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How do drone light shows work?

How do drone light shows work?

If you haven't been hiding in a cave, chances are you've experienced the jaw-dropping sight of a drone light show, either online or in person. You know, those dazzling displays that can transform into a mind-blowing variety of shapes and patterns—from company logos to realistic portraits to reenactments of Hollywood blockbusters, with pyrotechnics and all that jazz.

last update:
Jun 05, 2024
/  Date
September 7, 2023
/ Rating
/  tags
Drone Art
Drone Formations
Synchronized Drone Display

But have you ever wondered how these shows actually come to life? Well, cozy up, because we're about to unveil some behind-the-curtain secrets and explore the inner workings of a drone swarm display.

What is a drone light show?

A drone light show is an aerial spectacle performed by synchronized drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), featuring LED lights programmed to create illuminated visuals in the night sky. 

In 2012, Vijay Kumar, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, introduced a groundbreaking idea in his TED Talk. He showed how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could fly together in perfect sync. These small and agile drones demonstrated incredible abilities, like performing impressive aerial tricks, helping with construction projects, and assisting in search and rescue operations. Thanks to the efforts of companies like Intel and Verge Aero, this game-changing technology gained popularity in the entertainment industry and attracted a wider audience.

These days, a drone light show is a refreshing trend in the realms of events, entertainment, and marketing. 

Drone light shows can come in various forms:

  • Entertainment spectacles with a myriad of sparkling lights;
  • Experimental art installations;
  • Interactive programs;
  • Promotions;
  • Congratulatory messages in the sky;
  • Dynamic visuals for musical shows;
  • And that's only a small portion of what's possible.

Despite UAV’s autonomous nature, show drones are always accompanied by skilled pilots on the ground. After all, drones need to be tested before the flight and also have some backup during the show.

And since we've started talking about people, it's worth mentioning everyone who stands behind each piece of drone art.

Your typical drone light show team

Who exactly makes up the drone show team? Well, it's a mix of engineers and designers (someone's got to engineer the copters), 3D animators (those idea-rich folks who also transform concepts into flight missions), and pilots (for testing and supporting synchronized drones during performances). And there's also the operational side, like logistics work, content creation before, during, and after the event, legal formalities, and so forth. 

In short, a drone light display involves a multitude of talented people. And, of course, drones.

What drones are used for drone displays?

As you may have already guessed, not just any copter is suitable for a drone show. After all, in today's world, there are UAVs weighing over 600 kg and the size of a small airplane.

So, for drone light art, we use quadcopters specially designed for aerial performances. They come equipped with colorful LEDs, batteries, and antennas. Navigation is a must, so spatial positioning is essential, too.

The design of show drones may include features that enhance stability and maneuverability, enabling them to execute intricate light formations smoothly. In general, show drones are much smaller than their counterparts in other fields, which again, is crucial for better maneuverability.

Oh, and the weight of the drone also matters. Too small, and they might struggle with gusts of wind; too heavy, and they'll spend a lot of time taking off, landing, and repositioning, which reduces the dynamism of the performance.

The specific models used can vary depending on the show's requirements, but popular choices include the DJI Phantom, DJI Inspire, Intel Shooting Star, and custom-built drones. For example, Cyberdrone has its own show drone, which is quite convenient as the team knows it inside out and can continually improve and maintain it independently.

There's also a special type of show drone—pyrodrones. Sounds impressive, right? That's because it is. These drones leave behind a trail of fire and can create pyrotechnic effects in the sky. Imagine an illuminated dragon breathing out actual flames. Currently, such shows are less common than traditional light-based displays, but who knows what the future holds.

How many drones are needed for a show?

It all boils down to the delicate balance between your desires and possibilities. To bring certain ideas to life, like a crisp, colossal QR code in the sky or a detailed portrait or multiple figures’ movement, having anything less than 500 synchronized drones would simply be impractical. 

However, for some, even a minimal quantity, typically measured in a hundred drones, would suffice to craft a small advertising campaign complete with a memorable slogan and eye-catching logo.

