Working in close collaboration with TAIT, who custom built the in-the-round stage design for Metallica’s WorldWired Tour, Verity Studios provided the touring industry’s first autonomous indoor drone swarm, with 99 micro drones dancing like fireflies for the song, “Moth Into Flame.” The set and stage design, designed by the show’s director, Dan Braun, features an immersive concert experience with a 44' x 44' square main-stage equipped with several prop lifts located in the center of the arena.
James Hetfield, lead singer and co-founder of Metallica, has wanted to use drones in the show for several years, but as Braun points out, “I used to say they weren’t safe, so we sort of got away from the idea, but kept it on the back burner. Then I spoke with Adam Davis at TAIT, and he told us about their relationship with Verity and about the potential possibilities, and that’s how we got into using drones on this tour. As the show’s designer and director, I thought we should put them in ‘Moth Into Flame,’ as it’s been a very successful song for the band for a long time. And after the first night of the tour in Copenhagen, James said the drones were great, so we were happy, and we always want to keep the band happy.”
The micro Lucie drones from Verity measure 6'' x 6'' x 1.4'' and are equipped with on-board LEDs. They are extremely lightweight, their sound levels are negligible in a stage setting. They can be made invisible to the audience by turning off their lights and by flying in complete darkness. The motions and light effects of each Lucie can be designed into a precise choreography that is synchronized using show control. With safety a major concern, the combination of a reliable indoor positioning system with intelligent autonomous drones and a superior operator interface allows Metallica’s show operators to simultaneously control the coordinated movements of the drones, as they flit around the stage like moths attracted to the flame of the band.
As Bill Keays of Verity points out, “We frequently compare the Lucie micro drones to large butterflies, because they are so light and because of their small size. And they are really flying lights—in fact, the micro drones’ name, Lucie, is derived from the French luciole and Italian lucciola, which means firefly.”
The storage and deployment of the drones is one of the areas where Verity Studios and TAIT carefully worked together. “Metallica’s tour has a 360° stage, so the audience is all around the band. There is no traditional backstage area on this tour, so the drones are deeply integrated into the stage setup,” adds Keays. “They are stored and charged below the stage, and touring staff places them onto stage lifts from below the stage just moments before the song. The lifts then come up and the drones perform in unison with Metallica's song, which is approximately six and a half minutes long. The 99 drones then fly back into the stage lifts, where they are returned to storage by the touring staff.”