Starbright Holidays drone show debuts at Disney Springs

November 16, 2016, 6:22 PM · Disney launched its first drone light show at Disney Springs this evening.

"Starbright Holidays" is a short, five-minute presentation over the lagoon between Disney Springs and the Saratoga Springs Resort. At first glance, it doesn't seem like much — just some lights in the sky. But as the lights move and change colors, the recognition hits you — this isn't a screen. That's not some computer-animated effect. Those really are lights floating in the sky!

I didn't know the best place to record the show, and, frankly, I guessed wrong. But don't worry about just seeing it when you are at Disney Springs in the evenings this holiday season. The show plays far enough in the air that you can see it from pretty much any open walkway in Disney Springs, not just along the waterway.

As I walked over to another vantage point, where I captured the last minute of the show, I had the chance to see the crowd reaction. Each person's response followed pretty much the same pattern: initial nonchalance, then a slow moment of recognition, followed by rapt curiosity.

For all we've talked about this being Disney's first drone show, the vast majority of guests in Disney Springs tonight had no clue. After all, Disney did not publicize the show and most people don't geek out over production tech like this, anyway. People who looked up and saw the presentation were genuinely captivated. How often do you really see something you truly never have witnessed before?

Produced with 300 of Intel's Shooting Star drones, Starlight Holidays is the Alpha v1.0 of what producers can do with these tools. The drones form a three-dimensional Christmas tree above the lagoon, as well as snowflakes and finally, an angel (at least that's what it looked like to me). I couldn't help but thinking back to the first examples of computer animation I watched in the 1970s, with simple pixels of light moving around a dark screen to form crude shapes. Now, 40 years later, Hollywood's using computer animation to create films that are indistinguishable from real life.

I don't think it will take Disney's Imagineers, or their rivals, anywhere near 40 years to develop new ways to use these drones that will make Starbright Holidays look like a beginner's first themed production exercise.

But as enticing a future as this show suggests, it deserves to be appreciated on its own terms. Those are 300 real flying lights, dancing in the sky. How cool is that?

Starbright Holidays runs nightly through Jan. 8, with the official debut this weekend.

Replies (10)

November 16, 2016 at 8:16 PM · It's important to remember that this is a preview. The official show may be longer, and from what I've read, it is about twice as long as tonight's spectacle.

Robert largely summed up my thoughts on the show itself. Just truly cool and innovative. And I find the reactions neat, wish I was there in person too.

November 17, 2016 at 1:24 AM · Interesting.

But an angel? My first thought was Rudolph....

November 17, 2016 at 4:56 AM · Remember...."It all started with a floating tree."
November 17, 2016 at 5:19 AM · Seems interesting!
November 17, 2016 at 5:50 AM · Can't help but think that Rapunzel's floating lanterns will make an appearance in the kingdom sometime soon...
November 17, 2016 at 7:28 AM · I very much enjoy all the entertainment at WDW that some people would classify as 'minor' and not make be aware of, nor plan to see even if they are aware. I, however, always DO make plans to check out these smaller things. Shows such as Great Moments in History (with the Muppets), Tree of Life Awakenings, Discovery Island Carnivale, Victor Espinola (harp player at DAK), streetmosphere, Serveur Amusant, Dapper Dans, and many, many more, are always part of my visits to WDW. I see this drone show as the same type of thing. The vast majority of guests are unaware of these smaller entertainment items, but to me they make a huge difference in the experience when visiting WDW. This show will likely catch most guests by surprise, cause some to stop for 5 min, watch, smile and move on. That's what I believe it's meant to do.
November 17, 2016 at 10:55 AM · I wonder if those drones ever went over guests at one point. And if so, what is Disney's "safety net" so to speak?
November 17, 2016 at 11:06 AM · James: The following quote is from an Orlando Sentinel article from November 4, 2016. (Please note that the term "Flixel" is Disney called the drones in the FAA application.)

Disney at that time laid out safety precautions and planned operations for the drones, including keeping them 100 feet away from guest areas at all times. "Their flight paths will largely take place over water elements and restricted areas," the company's application read. The Flixels would max out at 150 feet above ground level, according to the application.

November 17, 2016 at 4:00 PM · What is the best place to view from?
November 17, 2016 at 6:03 PM · These aren't the 'Flixel' drones. Those, I believe, are a more 'advanced' drone being created for future shows.

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