Meanwhile, the world has already witnessed the grandeur of shows featuring thousands of drones, where the spectacle knows no bounds. So only the magnitude of the event and the client's aspirations determine the grand tapestry a drone light show team weave, with each additional drone adding to the symphony of awe-inspiring brilliance.

What happens during a drone show?

There are several key aspects that concern most spectators and fans of drone displays. By addressing these, we can attempt to paint a comprehensive picture of a drone show performance while delving into certain technical details.

How are drones synchronized during a show?

While it's possible to take control manually, the drone performances are pre-programmed and unfold on their own. So before the show, every drone receives its flight plan or mission, which it follows from takeoff to landing. 

Once the UAVs take off into the sky, they navigate thanks to a built-in satellite positioning system. It prevents them from colliding in the sky. However, relying on just one GPS/GNSS/GLONASS/Beidou satellite system isn't enough. These systems can have inaccuracies, and for drone choreography, utmost precision is needed.

Here's where the ground station comes into play. It continuously corrects the data in real-time, ensuring that the drones stay on their mission without deviating. This technology is called RTK (real-time kinematic).

Are the rules the same for indoor drone shows?

And at this point, someone among you might be wondering, what if we were to conduct a drone show indoors? Perhaps it would be simpler, and we wouldn't even need a ground station?  

Well, the immersion would be incredible, but so would navigation errors. In such cases, developers get creative, using radio signals, ultrasound, lasers, optical tracking, or infrared beacons with external cameras to help the swarm. However, it's important to understand that not every indoor space is suitable for a drone show; copters require room to maneuver.

At what distance can you see a drone show?

By the way, outdoor drone displays even have an advantage in terms of perspective (you know how it is with paintings—up close, individual strokes, but from afar, you see the beauty). Plus, the bright LEDs allow the performance to be seen from a considerable distance. However, this distance can vary.

For instance, if your drone light show is quite personal, happening at a lower height, it's like having a cozy one-on-one moment with the illuminated formations. On the flip side, a regular drone show can be spotted from a distance of approximately 5 kilometers (that's around 3 miles). 

Of course, how well you see also depends on your own eyesight. Naturally, being somewhere around the action is way better than squinting from a few kilometers away.

How long does a drone show last?

As for the duration of a drone show, it varies based on the available drones and their capabilities. Some UAVs can only fly for around 8 minutes, while others can stay airborne for an impressive 24 minutes. Longer shows, however, rarely hold the audience's attention. 

But keep in mind that the duration of the show includes both flight and landing times. So, if a drone can stay up for only 8 minutes, the actual performance time is quite short. Moreover, sometimes the drone light art acts as background entertainment, and in such cases, longer is better.

The stages of getting ready for a drone light show

Let's take a sneak peek behind the technical curtain of a drone light show preparation. We'll unveil the magic of animation creation and uncover the secrets of how drones journey between countries (we'd make a joke about migratory drone-birds, but you've already got the scoop on their flight durations—no fooling you there!). It's time to delve into the step-by-step process.

Concept development 

At times, the mesmerizing journey of a drone light show ignites from a spark of imagination, fanned by creative visionaries who breathe life into it. In other cases, clients step forward with fully-formed concepts, eagerly anticipating their ideas transformed into a stunning illuminated spectacle. Some are captivated by a striking render in your portfolio, urging for something similar. Others aim to stir specific emotions in their audiences, even without a precise vision. Occasionally, they provide only a logo, entrusting you to spin a compelling story around it. And then, there are moments when you dive deep, seeking inspiration, crafting a presentation from the ground up, and passionately pitching it to the client.

By the way, speaking of logos, Cyberdrone indeed had such cases. And from that initial spark, we managed to ignite a creative flame, shaping numerous figures that highlight the brand's best aspects.

Regardless of the starting point, the ultimate goal remains the same—to unify the drone show company and its clients under a shared vision, beautifully translating it into an unforgettable airborne spectacle.

Location & regulations

The next step involves choosing the location for the drone show. However, bringing a show to life is more than just selecting a spot—the rules for flying drones can vary quite a bit depending on where you are. 

