Dubai: Free for all, spectacular 800-drone dance to light up the night sky

Captivating show will take viewers on a journey through the city's story, narrating its humble beginnings to the exhilarating promise of the future

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Visuals from the DSF Drone show at the Blue Waters. KT file Photo: Rahul Gajjar
Visuals from the DSF Drone show at the Blue Waters. KT file Photo: Rahul Gajjar

Published: Wed 13 Dec 2023, 6:50 PM

Every evening until January 14, 2024, Dubai’s skyline will be illuminated by an extraordinary display of 800 drones soaring hundreds of metres above, creating a breathtaking spectacle in the night sky.

This year's free to attend Dubai Shopping Festival's (DSF) drone show features two all-new displays, taking viewers on a magical journey through Dubai's story, weaving an enchanting narrative of its humble beginnings to the exhilarating promise the city’s future holds. Creating a symphony of colours and shapes, the drones take flight from Skydive Dubai.

Countless hours have been put into the programming and preparations to ensure tens of thousands of shoppers witness the magic and marvel at the boundless possibilities of Dubai's future with this captivating aerial showcase.

Kaltham Alshamsi, Senior Associate, Events Planning, Festivals & Events, at DFRE, explains that, as soon as one DSF ends, planning for the next one begins, with the 2024 team spending almost 11 months planning and executing the 38-day spectacle. The most exciting element was adding hundreds of extra drones to this year’s event – up from 500 drones last year, and 300 from when the drone show was first introduced to the DSF calendar four years ago.

In a captivating union, both shows this year are intertwined by a compelling narrative that unfolds the story of Dubai's rich history. It begins with the significance of pearls, which played a pivotal role in the prosperity of the emirate and wider UAE. Seamlessly transitioning, the drone shows paint a vivid picture of Dubai's ambitious future, showcasing a world of electric and flying cars and flourishing international trade. Adding an extra layer of magic, renowned animator and storyteller Mohammed Saeed Harib, has collaborated to bring his artistic expertise to the first drone show. His contribution has helped shape a "fairytale" theme that beautifully captures Emirati culture and Dubai's humble origins as a nation rooted in pearl diving.

With the help of cutting-edge technology, the audience is catapulted into the heart of the story and becomes at one within the 3D light show.

One of the most complex aspects of the 2024 Dubai Drone Show has been planning for an unprecedented number of aerial vehicles to take to the night sky. “The number of drones has almost tripled in four years,” said Alshamsi. “And you are not just seeing shapes and displays in the sky. You are seeing a story told in 3D. You are seeing history and the future. It is relatable. This is the essence of Dubai; there is a story behind everything.”

The technical team at SKYMAGIC Drone Shows, who have worked hand-in-hand with DSF organisers to bring this year’s drone show to life, said Dubai residents and visitors are in for a sight to behold this year. As a cartoonist, animator, and storyteller, Mohammed Saeed Harib has an impressive catalogue of work, ranging from action movies and animated series, to creating not only Freej but also the EXPO 2023 Dubai mascots. Despite this, he had yet to work with drones and so when he was approached by DSF and Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) to be a key creative force this year, he was “very excited” to challenge himself and bring his storytelling expertise to Dubai’s skies.

While a narrative was already decided, Mohammed got to draw from his own family's history as part of the animation process. “I come from a seafaring heritage; my grandfather was a sailor, and his father before him was a pearl diver. So, it was great to tell a story about how Dubai started from humble beginnings and about the sleepy city and how these connections took us where we are now - rising to reach the stars.”

Mohammed also took his inspiration from Dubai’s rich and diverse mix of cultures. “We are a nation built not only on one nationality but on more than 200 – we have prospered together,” he explained.

Talking logistics, Dyfan Rhys, Project Manager, SKYMAGIC said: “With 800 drones, this is the biggest drone show I have ever done, and it is up there with one of the best in the world, so the residents and visitors of Dubai are very lucky indeed. It is a very, very proud moment.”

About the process, he said: “The creative team worked very hard with the client to understand what they needed – what images and creativity they wanted to present in the show – and then passed it over to us, the technical team who brought the show together, got it ready and then handed it over to the project team on-ground.”

More on logistics, Rhys said, with this years’ launchpad being from SkyDive Dubai, the team have worked to create a showbox – where the drones will launch – which is vast; 500 metres by 300 metres – with four pilots simultaneously operating the vast number of aerial vehicles which have a capacity to fly up to 300 meters in altitude.

"Dozens of team managers have been on ground weeks before the grand opening night on 8 December 2023, rehearsing and practising to ensure the nightly show goes without a hitch. Using the biggest number of drones used in DSF’s history – 800, simultaneously flying 800 metres to where the show will light up the city’s skyline – could have been perceived as challenge, but he said everyone worked “extremely hard” to pull off what, he says, will be “an incredibly successful event”.

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