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Watch 958 drones create a 400-foot tall Time cover in lights instead of pixels

Behind The Scenes Of TIME's Drones Cover | TIME

The iconic red border and masthead on Time magazine for the issue now nestled on newsstands wasn’t created by graphic design software. The Time cover for the June 11 issue was instead created by 958 flying drones — and shot by another drone. For the Time special-edition Drone Report, the magazine created the cover in the sky using Intel’s Shooting Star, a fleet of drones and software used to create UAV light shows. The in-flight cover was shot in Folsom, California, on May 3, with the special edition issue available beginning today, June 1.

Time’s cover is the first that was shot on a drone.  The Shooting Star drones can fly up to 400 feet, but even at that height, the drones had to fly closer together than the drone light show coordinators typically fly. Rather than the 10-foot radius the drones typically keep to avoid gusts of wind creating an in-air collision, the drones flew with fewer than five feet between them.

Using Intel’s program to choreograph light shows, the drones created the border of the magazine that’s usually simply drawn onto a photograph with graphics software. The entire “cover” in the air, with all the drones in place, was about 328 feet tall, a buzzing collection of lights in the sky at dusk.

With 958 drones, the cover choreography was one of the largest drone shows in the U.S. The largest so far, to our knowledge, was in China with 1,374 drones, but Intel Shooting Stars broke a record for indoor shows with 100 and also created a 1,200 drone show for the Olympics this year.

Astraeus Aerial Cinema Systems used an airborne drone to capture the image, with LA Drones also working on the project.  The cover was shot at sunset to create a gradient in the sky behind the drones, a time frame that also presented challenges with additional wind and the low light capture.

“I’ve always been amazed at how different an image looks when you put it inside the red border of Time,” D.W. Pine, the creative director at Time, said in a statement. “What’s interesting about this is that the image is actually the border of Time. I’ve looked at that border and logo every single day on a flatscreen monitor, and to see it up in the sky, at 400 feet in the air, it was very moving for me.”

The cover houses the magazine’s special edition on drone technology, which explores the explosion in UAV technology. The report looks at drone technology from several different angles, including safety and government moderation and drone use in Hollywood.

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