drone-100-interview-with-director-sergio-abujaDirector Sergio Abuja talks to Skytango about the behind-the-scenes of Drone 100, the Guinness World Record drone show created by Intel and Ars Electronica.

As part of Intel’s presentation at CES 2016, CEO Brian Krzanich introduced us to Drone 100, their Guinness World Record spectacle for the most drones airborne simultaneously.

The past can be replaced by new creativity powered by #drones, says Intel's CEO Brian KrzanichClick To Tweet

The Drone 100 video was directed by Sergio Abuja, an award-winning producer, and director based in Los Angeles.

Sergio has a Master of Fine Arts in Film-making from the New York Film Academy: L.A. Campus.

He has directed TV Commercials for MTV, Walmart and DIRECTV, and produced music videos for Hispanic rock star Enrique Bunbury, including the Latin Grammy-nominated “Licenciado Cantinas: The Movie“.

Sergio directed the Guinness World Record achieving Drone 100 for Intel in partnership with Ars Electronica Futurelab, an Austrian-based transdisciplinary art and research group working on the nexus of art, new technologies, and society (we talk about another Ars Electronica Futurelab’s drone project in our post on drone art videos).

We were amazed by the orchestration of 100 Spaxel drones with a live orchestra for the Drone 100 video and are really excited about talking about this production with Sergio.

Watch the Drone 100 video and read Sergio’s interview below:

Sergio, did you come up with the idea for the 100 drones synced to orchestra music or were you brought on board to ensure its execution?

Drone 100 is a project created by Intel, in partnership with Ars Electronica. I was brought on as a Director of the videos to translate the on-the-field experience into a video experience for those who weren’t there to see the magic in person. Intel worked with Vimby, a California-based production company, with whom I have a long-term relationship in the advertising world. This project allowed us to be flexible with the classic advertising format since it was documentary style and showcased this new technology. When I started the project, the plan for the orchestra was already in place but I certainly helped the team to shape the final visual piece.

Did you have many practice runs with all of the drones and the orchestra before the final take?

We ran a couple of tests during daytime the week before the orchestra show.

Did you film in 4k?  What equipment did you use to get such wonderful results? Were there other drones used in capturing video of this event?

We shot in a mix of 4k and 2k with RED cameras and Sony A7s, which for me is one of the best cameras nowadays to capture low light. We had 2 camera drones as well. I believe it was a total of 6 cameras.

Were there any issues with RF crossover with so many drones?

No, we didn’t have any issues with this. Intel and Ars Electronica have been working on this project for quite some time and ensured that we were ready to shoot.

How many people were involved in getting all 100 drones in the air at one time?

It was a team of 15 people.


Initial talks elaborating on the day’s sequence of events among Kinnari Desai (Intel – Integrated Brand Campaigns, 2nd from L), Horst Hörtner (Ars Electronica Futurelab – senior director, middle), Sergio Abuja Rodriguez (film director, 2nd from R), Jens Koch (still photography, L) and Pravin Patel (Guinness World Records, R). Photo: Martin Hieslmair

How did you develop and source the equipment, did you have to build from the ground up or modify existing equipment?

We had to do a lot of luminosity tests with the cameras to ensure that the drone lights would read on the screen.

What software challenges did you have to overcome?

The big challenge we had was the sheer amount of footage. The editing program that we used, Premiere, is excellent at working with different sources of video, so we were able to work efficiently.

Did you have to innovate to achieve your goal? If so do you believe those innovations will have a wider impact on the drone community?

The team’s goal was to create an artistic experience out of technology. The innovation behind Drone 100 is to view drones as entertainment and art.  My personal goal was to make sure that the spirit of the video communicated that idea. From the production point of view, the innovation was to collaborate with a very versatile crew who were able to work in a totally new environment. Since this form of art had not been filmed before, we were faced with the challenge of continuously figuring out how to best capture the Drone 100 journey.

The innovation behind #Drone100 is to view drones as entertainment and artClick To Tweet

What was Intel’s involvement? Did they just sponsor the endeavor or did they provide technical expertise?

Intel inspired the project and challenged Ars Electronica to fly 100 drones. And it is impossible to understand this event without Intel technology.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Weather and so many moving parts, literally and figuratively! Sometimes I had so many interesting actions at the same time and only 6 cameras available, plus a storm or a fog bank coming.

Did you bring extra Spaxels, spare batteries and other equipment to ensure there would be no errors on the final shoot night?

Intel and Ars Electronica are such reliable teams to work with – they had every possible scenario planned and taken care of prior to shooting.  The level of professionalism of these teams was quite impressive. I would work with these teams on any project!

You were shooting at night and aiming to capture quite small led lights, what settings did you use to achieve good results.

As I mentioned before, I was really impressed with the new Sony cameras. It was my first time using them and they definitely lived up to the expectations and demands of the project.

How do you find dealing with high contrast scenes and getting the exposure right?

As far as I remember we didn’t have clouds moving fast situations, so we didn’t have to continuously adjust exposure. And Andrés, the DP, and all the camera operators were experts on the field.

How long did you spend shooting scenes before you found the shots you were happy with?

We didn’t have much time to rehearse the shots, so things moved fairly quickly and you have to trust your instincts. However, I had a few shots in my mind that I knew I wanted and made sure that we got those.

Have you used drones in other projects you have been involved with?

Yes for aerial establishing shots, but never at this scale. If you think about it – 100 drones at once is quite crazy!

What influenced the style of your Drone 100 film? I particularly liked the moving back and forth between the musicians and the drones.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind! The first time that I saw the drone show, I could not stop thinking about Close Encounters.

I was also inspired by a picture of a Pink Floyd album called Ummagumma, that has an image of instruments laying on an empty road. When we were preparing I couldn’t recall the exact image, I contacted my dad in Spain, who is a huge Pink Floyd fan, and he sent me a picture of the album straight away that I grew up with in my childhood home.

The back and forth between the musicians and the drones was in my mind from the beginning. That’s the kind of parallelism of ideas that you create with the power of images. To me, it was very important to visually establish that both the music and drones are art expressions.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind influenced the style of #Drone100', says Sergio AbujaClick To Tweet

Will the show be taken internationally or was it just a once off?

I don’t know but am excited to see how the project evolves. I would personally love to see this come together again since it was such a beautiful thing to experience.

What possibilities excite you about the future of drone technology?

Definitely the possibilities of any art form. I think that any technological achievement could be used in many creative ways and Drone 100 is a clear example of this.

Are you inspired by other aerial film-makers and do you follow their work?

Not by a specific one, but I often visit the Vimeo aerial groups and channels looking for interesting points of view.

Once again thank you, Sergio!

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Do you want to know more about Drone 100?

I’d recommend 100 Dancing Drones Set World Record by Ken Kaplan of Intel iQ, and the really interesting article by Ars Electronica’s Martin Hieslmair on the making and the behind-the-scenes of Drone 100.