Arts & Culture News

300 Drones Formed a QR Code That Rick Rolled Dallas on April Fools' Day

Sky Elements Drone Shows organized a drone display over downtown Dallas on Friday just for a really big joke.
Sky Elements Drone Shows organized a drone display over downtown Dallas on Friday just for a really big joke. screenshot from YouTube
Internet fads come and go faster than a hiccup, but one that's somehow lasted almost as long as the internet itself is the "Rick roll."

The term refers to an online prank in which the "Rick rollee" receives a URL address and it leads them to the music video for singer Rick Astley's hit debut single "Never Gonna Give You Up." The opening synthed "doo-de-doo-doo-doo-doo" has created more grins and eye rolls than when the song scored an ungodly amount of airplay in 1987.

Sky Elements Drone Shows found a way to Rick roll a sizable portion of the city for April Fools' Day with 300 of its customizable drones by forming a QR code in the sky that linked to Astley's music video.

@thriceasnice Drone QR code in the Dallas, TX sky line! #aprilfools #rickroll #dallas #drone ♬ original sound - Cody Gohlke
Preston Ward, the chief pilot and general counsel for Sky Elements Drone Shows, says the idea for the prank came from marketing guru and ideas guy Jared Guynes a couple of weeks before April 1. Guynes is the spiky haired guy behind ambitious attractions such as the Vanilla Ice and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reunion show in 2014 and Jared's Epic Nerf Battle at AT&T Stadium, which is now an annual event.

"We were thinking about something we could do for April Fools, and we were talking to Jared," Ward says. "We just did a QR code on the [Halo series for Paramount+] at South By Southwest in Austin and he suggested we Rick roll everybody."

Guynes texted his idea to Ward saying, "You will be the first company on Earth to 'Rick roll' someone with drones."

"When I realized that drone technology had progressed to the point where they had enough to make a scannable QR code in the sky, it sort of came to me all at once that it would be possible to program QR code to literally Rick roll somebody from the air," Guynes says.
Ward says they used 300 drones each with a GPS tracking system and a high-powered LEDs capable to shining at a rate of 1,000 lumens. The 100-foot wide, 250-foot tall QR code hovered over Love Field for approximately 20 minutes on Friday night.

"The one thing about drone shows is they may look small," Ward says, "but when you see them and the scale, you go, 'Whoa, that's really big.'"

Ward says they only had a short window to prep the drones and animate the light display but that's typical for these kinds of projects. Sky Elements has done sky drone designs for NASCAR events and Reunion Tower at New Year's Eve and is also working on displays for Oakland A's and Kansas City Royal's games.

"We're used to working with tight time frames," Ward says. "We had a client the other day and we turned around four custom animations for them."

It's not known exactly how many people saw the drones in the sky but Ward says they tracked "a couple hundred" scans of the QR code on the night of the flight. The hits increased exponentially as videos of the drone display started to make the rounds on social media.

"I didn't think that they would go for it because it really is like an entire day of setup and an incredible amount of logistics and trailers and putting all the little drones in the field but they actually agreed to it and the rest is history," Guynes says. "It's literally history because nobody's ever done it before." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.