Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Drone Show Design

Verge Aero outlines how drone shows work, how much drone shows cost, and what makes Verge Aero drone light shows different than other drone show companies.

“We were recommended Verge Aero because of their design software. It's so easy to use!" - Deb Toews, Sky Dreams

Professional drone shows are growing in popularity. While many event organizers are aware that drone shows are a valuable addition to any nighttime event, they’re still catching on to the fact that not all shows are created equal. Professional drone show design varies greatly in quality, scope, speed, and price. This article will cover everything you need to know about drone show design, including what defines top drone show designers, what to expect from expert drone show artists given the show criteria, how to get started as a drone show designer, and what is the best drone show design software.

Verge Aero designs a celebratory pre-Superbowl show with the Philadelphia Eagles

Considerations for Drone Show Design

Drone show design is an art. Like any art, mastering drone show design skills takes time and dedication. If you look behind the scenes of drone shows, you’ll find that the top designers all have different approaches to their art, but the basic process and considerations are universal to all drone show design. Whether you own a drone system and want to create your own drone show, or are utilizing drone show design services from another show provider, you’ll need to have or provide the following information:

-Drone Show Venue
-Drone Count 
-Drone Show Purpose and Context

Drones forming USA flag in the dark sky, accompanied with fireworks
Drone show American flag flying over fireworks

The venue

Leading drone show design companies, like Verge Aero, will always ask about the venue before anything else. The drone show venue will define most of the physical constraints on the show design process. The launch site may constrain the drone count, so it’s useful to investigate this first. The location of the venue will determine what regulatory bodies need to approve the show ahead of time.

The show designer can also check the site for potential environmental hazards that may interfere with gps or radio signals. Ambient light or noise can make the show less enjoyable for viewers if unaddressed, and the viewing angle of the audience is also a critical consideration for the designer – if the audience is distributed between many viewing angles, the artist has to consider the appearance of the drone show from every perspective. The most innovative artistic drone shows will take all venue considerations into account and use them to their advantage, making the drone show feel like it was meant for the specific place, time, and audience at the venue.

The drone count

Even when the venue doesn’t limit the drone count, the number of drones that the designer has to work with while designing the drone show will still be limited by another factor, such as budget, or mere practicality. While Verge Aero’s drone show software can render shows with any drone count, someone will have to transport and set up the drones in real life!

While most designers prefer to work with more drones for the increased design flexibility, the very best drone show designers can do more with less. Those who have mastered the art of drone show design can create true masterpieces even with as few as fifty drones in the sky. That said, a higher drone counts allow more of that design mastery to shine in most cases. Lower drone counts can also make some designs impossible. It’s useful to think of drones like pixels in an image. Many organizations like to fly their logos in the sky during a drone show, but a complex logo, like Coca-Cola’s famous cursive lettering, requires more pixels – therefore more drones – to show clearly.

The context

Drone shows are highly versatile. Verge Aero flies drone shows for holidays, private events like birthdays and weddings, corporate events like employee retreats and product launches, public events like county fairs, and everything in between. When you’re getting started with the drone show design process, the context of the show informs the ideation stage. The designer, event planner, customers, and anyone else who wants to weigh in on the show design should seek inspiration from the context of the show. Does the drone show have a theme? What story do you want to tell?

The most creative drone show designers will create shows that feel unique to the context of the event. Imagination is the only limit to the potential of drone show choreography. A Cinco de Mayo drone show may include Mexican iconography choreographed to mariachi music, while a New Year’s Eve Drone show might include a clock ticking to midnight and the written numbers of the new year. While its possible to make fabulous drone shows with stock art and sponsor logos, award winning drone shows evoke a unique sense of presence and purpose. They make the audience feel in the moment, and feel its significance. 

Drones drawing a Statue of Liberty figure in the sky above the trees
Verge Aero Drone Show flies the Statue of Liberty over Incline Village near Lake Tahoe

The Key Elements of Drone Show Design

Drone show design is a multivariable process. Beyond the technical and physical considerations, there are artistic elements that are essential to custom drone light show design. While simple drone show design with static images and basic transitions is still engaging, mastery involves animated displays that flow like water in the sky. Some of the tools to consider if you want to be a master show designer include:

