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Flying into Wolverhampton this month is Evolution, a new aerial spectacle that sees hundreds of drones not only illuminate the skies but also take viewers on a journey through time and space. Dominic Mill, the founder of the company organising the event, explains what audiences can expect... 

Wolverhampton is in for a unique treat this month when it hosts the world premiere of Evolution, a brand-new drone light show from award-winning storytellers Celestial.
One of the top drone-show operators in the world, the company has put on displays at an array of high-profile events, including New Year’s Eve celebrations in London, the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool and the City of Culture celebrations in Coventry.

Celestial’s production team, which includes animators, filmmakers and tech specialists, creates shows using hundreds of illuminated drones that fly in formation in a spectacular display of light and colour. 
Evolution - which will also be performed at Bristol’s Seat Unique Stadium - pushes the creative collective’s boundaries even further, as it’s the first show they’ve devised as a standalone production.

Dominic Mill, founder & CEO of Yuup, a three-year-old Bristol-based local experiences company that puts on events by partnering with creative and venue partners, saw the potential for creating a unique show - as opposed to fulfilling an external commission or brief - after meeting Celestial’s founder, Tony Martin, last year. 
“We talked about what they do,” he says, “which is typically drone light shows that are part of some other event such as London’s New Year’s Eve, the launch of Eurovision, brand campaigns and so on.
“But a lot of people haven’t seen a drone light show - or if they have, they’ve seen it in the background on the TV - so we said, wouldn’t it be great to create a standalone production that the general public could attend? That’s where the idea came from.”

Dominic explains that Evolution will take audiences on a journey through time and space, telling the story of life on Earth, from the beginning of creation, through the reign of the dinosaurs, and eventually to life as we know it today. 
“It’s a narrated story that starts with the Big Bang and inception of the universe, and then journeys through the emergence of the sun, the solar system and the planets within it. It will take the audience on a voyage, accompanied by narration and a cinematic soundtrack.”

The latter elements, both new territory for Celestial, will take the show to a whole new level, according to Dominic.
“Even people who have seen them before are in for something exciting and new,” he says, explaining that Evolution has been put together in similar fashion to a Hollywood movie.
“If you imagine you’re making a short, animated film, you’d have a brief and a script and a storyboard, which animators use to create a 3D show using software. Once that process is complete, it’s then programmed and uploaded to the drones. 
“Accredited drone pilots are responsible for their operation, but the show itself is pre-programmed. As you can imagine, if you’re flying hundreds and hundreds of drones, it needs to be tightly controlled - so the flightpaths, formation changes and light effects are all pre-programmed.”

Flightpaths are, of course, an important consideration - drone shows obviously can’t interfere with other aircraft and need to be licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). With this in mind, Dominic thinks the venue of Wolverhampton Racecourse is ideal.
“As you can imagine, there are a lot of constraints and you need CAA approval. Delivering a safe show from everyone’s perspective is obviously very important to us. The racecourse is a perfect space because there’s a big open area to put on a fantastic show and maintain the required distance between the humans and the drones. Everyone should have a fantastic view, as there’s obviously a great line of sight when it takes place in the sky.”

Another reason the show is being performed in the West Midlands is that Yuup expanded its operation to Birmingham earlier this year and has already recruited around 100 ‘experience hosts’ in the region.
Going forward, Dominic believes that drone shows could well play a big part in his company’s offering. He very much sees them as the future of entertainment, partly because rapidly developing technology is enabling bigger and better spectacles to be created, but also because the format’s green credentials make it environmentally friendly. 
“It’s an incredible new form of entertainment - like nothing people will have seen before. It’s storytelling in the sky, and the sky is a huge canvas on which to tell stories.
“If you think about an equivalent type of show, pre-drones it was fireworks, and obviously there are environmental concerns in terms of the waste and the effect they can have on animals and so on. One of the things about a drone show is that you can put on a spectacular event in a way that is very friendly to the environment.”

Celestial’s green credentials also include charging the drones using renewable energy sources. But if that, and the fact that the shows are performed by pre-programmed machines, all sounds a little mechanical, then Dominic is quick to point out that audiences typically make a human, and often visceral, connection to what they are seeing.
“When you watch people watching these shows, the emotional reaction is often quite strong, which I think is partly because they don’t perhaps expect the scale of it in the sky. And the storytelling element is really quite compelling.”

The Evolution show tells its story in just 16 minutes, but Dominic says there’s much more to the evening’s family entertainment in Wolverhampton. As well as a 15-minute ‘pre-show’ - featuring lights and music - there’s also a large funfair in the middle of the racecourse and a food village selling a variety of festive cuisine.

“People can come along and have a great evening with family and friends, get some food and enjoy the fairground. The combination of the sheer size of the display and the number of drones, coupled with the soundtrack and the narration, and what is arguably the greatest story of all time - the story of evolution - should make for a pretty special evening.” 

by Steve Adams

Evolution takes place at Wolverhampton Racecourse, Dunstall Park, on Thursday 14 December