Let's be honest, this can often be the most challenging phase—the client's desired location must sync with the drone team's technical capabilities, all while adhering to the strict regulations set forth by the authorities. 

So, what makes for the ideal takeoff location for a team preparing a drone show? Firstly, it needs to be spacious. While it might not be too challenging to arrange a hundred drones on a surface, for a thousand or more, you'll require a lot more space. Additionally, the surface should be level to ensure that the drones stand as evenly as possible. Sometimes, the stars align, and the takeoff area is right under the performance zone, while other times, it's quite a distance away, requiring the drones to fly to the audience after takeoff before their performance begins.

So, at this stage, it's important to equip oneself with patience, diplomatic finesse, and a sprinkle of luck.

Programming part

Once the sky is claimed, the programming enchantment begins as the visual design blossoms into vibrant 3D reality, coupled with the detailed flight paths for each UAV. Within this stage, the true magic unfolds—the artistry of designing breathtaking transitions that weave together the shapes and patterns performed by the synchronized drones. And it's the 3D animators who bring this all to life.

Using software like Houdini, Blender, or Cinema 4D, the 3D animation team develops a program that takes into consideration spatial coordinates, time, and defines the colors that the LEDs will illuminate at different moments. Each drone will be loaded with its own flight mission, encompassing its trajectory and color changes. It's incredibly crucial for this mission to be precisely calibrated because in the sky, the drones are on their own, and only well-defined programming work along with ground station adjustments can guide their movement as intended, free from collisions.

Another challenge of this stage lies in ensuring that the drone lights transition smoothly, without fading all at once, gracefully turning from one luminous formation to another using a third... well, let's just say it requires a delicate fusion of artistic mastery and technical wizardry to achieve such seamless beauty in motion. Take Cyberdrone, for example; our performances shine precisely because of that captivating and effortless shifts between formations:


Whether the show unfolds in a nearby neighborhood or on the distant fringes of the Milky Way, one element remains unchanged—the robotic performers need to arrive at the location safely and on time. This requires a thoughtful logistics plan that treats the drones and all related equipment as precious cargo, ensuring that they aren't damaged during transportation.

And let's not overlook the team that will follow these airborne marvels—because even though the drones possess autonomous prowess, they still rely on the steadfast support from their earthly buddies.  

Setting & deploying

After overcoming transportation hurdles and arriving at the drone light show venue with their fleet of drones and equipment, it's time for the team to prepare the surroundings. 

Setting the stage involves carefully placing the ground station and arranging the drones themselves—an intricate skill on its own. The case is, each drone boasts its own unique sequential number and pre-programmed flight path, requiring precise positioning on the ground to avoid any skyward chaos. 

While sped-up videos may give the impression that these preparations occur in a mere half-hour, we're here to unveil the truth—setup can stretch from morning till night, as every detail is intricately fine-tuned to ensure a flawless illuminated performance that will astonish.


No show can take flight without a round of test runs. While simulations are valuable, reality tells its own tale. 

In some cases, teams even conduct a full dress rehearsal a day or two prior to the grand event. And each time, right before the show, a battery of tests awaits, scrutinizing every technical nuance of each aerial performer. Should any of them falter, even in the slightest, swift replacements are made until every drone is deemed one hundred percent show-ready. 


Wow, there are so many stages to go through before reaching the actual drone light show! But once the drones take flight, the spectacular display begins and lasts for a set period based on the capabilities of the drones themselves. Yeah, some UAV are those capable of lingering in the heavens far longer than others. 

The location of the show also plays a vital role in shaping the overall impression. Sometimes the drone swarms grace the midst of towering skyscrapers, interacting with the surrounding environment and conjuring the effect of augmented reality. Other times, the spectacle unfolds over water, incorporating the reflections into the performance. And on certain occasions, the drone lights become a part of a bigger show. In any case, it’s impossible to walk by and not be captivated.


