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Disneyland Article
When Will Disneyland Have Drone Shows Like Those Seen At The Olympics

ID:TMS-3858
Source:Orange County Register
Author:Robert Niles
Dateline:February 27, 2018
Posted:March 05, 2018
 
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The most novel part of this year's Olympic opening and closing ceremonies was the drone shows. Hundreds of synchronized drones flew above the Olympic stadium in Pyeongchang, with their lights shining as illuminated pixels creating ever-changing animations in the sky.

If you thought that the show looked like the sort of thing you might see at a theme park, you'd be right. Disney and other theme park companies have been working on drone shows of their own. So when might we see light-up drones flying through the night sky above Disneyland?

Drone shows offer some big advantages over theme parks' traditional night-time entertainment of fireworks. Most important in Southern California, flying drones don't add to air pollution the way that enormous blasts of pyro can. That's a huge plus for parks that would like to offer an aerial spectacular every night but can't due to local air quality restrictions. Parks also could reuse their drones night after night, making drone performances potentially less expensive than buying a one-time batch of pyro for every fireworks show.

The downside? Even if drones don't contribute to air pollution, they can create a noise pollution issue, as anyone who's been buzzed by one can attest. The constant hum of hundreds of drones might annoy some neighbors as much as thundering blasts of fireworks do. But the bigger issue is that the tech powering these shows isn't quite ready for mass production yet.

I've seen two drone productions in person, both in late 2016: Disney's first attempt at a drone show, at Walt Disney World's Disney Springs shopping area in Florida, and at the opening of the Dubai Parks and Resorts complex in the United Arab Emirates. In both cases, for me the most impressive part of the experience wasn't seeing the flying lights but seeing the reactions of other people watching them.

Ultimately, the drones are just moving points of light in the sky. They look like something a beginning film student could slap onto a scene using Adobe After Effects. Big whoop. But then people watching the show realize that they aren't looking at a screen. This is real life, and those are actual lights moving across the sky.

The moment when people recognize that - when their faces transition from dismissal to dumbfounded wonder - is amazing to watch. But people experience that moment of recognition just once. After that, it's up to the show to continue to mesmerize its audience. Current drone shows face some challenges to do that.

While fireworks impress from any angle, drone animations can look like nothing more than a random jumble of lights when viewed from anything other than head-on. To work in an environment such as a theme park, where thousands of people are spread out over a wide area, show designers must program drone animations that work in three dimensions. That requires many more points of light - a lot more drones - than 2D animations do.

That means potentially deploying thousands of drones in a show, instead of the 300 used in the Disney Springs and Olympic closing ceremony shows. (Or the mere 50 used in Dubai.) The pre-recorded Olympic opening ceremony drone show used a world-record 1,218 of Intel's "Shooting Star" drones, and it was by far the most impressive drone show I've seen.

Drone shows demonstrate amazing promise as theme park entertainment. But to realize that potential, parks are going to have to work with their tech partners (and the FAA) to make what's now a world-record setting performance into a nightly routine. I hope it happens quickly, because I can't wait to see the looks on Disneyland fans' faces when the drones fly above Main Street some day.
 

 
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