Artist Frodo Álvarez creates giant sky painting using only five drones

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,971   +790
Staff member
The big picture: When you think of art mediums, some of the first that come to mind would be oil, clay, or maybe watercolor. One of the last things one would think of as a physical art medium would be drones. However, one artist recently used drones to paint a gigantic neon picture in the sky.

Intel's drone light shows are a sight to behold. Images are drawn and animated in real-time with anywhere from 200 to 1,000 lighted quadcopters. They have performed at the Super Bowl, CES, and other events. Last year, Walmart commissioned the show for a touring holiday light festival.

While Frodo Álvarez's light paintings may not be as spectacular as watching drones animate in real-time, the process of his latest work is nonetheless interesting (below). Álvarez, who runs a professional light painting service called Children of Darklight, recently painted a massive soccer player in the sky with the help of a Madrid-based drone light show service called Umiles.

Like Intel, Umiles has done light shows flying hundreds of drones simultaneously. However, for Álvarez's creation, they only needed five.

Álvarez started with a simple sketch of a soccer player kicking a ball. The image had to be more or less a simplistic outline because of the drones' limited battery life. Too many details would take too long to draw.

He shared his drawing with Umiles, and its engineers worked out the drone programming aspect of the project. The five drones would take up starting positions in the sky then fly pre-defined paths to shape the various parts of the image. It sounds simple enough, but the task was not without challenges.

"They did a great job programming the drones, so our photographic challenges were that we would just have four or five attempts to frame the scene, set the perfect orb size, play with depth and perspective—depending on how close or how far we were to the camera—and to have good exposure of the lights painted in the scene," Álvarez told PetaPixel.

On the ground, Álvarez would use an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with an Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro lens to capture the drones' paths with a long exposure. He ended up with two results that he liked.

The first was an earlier exposure that still showed blue hour light in the sky (masthead). Álvarez said the team liked that one the best because there was still enough light to see the surrounding scenery giving an accurate idea of how big the picture is.

The second image (above), which was actually the last attempt, was much darker and what Álvarez described as a "clean shot." The almost pitch-black sky makes the drone-light trails pop and gives an incredible neon light effect. The ball also looks cleaner and more three-dimensional.

Álvarez didn't mention whether he would sell the works, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him attach an NFT to either or both and pocket a wad of cash for them.

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Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,971   +790
Staff member
I suspect the exact same result could have been attained by simply taking a photograph of the night sky and then photoshopping a soccer player in after....

Unless you saw it live, the photo doesn't seem to be worth it...
Yeah, but watching it live would have been a bore. He didn't mention how long each exposure was, but they were long. All you would have seen were the drones as they slowly flew their paths. Sure, he could have achieved the same effect in Photoshop, but that's like saying a watercolor artist could have created the same picture in [insert your favorite paint program here]. Photoshop is not Álvarez's medium. He wasn't trying to create an effect, he was trying to create something artistic in his chosen medium.
 

Squid Surprise

Posts: 4,037   +3,168
Yeah, but watching it live would have been a bore. He didn't mention how long each exposure was, but they were long. All you would have seen were the drones as they slowly flew their paths. Sure, he could have achieved the same effect in Photoshop, but that's like saying a watercolor artist could have created the same picture in [insert your favorite paint program here]. Photoshop is not Álvarez's medium. He wasn't trying to create an effect, he was trying to create something artistic in his chosen medium.
Agreed.... but a watercolour is different than using a paint program - texture, canvas, etc...

If you aren't seeing it live - but just as a PHOTOGRAPH.... then you could recreate it EXACTLY with a photo-editing program and no one would know.

A visual arts medium, I would argue, needs to have some sort of visual difference from a different medium.... otherwise it is useless...

A video of the drones doing this, and the camera being setup, etc... THAT would qualify as a different medium (video)....
 

brucek

Posts: 803   +1,104
TechSpot Elite
Cool. Now I'd like some reasonable rules reserving this for community special occasions (like new year's fireworks shows), before every local restaurant, store, and gas station feel free to take over the night sky for free billboard space.