Celestial Live was a year-long research and development project to extend the capabilities of South West-based drone show company Celestial. This successful start-up was founded in 2019 and has produced spectacular light shows for events such as London’s New Year fireworks display and the Eurovision Song Context, and clients like Amazon and Greenpeace. 

The project aimed to find a way to move beyond one of the key limitations of current-generation drone shows, which are made in a laborious multi-stage process and are entirely pre-programmed and fixed. Our aim in the project was to make an alternative model possible, where drones can be controlled interactively in real time. This opens up many exciting creative possibilities: a fleet of drones can be integrated into an audiovisual show, react to music, respond to the movements of performers and even audiences.

Throughout 2023 I worked with the animation and technical teams at Celestial (led by Head of Animation Anthony Head and supported by Project Manager Mark Brenchley) to develop a complex and sophisticated framework for the live control of a fleet of drones, using a variety of hardware and software. We also produced two workshops at Bath Spa University to bring a variety of students from Music/Sound, Dance, Creative Computing and Games Development into the project as part of an open-ended creative discussion and as beta-testers and guinea pigs! See photos below.

The project wrapped up in January with the demonstration of a 50-drone prototype drone show based around the Virtual and Physical Instruments, with original music from Joseph Hyde. This was presented alongside an interactive demo of these tools, and took place at Celestial’s base ‘The Hive’ near Bath. As this work is commercially sensitive, the video here is of a demo much earlier in the project that I made using Celestial’s Drone Composer software. I made this myself, so it’s not the best drone show, but it uses all the sound-reactive techniques I developed and I think shows some of the potential.

Additional Notes

  • Celestial Live was one of six Creative Research and Development grants awarded as part of the MyWorld initiative
  • Funded by InnovateUK and Digital Catapult
  • In collaboration with Bath Spa University
  • photos Megan Heron @ Celestial