Beating Disney and other industry leaders to the punch, a historical theme park in France that stages live-action chariot races, swashbuckling sword fights and epic battles will add cutting-edge aerial drones to a show already billed as the world's largest nighttime spectacular.
Following a brief test at the end of the 2014 season, France's Puy du Fou has announced plans to permanently add the Neopters drone fleet to its Cinescenie nighttime show when the theme park reopens in April.
The Neopters are being billed as the world's first remote-controlled aerial fleet capable of flying in sync with lighting, audio, visual, pyrotechnic and special effects.
Designed specifically for entertainment purposes, the drones will "dance" an aerial ballet in choreographed synchronization with the enormous Cinescenie show, which features 800 actors and hundreds of animals as well as fountains, water projections, pyrotechnics, stunts and battles in front of the ruins of a castle. With seating for 14,000 people, the separate-admission Cinescenie is held on select weekend nights each summer.
"The Cinescenie is the greatest show ever by the depth, size and width of the stage but also by the number of the actors," said Puy du Fou President Nicolas de Villiers. "But in some way for many years, we've been feeling like the Cinescenie needed more height. I mean, the sky is an unexploited stage."
Capable of lifting a payload of approximately six pounds, the Puy du Fou drones carry internally lighted ghost-like robes and six-foot-tall candles made of lightweight material that glow like beacons in the dark during the Cinescenie show. Moving in unison, as many as a dozen drones fly in formation up to 200 feet above the ground, invisible in the night sky to the audience below.
The historical theme park on France's west coast has been developing the $2.5-million Neopters drone fleet for two years in association with 50 engineers at the Belgium-based ACT lighting-design firm. In recent years, ACT has helped create the Ravelijn open-air arena at Efteling theme park in the Netherlands, the Arthur and the Minimoys roller coaster/dark-ride combo at Germany's Europa Park and the Le Reve cirque-style show at the Wynn hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
Throughout the development of Neopters, Puy du Fou has worked closely with the French General Directorate of Civil Aviation, which has granted flight authorization for the show. Flying autonomously without human intervention, each drone will use a GPS signal to locate itself and the rest of the fleet in the air.
Known as unmanned aerial vehicles, the Puy du Fou drones have received patents for synchronized aerial choreography, autopilot navigation, waterproof capabilities and amphibious takeoffs and landings.
Disney has been experimenting for years with unmanned aerial vehicles in hopes of using the flying machines for entertainment purposes. In August, Disney applied for a patent to employ drones for airborne displays, light shows and aerial puppetry in theme-park shows. At a small airport outside Bakersfield in 2012, Walt Disney Imagineering secretly tested a cleverly disguised ultralight aircraft that looked like a fire-breathing flying dragon.
But despite all the planning and preparation, Disney may find itself in the role of follower rather innovator. If the drone additions to the Cinescenie show prove successful, Puy du Fou plans to stage live shows and events around with the world with a fleet of as many as 50 drones.