On July 1 of this year in Shenzen, China, thousands of drones take to the air, as viscous as a swarm of bees and illuminated by LED light. The 5200 devices begin to fly in compact formation over the city’s buildings, moving synchronously until they compose the number 100 and the shape of a hammer and sickle. This is the installation made by state television to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the Communist Party, as well as the new Guinness World Record for the largest number of drones flown simultaneously.
The Unmanned Aeral Vehicles (UAVS) in fact are not only used for panoramic shots, but have been in use for several years to create choreography bright skies. In recent months the performances of these electronic fireflies controlled by artificial intelligence are increasing.
Used for propaganda, commercial or artistic purposes, the scenic effect is the main attraction of drone art, capable of creating in cities a futuristic high-tech landscape, never realized as we have imagined it in books, since at least half a century ago.
From the Chinese Communist Party to Burberry, drone installations have all the characteristics that we think the art of the future might have, in which technology is not a possibility but the language.
How do drones works?
The main companies specializing in the creation of these shows, such as SkyMagic or HighGreat, are all younger than two decades, based in Asia, between Singapore and Shenzhen (considered the capital of drones). Another company that makes large-scale shows is US-based Intel.
The movement of the drones is governed by a centralized common algorithm, which manages trajectories by tracking movements by groups of elements. In each drone there is then a LED light, static or variable, which allows to give movement and three-dimensionality to the drawings.
The automated technology manages every centimeter of positioning of the drones and, since they are programs, it can also happen that unforeseen events are encountered.
In recent days in Zhengzhou, 200 drones began to fall from the sky, during a show organized by a shopping mall in the city. Halfway between a comic scene and the ending of a science fiction film in which technology takes over the earth, the owner gave shelter to the five thousand spectators inside the building.
Record, propaganda and download this new game.
The show “Single Fire: A Hundred Years of Light” for the Chinese Communist Party is as mentioned the largest ever staged with drones. The hammer and sickle in the sky, as well as the faces of key figures in Chinese history created an atmosphere of post-futurist propaganda. However, you can also recognize in the show an important artistic value: the architecture symbol of the country, in the sky of Shenzhen did not appear as Christmas lights, but rather beautiful stylized geometries, as if they were works of Edoardo Tresoldi.
In the sky of Tianjin was also staged the longest UAVS show, with 600 illuminated devices that have retraced the history of Vincent van Gogh, going to form sunflowers, the famous self-portrait and spirals, creating in the sky the “Starry Night” painted in 1889. The performance lasted 26 minutes and 19 seconds, during which the drones moved in perfect synchrony.
The first drone show dates back to 2012, with 49 UAVS flying over the rooftops of Linz in Austria, now the most interesting experiments are in Asia, excluding some performances in North America and Europe.
In Europe, flights of UAVS are staged for a few big events. Just think that in London the first drone show was staged for New Year’s Eve 2021, over the O2 Arena, with a very small number of elements (300). Other recent (and beautiful) ones were those for St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin (you’ve never seen such a large cloverleaf), or the one at the end of August 2021 in Athens. Intel, one of the first to experiment, for its part already in 2015 had set up a show in Hamburg.
Even Turin in Italy hosted a flight of LEDs in 2019, during the feast of St. John, patron saint of the city.
In Central and South America, the biggest show made so far employed 300 drones, in formation up to compose the Paramount logo. In Mexico City, the film production company chose to launch its streaming service in this way. During the show, a giant Spongebob and a running man came to life in the sky, a clear reference to Forrest Gump, a film produced by Paramount in 1994.
Compared to Europe, there are definitely more shows in the United States, but the number of drones used is smaller than in Asian shows. The subjects are also simpler and more stylized.
Of note, in no particular order, is the exhibition during the baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees (August 2021-200 drones), during which Star Wars logos and characters appeared in the sky. But still, the less conspicuous ones at the Dollywood theme park (Tennesee), or in Rochester, New York state on the occasion of Independence Day. Also Intel, in 2018, for its 50 years released in Folsom, California, 2000 drones, for five minutes of show.
The simplicity and lesser precision of the figures made just three years ago allows for an even greater appreciation of the progress of the new shows, with ambitions and numbers similar to that of Folsom.
Among the most interesting recent uses is the show staged by Burberry in Colorado, with drones tracing the logo introduced by creative director Riccardo Tisci in the night. That of the brand is a use that combines artistic performance, scenic effect and commercial objective, a further evolution of the language of drone art, which captures the full potential of the medium.
Speaking of application fields, in Asia as mentioned drones have long been used for both artistic and promotional purposes, or to form huge billboards through which to spread messages. Between 2020 and 2021, 1,000 drones announced the end of the lockdown in Wuhan, 600 thanked nurses across China during World Health Workers Day, 2,000 celebrated the national holiday, and still others accompanied the arrival of 5G in the country.
The most eccentric use of drones in China, however, is for propaganda, unheard of in this way anywhere else in the world. The Communist Party’s birthday was already mentioned a few lines ago. On the other hand, in September 2021, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence, the silhouettes of the dog Alabai and the horse Akhal-Teke, personal pets of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, were projected.
Still in the “drones and advertising” vein, the other oddity that happened in Shanghai in April 2021 was the presence in the air of an enormous QR Code, obviously made with drones and from which one could download the Princess Connect smartphone game.
The first consideration to make about drone art concerns its strong appeal and scenic appeal: the size of the shows, the open spaces or the context of futuristic cities such as Shanghai, create an eye-catcher that is difficult to equal by other performances or art installations. Drones make it possible to explore inhospitable places, such as mountains and forests, with artistic works; suffice it to say that UAVS can reach -30 degrees and 3500 meters of altitude addition to open-air projections, drones are also used as a set during theatrical performances or concerts, improving the three-dimensional effect and the involvement of the audience in the scene. At the moment, the cost of producing a show is an obstacle to the use of drones for small projects or emerging artists. It is difficult for other reasons to see propaganda images of the Democratic Party or the Northern League illuminating the skies of Milan and Rome.
The interconnection between art and technology, which exchange languages to the point of doubling each other, makes it possible, however, to think of drones as an art form of the future, at the service of advertising and experimentation that has not yet reached its prime.