Fans of the Disney classic Fantasia will no doubt remember the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of that film, in which a hapless Mickey Mouse accidentally brings an army of mops to life. Well, Cirque du Soleil has teamed up with ETH Zurich and spinoff group Verity Studios to create a somewhat similar video entitled Sparked – instead of mops, however, it features a fleet of lampshade-clad quadcopters.
Cirque du Soleil first came up with the idea as a means of exploring what it could do with an emerging technology – that technology being autonomous UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
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The resulting video was shot over the course of three days at ETH Zurich's Flying Machine Arena. That space features a motion capture system, a wireless communication network, and "custom software executing sophisticated algorithms for estimation and control." Previously, we've seen the Flying Machine Arena used to demonstrate drones building a tower, playing catch, and balancing an inverted pendulum.
Sparked centers around an electrical appliance repairman, who finds that the lamps in his shop have become animated after a power surge. As the illuminated lampshades fly around the space above him, they appear to respond to his movements. In reality, they were performing preprogrammed movements, although there was still an element of interactivity involved.
"We did compose the choreography with flexibility in mind," Verity Studios co-founder Markus Waibel told Gizmag. "The ability to quickly adapt and re-arrange show segments and to modify the desired motions on the spot proved to be the key to integrate feedback during rehearsals, change flight paths for things like optimal camera angles, and to keep the very tight shooting schedule."
Additionally, although the 10 drones did a lot of flying in formation, each one was also assigned a certain "personality" that was reflected in the way it moved.
The finished video, which reportedly contains no CGI or other video trickery, can be seen below.
This isn't the first time we've seen drones take part in performance art, incidentally. Last year, in the work "Pet Drone Pas de Deux," an AR Drone quadcopter performed with a human dancer.