Verge Aero flies the iconic EDC Owl over the festival in Vegas
  • Motion
    Create dynamic, animated shows, where the drones are constantly shifting into new positions that keep audiences captivated.
  • Color
    Have a deep understanding of how color triggers emotion, and keep it relevant to the context and music for a jaw-dropping experience.
  • Illusion
    Audiences love an optical illusion. That moment when they realize their eyes have deceived them is guaranteed to inspire awe.
  • Transitions
    The transitions in a drone light show are what separate a good design from a great one. Incorporating transitions into the storytelling can take the show to new heights, keeping the audience captivated. Transitions such as a sparkle, rainbow color shift, or pulsing lights effectively fill the time between set pieces and keep audiences engaged, but they can also disrupt the flow of the story. To create a truly dynamic and animated show, it's important to consider how transitions compliment the narrative.
    A consistent pace and engaging transitions between set pieces and animations are key to creating a great drone light show. Every stage, including transitions, should be designed to be engaging and synced to the audio for a seamless experience. Dynamic and captivating transitions keep the audience fully immersed in the story.
  • Story
    The best drone shows tell stories. Create a protagonist, a problem, and a resolution. It’s amazing what fifty drones and a beautiful song can do in the hands of a truly creative drone show story teller.
  • Flow
    Keep the show moving at a consistent pace. Every stage should have relatively similar runtime, and stay synced to the audio.
  • Soundtrack
    The soundtrack of a drone light show is a crucial component that elevates the overall experience for the audience. When synced with visuals, it enhances the emotional impact of the show and brings the story to life. A well-designed soundtrack should flow with the show from start to finish, building to an explosive finale that leaves a lasting impression.
    In a drone light show, the soundtrack should complement the visuals and add another layer of depth and complexity to the performance. The soundtrack should be carefully chosen to fit the context and mood of the show, and should be synced with the visuals to create a seamless experience.
    The right soundtrack makes all the difference in a drone light show, bringing the story and visuals to life and amplifying the emotions of the audience. Whether it’s a dynamic and fitting score, or a thrilling finale, the soundtrack is a crucial component that should not be overlooked.
  • Finale
    Audiences love when you end with an explosive drone show finale. Like a fireworks show, drone shows are best when the audience can sense that the climax has arrived, and then a gentle resolution to let the memories stick.

The best drone show designers in the world take all of the above elements and more into consideration while also adding a personal touch to their shows. The key is to keep an open mind, let your imagination run wild, but don’t get too attached to your ideas. Drone show design is always an iterative and collaborative process, even for the most experienced designers. 

Photo of tech team preparing for a Drone Show
Behind the scenes with Verge Aero drone show operations at Knott's Berry Farm

Getting Started with Drone Show Design

Drone shows are a new art, and a beautiful hybrid of creativity and engineering for artists who prefer technical mediums. Since the industry is still growing, there is a lot of room for new artists to find a path into drone show design as a hobby or career. User-friendly drone show software, like the Verge Aero studio, makes learning the basics easy. Verge Aero also provides free drone show design courses and workshops for customers who work with our systems. 

The best way to get started learning drone show design is to practice a simple drone show design process in your preferred design software. It’s also helpful to brush up on basic multimedia design skills in applications like Figma, Photoshop, Miro, etc., and if you want to go the extra mile, you can brush up on 3D design skills in applications like Blender, Unreal Engine, Unity, etc. Find a drone show artist near you that may be willing to give you lessons, advice, or even a job helping with basic design. Build up your drone show design portfolio and save it somewhere in a format that’s easily accessible by other drone show companies, enthusiasts, event companies, etc. Listen to feedback from design professionals, but stay true to your artistic personality. 

Get acquainted with the best tools for drone show creation – that means the hardware in addition to the software. Understanding the physical capabilities and limitations of the drones will inform your designs. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your designs and push the limits of what the drone show software is capable of. At Verge Aero, we welcome show designer feedback, and hope to implement every feature request we receive from artists over time.

Drones on the ground
Verge Aero X1 light show drones ready for flight before a light show

Mastering Drone Show Design

Mastering drone show design skills takes time. As a whole new art medium, there is lots of opportunity to build a career as a drone show designer. Just like other forms of computer aided art, it requires practice and dedication to hone your skills. With the Verge Aero Design Studio, you have the opportunity to be a founding part of this brand new industry. Event and entertainment companies adopting drone show technology are looking to hire professional drone show designers in the United States and around the world. 

Drone show design experts are both technical masters of the show design software, and of the show design concepts illustrated above. They also have excellent soft skills that benefit artists working with professional teams. The best drone show designers know how to listen to their customers and work within the considerations listed above to produce professionally designed shows that 

The Best Drone Show Design Software

Drone show design comparisons are subjective, but most drone show designers prefer the Verge Aero Studio. It’s the top software for designing drone shows. There are other effective softwares, such as DSS, but only the Verge Aero Studio provides the elegant, user friendly drone show design experience that easily removes the barriers between imagination and reality. It’s easy to learn, even as a hobby by people with no digital design experience. Unlike other softwares, the Verge Aero Studio doesn’t require the use of other 3D software (but it is compatible with most 3D and 2D design software), and it uses splines instead of points, which dramatically accelerates the design process and automatically assigns drones to positions to create the design in the most efficient way given the drone count. 

Verge Aero X1 light show drones swarming for PNAU's music video All of Us in 2019

The Design Studio is purpose-built for drone shows, so you don't need to worry about common issues like making sure the drones don't collide or ensuring your design is physically possible to fly. It reduces the barriers to entry for aspiring drone show designers, giving you the tools to bring your imagination to life in ways you never could in a traditional 3D animation studio. With Verge, you'll have access to the best tools, effects, and drone show artists in the world.