Skytango sat down with award-winning director Sergio Abuja once more, to speak about the Drone 500 video that he directed just less than a year after Drone 100.


After the massive success of Drone 100 in 2015, in October 2016 Intel raised the bar yet again and attempted to break their own record, not only by one or two times, but by five!

Hamburg, Germany was the location of Drone 500. Less than a year after setting the Guinness World Record for the Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) airborne simultaneously, Intel broke that record by flying 500 drones simultaneously on October 7, 2016.

In Drone 500 Intel showcased their new drone named the Shooting Star, synchronizing 500 of the devices to display complex patterns of lights and choreography in the night sky.

We talked with Sergio Abuja, award-winning director, and producer of Drone 500, and asked him a series of questions about this amazing spectacle and the video he produced. Enjoy the interview below. Do you want to know more? Read our previous interview with Sergio Abuja on the behind-the-scenes of Drone 100!


The Questions For Sergio Abuja

  1. Sergio, when did a plan for this massive expansion from Drone 100 to 500 first come to fruition? What was your initial reaction when you were asked to come back and work on the project?
  2. Were there more practice runs than Drone 100 because there were many more drones involved?
  3. Did you film in 4k and 2k as before? And did you use the same or more equipment? If more, what were the changes?
  4. Were there any issues with RF crossover with 5 times more drones than before?
  5. How many people were involved in getting 500 drones airborne at one time?
  6. In relation to the luminosity tests you carried out to ensure that the drone lights would read on screen, was this more of a challenge because
    there were more drones to cover?
  7. What software challenges did you have to overcome if any?
  8. What was the most challenging aspect of filming 500 drones simultaneously?
  9. Was the technology more advanced than the previous project?
  10. What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in general?
  11. Did you have more time to shoot scenes before you found shots you were happy with?
  12. How many cameras did you use to shoot the scene? Did you need more drone cameras than before to capture the larger scale?
  13. What was the most enjoyable aspect of taking part in this project? What impressed you the most?
  14. What are your views on the future of drones in art? Do you feel that drone technology has opened up a new dimension of artistic expression?

The Interview With Sergio Abuja

1. Sergio, when did a plan for this massive expansion from Drone 100 to 500 first come to fruition? What was your initial reaction when you were asked to come back and work on the project?

The team from Intel was so passionate about the project that once they broke the first record, they wanted to break another one. They were excited to continue to think and create and build upon what happened with Drone 100. My initial reaction was “No way that 500 drones can work. Where are they going to do it? They are going to need a lot of people. That’s crazy.”

The surprise was that the major innovation that happened between Drone 100 and 500 is that it now only takes 1 person to pilot the drones on his laptop. The production side got more compact and succinct.

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2. Were there more practice runs than Drone 100 because there were many more drones involved?

No, actually, it became much easier to do dry runs because the production side becomes so much cleaner. The pilot would even crack a joke, push a button and throw a smiley face up in the sky just to show how amazing the technology had become in such a short amount of time. They made it look easy.

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3. Did you film in 4k and 2k as before? Did you use the same or more equipment? If more, what were the changes?

We used the same equipment as Drone 100 except that now Intel made the drones so safe that it allowed us to place a camera operator in the landing and launching area, just to experiment with a drone rain on land.

They’ve made the experience so human-friendly because it’s safe. All of the drones are encased in Styrofoam and the propellers are in a plastic cage – they are light and it’s safe to be around the drones.

In Drone 500 Intel showcased their new drones named the Shooting Star (specifically built for entertainment shows) synchronizing 500 of the devices to display complex patterns of lights and choreography in the night sky.

In Drone 500, Intel showcased their new drone named the Shooting Star, specifically built for entertainment shows – © Intel

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4. Were there any issues with RF crossover with 5 times more drones than before?

No, Intel has very much figured out this technical aspect. It’s a very smooth process and the technology accounts for any potential error.

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5. How many people were involved in getting 500 drones airborne at one time?

Just 2. One person on deck as back up.

Sergio Abuja and part of the filming crew on the set of Drone 500

Sergio Abuja and part of the filming crew on the set of Drone 500 – © Sergio Abuja

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6. In relation to the luminosity tests you carried out to ensure that the drone lights would read on screen, was this more of a challenge because the there were more drones to cover?

In terms of luminosity, the main challenge that we had to overcome this time was how big the drone fleet was. We had to work with wider lenses and set up different camera angles in order to cover the entire scene.

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7. What software challenges did you have to overcome if any?

Actually, none. VIMBY, the production company had every aspect of the filming software figured out.

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8. What was the most challenging aspect of filming 500 drones simultaneously?

With every drone project I’ve done, the biggest challenge is to really translate the experience that the event attendees have. It’s a mesmerizing technology and art form and it’s important to get to share it with people who haven’t had the opportunity to see it in person.


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9.  Was the technology more advanced than the previous project?

Intel redesigned the entire physicality of the drone. The software and all of the technology made the process easier and manageable. Intel is really working on opening a new era of live shows and entertainment. It’s an honor to be one of the first filmmakers to figure out the visual narrative for this artform.

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10. What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in general?

The biggest obstacle is always time. So many shots I would like to try, so many angles, so many toys I would like to experiment with, but there’s always time constrictions for these little films.

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11. Did you have more time to shoot scenes before you found shots you were happy with?

I actually had less time to shoot, but our time in Palm Springs and Sydney really prepared us for the 500 Drones in Germany. We were well prepared to dive in and shoot the best of the best. Just call me the Drone Whisperer, hah! It’s been interesting to see how this technology has unfolded so quickly.

All of the work that we’ve done over the last year to translate this experience in images and show the public how powerful this technology is, it is highlighted when you see Lady Gaga surrounded by drones at the Superbowl, or a huge public show at Disney World. See the Disney Experience here.

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12. How many cameras did you use to shoot the scene? Did you need more drone cameras than before to capture the larger scale?

We used a pretty similar crew. No major changes in the way we shot it.

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13. What was the most enjoyable aspect of taking part in this project? What impressed you the most?

Being part of the history of this new technology is impressive and exciting. In 20 years, I’ll still tell the story of when I filmed the first drone fleet. I had the honor of being one of the first filmmakers to create mesmerizing images with the fleets: the sails over the Sydney Opera House, the drone snow globe and the Orchestra under the Hamburg sky were images that didn’t exist before we filmed them.


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14. What are your views on the future of drones in art? Do you feel that drone technology has opened up a new dimension of artistic expression?

In the future, I don’t know, but imagine if everyone will have a drone fleet to express themselves. Walking emojis? Sending a fleet of drones out to create a painting in your loved one’s window. The plane writing “Marry me Stacy” in the sky is done. It’s all about drones now!

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Sergio, it’s been a real pleasure talking with you again!

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(Top image credits: © Sergio Abuja)