG drone show that debuted at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. This longer length show used drones to take audiences on a cosmic journey through First Nation history, culture, and art. The show aimed to highlight the horrors of colonisation and the stolen generations while inspiring a sense of belonging and connection to the country.

Drones can be used to project powerful messages, promote important causes, and even create public art installations. With limitless possibilities for drone shows, with a bit of creativity and innovation, the sky truly is the limit. The potential for the sky as a new media channel is also something that is being observed.

You can discover the various types of breathtaking drone shows we offer here.

Will Drone Displays Replace Fireworks?

Drone displays have the potential to replace traditional fireworks sooner than one might expect. Not only do they offer significant environmental advantages, but drones also surpass the creative limitations of fireworks in numerous ways.

Equipped with LED lights, drones can produce breathtaking displays in the sky while generating much less disruption to wildlife and pets due to their quieter sound output. Furthermore, drones can be precisely programmed to perform synchronised movements, providing a controlled and safer experience compared to fireworks.

One notable distinction is that drone shows are not noisy like fireworks, as drones are reusable and do not contribute to air and noise pollution. In contrast, drones produce no chemical emissions and significantly reduce noise pollution, minimising their impact on the environment and local ecosystems. This eco-friendly aspect makes drone displays an attractive choice for environmentally-conscious event organisers and spectators alike.

As a result, the rise of drone light displays opens up a new era of visually stunning, eco-friendly, and peaceful aerial spectacles.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to drone storytelling, and Celestial is at the forefront of challenging the boundaries with ever-ambitious drone light shows.

With each and every one of our projects, we hope to ignite amazement in viewers, rekindle their connection to the night sky’s stars, and bring people together.

Learn more about Celestial drone shows, check out our FAQs here.

Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how our drone art shows work or would like to work with us.