During the show, spectators often capture the amazing moments on their cameras. We'd like to say that it's not necessary, as the show's organizers and the drone show team itself always document the events and make sure to share photos and videos on social media. Moreover, filming takes place not only on the ground but also in the sky with the help of drones (yes, while some perform, others work as aerial videographers). 

This way, the viewers can relax and simply enjoy the moment, living it fully in the present, creating a breathtaking memory with their eyes and minds.


As the drones land, the team begins the process of packing up their equipment and heading home. Ah, the enchantment of logistics and transportation, once again gracing the stage. Occasionally, there are losses to be lamented, as accidents can happen. Amidst the spectacle, a rogue copter or two may decide to go their own way, escaping the watchful gaze of the pilots and descending to the ground or (in unfortunate cases) crashing into the water. Often, these fallen UAV stars go unnoticed by the audiences, and the light formations remain unscathed. Yet, the team’s hearts will definitely bear the weight of the loss. 

Viral content 

Once safely back at home, the ingenious content team and dedicated production crew work their magic, transforming the trove of captured footage into spellbinding videos, mesmerizing social media posts, and vivid photographs. 

Occasionally, there may be rare instances where these masterpieces remain hidden, known only to the client's eyes. Yet, more often than not, people seek out drone shows precisely to ignite a firestorm of publicity and enthrall an eager audience. Thus, in a staggering 99% of cases, the fruits of drone show collaborative endeavors illuminate the digital realm.

What is needed to order a drone light show?

Please be ready to provide your preferences, the type of event, budget, timeline, location, and any other important inputs for the future drone show. Keep in mind that planning a drone event is best done in advance. In emergency cases, an experienced team might be able to deliver a performance within a tight timeframe, but that can impact the pricing.

If you don't have a clear idea, detailed inputs will be sufficient, and the drone show team will definitely propose options with dazzling stories that will enhance your event.

How much does it cost to put on a drone show?

The cost of a drone show is influenced by a multitude of factors, including:

  • Geographical location;
  • Bureaucracy (permits, licenses, and regulatory approvals);
  • Logistics of transporting drones, equipment, and personnel to the show venue;
  • Number of drones;
  • Animation complexity;
  • Associated risks;
  • Show duration;
  • Number of shows;
  • Originality of the program;
  • Special effects, such as pyrotechnics or live performers;
  • Specific client demands;
  • And more.

The final price is always individual. Some factors mentioned above may drive the price down, while others have the opposite effect. For instance, a repeat drone event with pre-designed choreography will be more affordable, while a show that requires crafting a plot with 40 formations in a tight timeframe and transporting the drones to the other side of the world will come at a higher cost.

Benefits of Сyberdrone as a drone, drone show and company

Now that we've mentioned our drone, why not take a closer look at it?

So, Cyberdrone (not the company but our little robotic performer) is…

  • Bold, as it competes with the industry's top show drones.
  • Powerful, boasting energy capacity over 2.5 times its own weight.
  • Lightweight at just 235 grams, simplifying flight permits due to looser regulations for drones under 260 grams and enhancing logistics.
  • Precise. Its spatial positioning accuracy is 2 centimeters. 
  • Compact. One of the smallest outdoor drones, with dimensions of just 139*92*70 mm.
  • Brilliant as its LED power stands at a whopping 18 watts.
  • Custom-made. Our team crafted this drone entirely, from screws to code.

Alright, the drone's fantastic. Now, what about the team?

We're distinctive and shine as brightly as our LEDs. And there are some elements that make us stand out in the expansive sky of drone shows.

Globally available drone displays

Boundaries fade as we spread our wings, carrying our shows worldwide. From cities to remote spots, we relish bringing our artistry to any stage, lighting up night skies with splendor wherever we go.

Culture-infused creativity

We blend creativity with cultural insights, immersing ourselves in communities and collaborating with locals to gain invaluable knowledge. Whether we are crafting a show for India, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Turkey, or any other country, we always delve into its unique characteristics. This allows us to easily adapt to different markets, customize drone art to suit our clients' needs, and bring joy to local audiences.

