Drone Racing for the Real World

Dazzle Ship on building the Drone Racing League’s brand and launching its newest street drone.
By Meleah Maynard

Say hello to the Drone Racing League’s (DRL) Racer4 Street, a consumer version of the drone used by the league’s top pilots. Unheard of until just a few years ago, drone racing is fast becoming a popular world-wide sport and the DRL is not only the international, professional drone racing circuit for elite first-person-view pilots. It is also a sports media company that creates drone racing content, including the DRL Allianz World Championship which airs on NBC, Sky Sports, ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE, Groupe AB, OSN, and FOX Sports Asia.

London-based creative studio, Dazzle Ship, has been working with the DRL since its inception in 2016, and has helped the league develop its globally recognized brand. Creating the launch campaign for the new Racer4 was in many ways the culmination of all of that work, says Dazzle Ship’s Creative Director, Alex Donne-Johnson, whose team used Cinema 4D, ZBrush and Octane to create an exciting promo video to showcase the new drone’s features.

“Everyone knows what football is and how it works, but the DRL needed a whole visual package to communicate what drone racing is all about,” Donne-Johnson explains. “It’s been interesting to help the DRL build their brand because you can’t get too abstract since you’re introducing a whole new concept.”

One of Dazzle Ship’s first tasks was to create the DRL logo.

But it’s also important not to make things look too real, he continues. “Drones flying around big open spaces can wind up looking like gnats or fireflies, so we try to mix realism with science fiction.” One approach has been to use long-exposure photography to capture the path of a drone and visualize that in Cinema 4D as light streaks.

Sci-fi-like light streaks are often used in DRL’s
branding to visualize drone flight.

Building a Brand
Before founding Dazzle Ship, Donne-Johnson was a freelance motion designer and director for five years while also doing some web design and character animation. Most of his clients were in the computer gaming and fashion industries, and as the jobs got bigger and bigger, he decided it was time to start a company and build a team. Working with clients like Asics and Adidas, Dazzle Ship began doing more technically challenging sports-related work and then the Drone Racing League got in touch. They had seen, and liked, both the studio’s fashion and sports work and wanted helping launching their brand.

“We started with just a short ident for a forthcoming YouTube series, but they soon became a recognized sport and needed a full broadcast package for ESPN,” Donne-Johnson recalls. Over the past four seasons, Dazzle Ship has revised and improved that package for shows on ESPN, NBC and Sky Sports. They have also collaborated with DRL sponsors, including Swatch, Cox and Lockheed Martin, to ensure everything fits with the DRL brand guidelines.

Dazzle Ship’s work with the Drone Racing League includes ensuring all of the sponsors’ art (above) stays in keeping with the DRL brand.

Launching the Racer4 Street
Dazzle Ship spent about two months working on the promo video for the Racer4 Street, as well as other deliverables, including social media graphics and press materials. From the start, they worked with the DRL to ensure that the new drone was rolled out in a way that would appeal to professional drone racers and fans, as well as others who knows next to nothing about the sport.

Dazzle Ship’s early storyboards for the promo video included more typography than the final version.

That’s why the promo highlights key features while also capturing the excitement of drone racing. After retoplogizing the CAD model of the Racer4 Street supplied by the client in ZBrush, Donne-Johnson and his team imported the file into Cinema so they could do all of the camera work, lighting, texturing and animation before rendering in Octane. Everyone agreed that the drone’s flight should be fluid throughout the video, so keeping the same long camera move, Dazzle Ship simply cut between the shots they wanted. “It would have been risky if we didn’t know our client,” Donne-Johnson says. “But we know the kind of feedback they give and could be confident that they weren’t going to rip things apart.”

The promo video highlights the drone’s big selling points, like its 2507 motor and how easily it can be put back together after a crash.

Working long-term with a client on the forefront of sports, technology and entertainment presents an interesting set of challenges, but it’s also been a great opportunity for creative exploration for Dazzle Ship, Donne-Johnson says. “This was essentially a graphics job that has evolved into designing and developing a worldwide brand. Developing something organically over long periods of time puts us in a better position to understand the common pitfalls and protocols. It also allowed us to approach CGI in a way that’s better suited towards creating a consistent brand image.”

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.