One of the most popular fields for drone-powered solutions is in the media & entertainment industry. Companies in the industry have always been at the fore front of adopting new technologies, and thus it is hardly surprising that they are now.
The primary functionality of drones for the media and entertainment industry is aerial photography and filming. Drones can shoot commercials and movies; some prominent examples of the latter in which drones were used are Skyfall, The Wolf of Wall Street and Harry Potter. They can prove useful in reporting events by capturing footage for news broadcasts, the BBC being one company that has its own in-house drone team; at sports competitions, for which they were already used during such prestigious events as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi; and for wildlife documentaries, including National Geographic’s use of UAVs to film lions in Africa. Drones can also be used to shoot private events: Many video and photography companies now offer drones to capture footage of special occasions.
Using drones can have numerous advantages over other methods of capturing images. One is their lower cost compared to planes or helicopters. Drones can also improve the quality of films and photos, in particular as the miniaturization of technology makes it possible to place 4K cameras on these devices. Drones can take shots from very close, as they make little noise, for example approaching athletes during sporting events without distracting them. They can also take photos or videos at unique angles, operating at a greater height than a crane but lower than a helicopter. Finally, they can capture footage that would otherwise not be available, by reaching remote locations: for example, filming birds in the topmost branches of a tree for a wildlife documentary
Drones may also play a notable role in advertising and some of their uses in this area of exploring and testing drone -based solutions. They can do this indirectly, for example by intercepting cellular and Wi-Fi signals to determine users’ locations and send advertising to their phones on that basis – e.g. ads of stores that the consumer is walking past. In 2015 AdNear, a Singapore-based location-marketing company, tested this solution by collecting data from consumers in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.
Drones can also be used in promotional activities more directly. They can carry banners with promotional messages, a solution used by the Russian agency Hungry Boys to advertise a Chinese takeaway restaurant in Moscow. Furthermore, multiple drones can be used in skywriting. This concept is not new, having been employed, for example, by Paramount Pictures, which used drones glowing with LED lights to create the Star Trek Starfleet’s logo over London’s night sky, to promote the film Star Trek Into Darkness. In 2015 Intel organised a light show, featuring 100 drones whose movements where synchronised with the music of a live orchestra. The show used Intel software, and generated significant publicity by setting a Guinness World Record for the most drones simultaneously airborne. But in fact, Intel’s objective was also to bring the creative applications of drones to the attention of those who perceive them only as weapons. The show demonstrates that drone technology can be used to organise air shows aimed purely at entertainment.16
Furthermore technical capabilities in this area are constantly improving: In 2015 another record was broken when a team of students at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, launched 50 drones controlled by a single operator. Drones could also potentially be used to project advertisements onto various surfaces.
The potential of drones in entertainment is not yet fully utilised, and diverse new uses for these devices are appearing. Drones can take part in races or entertainment shows.
Drone racing, although not an entirely new concept, is about to become more prominent due to the recent emergence of the Drone Racing League. The organisation has raised more than $8m in funds, from such investors as Stephen Ross (owner of the Miami Dolphins, an American football team), and will host a series of races this year ending in a World Championship. The races are to take place in unique, exciting locations – for example, a pre-season event in July 2015 was held in an old factory in New York, while venues for upcoming races include the abandoned Hawthorne Shopping Mall in Hollywood. Another large drone racing event, the World Drone Prix, took place for the first time in March 2016 in Dubai, with $1m in total prizes. It was organised at an illuminated science-fiction-like outdoor track, and could be viewed both by a live audience and by others over an online stream.
Drone racing has the potential to become mainstream, with some even believing that the sport can achieve similar popularity to Formula One auto races, and is expected to develop in a similar way to eSports (competitive video gaming). Drone racing is already gaining fans across the world. For participants, the thrill comes with the speed, the integration of reality with a computer game and the risk of a crash. For spectators, the appeal is mainly a function of the spectacular settings. Further development of drone technology should increase their agility and speed, making the races more exciting for an even wider audience.
Drones can also serve as a tool for creating special effects. This can be done on screen, as in the case of the short film “Sparked”, created by Cirque du Soleil in collaboration with ETH Zurich and Verity Studios, which features quadcopters resembling lamps flying around to music. It can also prove useful during live events such as theatre performances. Disney seems to have noticed this potential, and is planning to start using drones as part of the evening entertainment at its theme parks. Specifically, the company intends to use drones to control large marionettes, possibly allowing
the giant puppets to fly through the air, and others to serve as ‘flixels’ (flying pixels) – a fleet of drones flying in formation, each carrying a screen that displays an image, and together creating a larger display.