Making dreams shine

To craft lasting memories, we embrace clients' origins, story, tone, and mood, weaving them into our show's fabric, turning even small ideas into powerful, creatively enriched performances. Even when people are unsure of their vision, we assist them in uncovering something unique within their imagination and bring it to life.

Trendy drone art

Fueled by innovation and technology, we boldly experiment—for instance, we were the world's first to attempt an immersive drone show—and set trends that ignite the entire industry. Besides, our animation is known for its ethereal fluidity, transcending market limits.

Drone display visualizer

We simulate the future performance precisely from different angles and locations. A preview that ignites excitement for the spectacle ahead.

Nice team to interact with

Beyond our technical expertise, it's our human touch that makes us unique. Our team's enthusiasm and warmth create a joyful interaction. Moreover, we are highly results-oriented and quick to respond in unconventional situations, doing everything in our power to ensure our clients' desires are fulfilled. Once, we sheltered drones ready for takeoff from a heavy rain, patiently waiting for the downpour to pass. On another occasion, we located an alternative launch site so that the audience could savor the spectacle while being on an island. 

Marketing power

Beyond being a source of entertainment, drone shows have evolved into a novel form of marketing, and we skillfully harness this tool. Whether a client seeks to attract a new audience, enhance brand recognition, or simply create a social media buzz, we are always there to assist. We offer our clients not only the vast canvas of the sky but also our own social media platforms, boasting thousands of followers. This powerful combination enables them to truly stand out and captivate a broader audience.

And there's much more to it, like the ability to craft extensive shows lasting up to 24 minutes, incredibly efficient logistics, which is always crucial regardless of the show's location, a network of numerous partners worldwide, and a wealth of experience under our belt.

Are drone shows safe?

Drone art, in general, is considered a safe form of entertainment, with most risks primarily affecting the drones themselves, such as the possibility of them falling into water during a performance. Losing one or two drones during a show is typically viewed as an acceptable risk. Nevertheless, extensive measures are taken to ensure even this small number remains intact and undamaged:

  • Professional Team. Having a skilled team that either develops the drones themselves or possesses an in-depth understanding of their design is essential.
  • Thorough Testing. Extensive testing is conducted both outside of the show and immediately before the performance to identify and rectify any issues.
  • Suitable locations. Careful consideration is given to choosing performance locations. This includes maintaining a safe distance from people and structures, avoiding no-fly zones, and adhering to specific flight guidelines.
  • Weather cautions. Shows are postponed or canceled in adverse weather conditions to minimize risks.

Will drone light shows replace fireworks?

It's become quite the hot topic lately, and you know what? Such an outcome is indeed possible. And here's why...

  • They're reusable. You can plan and order a show once, and then repeat it again and again (and by the way, often with a discount because some of the preparatory work becomes unnecessary).
  • Drones are quieter. While loud fireworks may startle dogs and trigger alarms, drone swarms resemble friendly little bees that won't wake up half the city.
  • They're customizable. Fireworks can create beautiful displays and various shapes, but they can't quite match the level of customization that synchronized drones have.
  • Environmentally friendly. The same drones can perform for years, saving resources that would otherwise be used for reproduction. Besides their reusability, they emit zero harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
  • Safer. A stray spark from fireworks can cause a fire, and it's beyond anyone's control. In contrast, drones have pilots carefully overseeing drones’ movement.
  • Cheaper. If you've never ordered a fireworks display before, you'll be amazed at the cost. Drone swarms, on the other hand, are much more budget-friendly in comparison.

Wrapping up

Well, here we are, immersing ourselves in the elements of drone light, exploring the stages of their creation, delving into the nuances, and even comparing them to fireworks. 

Undoubtedly, drone shows hold the key to the future. This format is constantly evolving, bringing something new to various industries and marketing activities, morphing into an art form, and driving progress. 

If you've been inspired by drone art yourself, want to ask clarifying questions or book a show, feel free to contact us at sales@cyberdrone.show.

And stay tuned for more captivating content on this topic coming your way in this blog.

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