A 1,600-strong fleet of AO drones lit up the desert sky in Riyadh recently to celebrate the 22nd World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit. A total of 1,000 of AO’s robust, supercharged LED drones were supplemented by 600 AO pyro drones, which can eject a ‘waterfall’ of glitter-sparks into the night sky.
The multidiscipline show with world-class pyrotechnics, lasers, searchlights and fireworks was designed and produced by Creative Director Phil Grucci of Fireworks by Grucci, alongside Drones/Lights/Lasers Producer Marco Niedermeier from AO Multimedia & Drones and Light/Laser Designer, Jerry P. Appelt.
The team specified 34 lasers and 40 Falcon 7K Searchlights to enhance the sky-high dynamics, as the huge fireworks display splashed colour across the summit’s supper ceremony, held in the At-Turaif area. The LED drones were programmed to showcase World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit-related imagery, nodding to the historic setting of the display in the symbolic birthplace of Saudi Arabia, Diriyah, and its UNESCO World Heritage Site At-Turaif. The lasers were used for 3D effects, beaming from the historic city towards the VIP terrace and programmed to map the outlines of the historical buildings in At-Turaif.
“Phil Grucci and AO Multimedia & Drones have a successful history of creating great fireworks and drone shows,” said Niedermeier, who is based at the AO Creative office in Dubai. “Phil wanted to go big on this event, and brought us in to deliver a memorable LED drone, pyro drone, searchlight and laser show, including technical planning and execution, that would perfectly coordinate with the Grucci Fireworks display and be programmed to showcase logos and 3D effects while highlighting and respecting the historical site we were in.”
There were multiple challenges to realising the project. The drone launch pad was within a UNESCO World Heritage site where archaeological digs are live, and adjacent to the Royal Palace, where King Salman bin Abdul Aziz resides and has a helipad. Moreover, the area is sandy and brimming with beautiful palm trees, making safe launch, operation and return of pyrotechnic drones a tricky feat.
“We conducted numerous site visits and worked closely with the Diriyah Gate Development Authority to ensure our operations would be permitted and respectful of the surroundings, and they were incredibly supportive,” Niedermeier continued. “We had a lot of technical permissions to go through with the Royal Guard, with aviation authorities, and the police. We were in regular communication with them and were ready to halt test flights when there was a helicopter flying in or out of the palace.
“I am thrilled that we delivered a highly professional execution of the job, taking into account the special conditions for set up and security and observance of the guidelines.”
AO Multimedia & Drones constructed a specially designed launchpad for the drones using scaffolding to ensure it was raised from the ground, so as not to disturb the site or interfere with the palm trees. They also put into place protections to ensure no damage was done to excavation areas. For power, the team laid dozens of kilometres of cables, distributing power from six generators that were brought to site.
The searchlights required specially built scaffolding towers, which were placed along the path of the Salwa Palace. “We even had to temporarily remove a telecommunications tower, which was next to the launch site and could have obstructed the drones,” said Niedermeier.
Testing was key, and much of this was done on-site in collaboration with the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, Royal Guard and security services. AO geofenced the drones’ flight area and showed the authorities pre-visualisations, which clearly depicted their movement and ringfencing.
In the planning stages, the teams worked closely to ensure the drones, lasers, searchlights and fireworks would be choreographed in perfect unison with each other and the accompanying show soundtrack. The drone designs were programmed in AO’s drone software, and Niedermeier powered by AO’s fleet of robust drones that uniquely have extra charge and longer flying time capacity.
“It was important for me to bring the best of the best in the industry to produce this programme, and it was very successful,” commented Grucci. “The summit attendees were totally blown away with the multimedia show. I have worked with Marco and Jerry for many years, including back in 2014 when we put on a show to celebrate the National Day here in Saudi Arabia, so we have a long history of success. Together, we have probably more than 50 years, 60 years maybe, of experience in this field, a world of experience.
“We, and the technology, keep on evolving,” he added. “We keep ahead of the technology. We don’t let technology drive the design. In fact, it’s the other way around. The design is driving the technology and I think continuing using our imagination, we’re going to continue to deliver more ambitious, incredible displays.”
Jerry P. Appelt stated: “This kind of show works with different departments, and the human interaction between our different creative approaches worked great under Phil’s guidance. He has the vision and we follow that vision. We are a good team.”
The display was commissioned by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, which works to preserve and celebrate the area. More than 3,000 travel executives, tourism officials and media attended the Summit with international representatives including Hollywood actor Edward Norton, former UK Prime Minister Theresa May and former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. It was reportedly the largest World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit to date.