Pixel Artworks: A Drone-Dazzling Christmas

After a year of national lockdowns and spending more time at home than we are used to, I think we can all agree we are starved for entertainment. We have watched everything Netflix has to offer, listened to all the podcasts and even walked the same route multiple times. However, have you ever watched a drone light show?

This Christmas may be different to what we know in many ways. Different can be good sometimes, who knows, one year we might see drones delivering our presents instead of Santa!

Let us introduce you to Pixel Artworks: A Drone-Dazzling Christmas...

Pixel Artworks are the leading specialist in light and pixel technology. They design and deliver immersive experiences across media campaigns, events and installations globally.

They have recently adopted drone technology into their vast array of drone light show solutions. In the name of festive cheer, they have used a fleet of drones to create a Christmas Tree in the sky above London.

We spoke to Trevor Nichol, Senior Production Manager at Pixel Artworks, to see how the operations are going.

What is your role at the company?

"My role as Senior Production Manager and recently qualified Drone Operator, at Pixel Artworks means I’m responsible for the delivery of our fantastic light experiences.

"Our experiences are live, online or more increasingly, hybrid environments; they come in many forms, as does light - for example, we work with projection, LED screens, OLED or traditional lighting. More recently, we have taken to the skies using drones with LED lights as an extension of our existing toolkit of technology."

How long have you been using drones to create light shows?

"We started investigating the possibility of using drones to create light shows in April this year. We looked at what would be involved in terms of the CAA, what hardware and software is available and how we implement them into our existing workflows. Our research and development has continued since then.

"We conducted our first flight test at Blackbushe Airport in Camberley to look at the fundamentals of how the aircraft systems work and what we can do above and beyond the ‘typical’ drone show. After this, we directed a photoshoot at Queens House, Greenwich. It’s been a really interesting process, learning what the technology is capable of and how far we can push it.

"In what is a turbulent time for the events industry, this project has been a good focus for the company and our venue partners We must always look to the future of events, remain innovative and ahead of the curve; we see these LED shows being produced on a huge level, across skylines in cities."

How many drones did you use to create the Christmas tree?

"To create the Christmas tree, we used four drones and combined it with a custom piece of software, which emulates real-time long exposure photography. We wanted to keep the background skyline of Canary Wharf exposed correctly, so the software is programmed to keep static objects exposed naturally and anything that is lit and moving becomes a trail, this is how the ‘painting’ occurs.

"As far as hardware is concerned, our research and development continues and we are working with many different UAV types. For this activation we used the Sparkl One ® aircraft due to its wind resistance and IP33 rating."

Tell us about the process of deciding to create a drone light show to actually executing the idea…

"Almost all of the work we’ve previously done in video is made in a three-dimensional way. For example, we use Cinema 4D as a piece of software to create our animated content. It’s been a really natural progression for us, as the drone show software we use, actually uses 3D files in order to give the drones their path and lighting state.

"For the show at Queens House, we created a base 3D file, which includes the land topography and 3D buildings. We then add the safe flight volume into this file and the animation team build the show in the virtual airspace. This means that we can previsualise the drone light show from many different angles well before we get to site.

"In terms of how long it takes to plan a drone show, it depends on how technically complicated it is, and how many drones are involved, the shortest lead time is around 6 weeks. For us it is all about the bigger picture, combining this new event technology with other elements, such as lighting to create a spectacular show, so each show is very different."

You can check out some of Pixel Artworks drone light shows here:

How many people at Pixel Artworks have you got flying drones?

"At the moment, there are two trained pilots who run the shows on site, but the actual path of the drones are pre-defined by our animation studio, so the complex intricate work is done way before the flight. When we are running a show, you have two pilots controlling the autonomous flight at one time. There is a lead pilot who is running the drone control software, and the co-pilot runs the backup, emergency systems and ADS-B monitoring."

What do you actually see in the sky when you’re producing a drone light show like this?

"In reality, we designed these specific drone light shows for an online audience, as you have to use long exposure photography to see the final image. We do also create ‘standard’ light shows with multiple drones, but the purpose of using these light trails was to really push the boundaries on the creative application of this technology.

"In the future, we plan on creating a traditional drone show mixed with augmented reality, so for those watching live, with a little help from their mobile phone, the sky will become filled with animation. As a business, we are really excited at how we can utilise new technology that is available to us, show drones and augmented reality pose a really exciting future for the event’s industry."

Want to light up the new year?

If you want to start the new year with a bang, get in touch with us and we will get you on your way to utilising drone technology.

Our team of UAV experts are on hand to find you the perfect solution and are ready to help you.

Merry Christmas from Coptrz!