2014 Season

Many months have been spent researching, planning, programming, designing and constructing the light show. We wanted to share this process with you all, so we've included images and stories of the research and development of the 2014 Christmas light show.

Phase One: "Designing a Display"


Our first phase of research began with a picture. We needed a design that would look interesting, yet something simple for our first year. So, I went into Paint.net and used the program to draw on the house an idea of where I thought lights would look best on the house. The result is the image on the right, with some extra decoration in the end. As a surprise to my mother, my father and I decided to add our snowman and train decorations, pictured below together. This would bring our total channel count up to 22. This was a beginning, to our very long, very important process.After careful calculations, I presented the image to my father, walking him through what I believed a solid setup would be like. We exchanged ideas via e-mail or in person when he wasn't busy. Whiteboard markups and illustrations were helpful, but never were photographed. Thinking of the methods we would use made my head start to spin. We eventually had to create a task board, listing each step we needed to complete within a single objective, with all the objectives on the board as well. He approved the 22-channel configuration and we then moved on to the second phase of the project - measuring our house.

Phase Two: "Measure Everything"

The next piece of work we had to do included measuring every segment we intended to use in our display. This was an interesting task, since some of the original measurements had to be estimated due to some geometrical challenges. We also had to measure and estimate an approximate length needed for extension cords running from the end of the plug, all the way to our controllers. Though the figures on the right are precise-looking, our real measurements were quite different. (See "Hanging the Lights," our final post in the 2014 section.) Also, a good last-minute find on extension cords cut the cost by a significant amount! We found SPT-2 lamp cord wire that is cuttable and comes with plugs and covers, so that the consumer can make custom extension cords. This helped out a TON for both our budget AND our need for a lot of extension cords. We actually ended up running completely out of extension cords this year! (A FIRST!) Because of our incredible find in 2014, we are intending to buy about FOUR TIMES as much as we did in the first year, in preparation for the future as our show grows bigger and better. It took us a while to ultimately measure our house, but it launched us quite a bit further ahead of schedule. Because it was our first year doing synchronized Christmas lights, many learning curves came as the project moved on. In the third section, I speak more on the learning curve and our lessons we were taught along the way.



Phase Three: "Program the Lights!"

We knew which lighting company would have our business right off the bat: Light-O-Rama. They have been in several videos that we see and has been an all around great company to work with for controlling our lights. For more information on Light-O-Rama, read Phase 4. Now that we have the measurements for everything, we needed to start working on the list of songs we wanted to use in our show. Chelsea had many excellent ideas for music, some of which we used. Her main request was that either my father or I would program her favorite song, "Carol of the Bells" (Trans Siberian Orchestra), even if it was the only song playing. Time was ticking by quickly, as our free time began to fade away and college soon started. We used every minute we could to program the music.Eventually, my father was able to help. We had to organize our files on our computers EXACTLY the same way so that when we needed to share files, there would be no hiccups. (This is the short explanation of the situation.) About two months into programming, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" finally came to an end! As soon as I finished this one, I picked up the next song and began to whittle away relentlessly. For the best results, we had to slow the song down to one-fourth speed playback, and listen to less than a half of a second at a time. The lesson from here is that "Whenever the lights are not on the house... you should be programming more songs or updating old ones, no matter what." Additionally, we weren't given the best of weather to attack the outdoor work in. Much of the work we've done in our 2014 display were last-minute details or ideas. Now, I'll move on to talk about the hardest part of the project: the purchasing of the equipment.



Phase Four: "Buy, buy, buy..."


This phase was the one that my father dreaded the most - the step where we purchased all the controllers, software, lights, and equipment needed for this project to go smoothly. We sought to find a way we could use 3⁄8 inch LED rope light on our house, since it would be easier to cut, but there was no way we could do so. Therefore, we went to Novelty Lights, a website that sold a majority of the items we would need. The lights we ended up using were ½ inch instead, which still worked out just fine. We bought all four colors – red, white, green, and blue – from Novelty Lights. Additionally, we bought about two hundred and fifty feet of SPT-2 wire from them. This wire became our custom-length extension cords, though it was two hundred feet short in supply. We added 2 elements, the snowman and train, late in the game. These required at least one hundred feet each of extension cord, we only had eighty left. However, we had old extension cords laying around which ended up saving us. Next year, we plan to buy more SPT-2 extension cord wire.For our software and controllers, we turned to Light-o-Rama. We bought two 32-Channel Residential controllers, a “Basic Plus” software license and the FM transmitter for the show. The way we would hang our lights was an interesting idea we engineered in a family friend's shop late one night. We purchased seventeen strips of Plexiglass that were eight feet long and about 2 inches tall, with a ¾ inch thickness. We decided that using zip ties every 2 feet would hold the light strands in place. We also drilled holes that would be used to mount the lights to our rafters, also with zip ties. This proved to be the most cost-effective route. The last things we bought were small, thin metal strips and ten to fifteen eight foot pieces of screen molding. The molding would be used around our windows and garage doors where we only had one strand of lights to mount. The metal strips were fashioned into brackets to hold onto the flashing on our second-story gable. In summary, this year's budget was focused on learning about what would work on our house and making it look good. Next year, our light show will expand and will include some new elements. We have a lot more knowledge and experience, so our budget will change to reflect this.

Phase Five: "Hanging the Lights"

   

              

Hanging the lights was an adventure that I'm glad we endured. It took 3 full days, too many trips to a home improvement store, and a trip across town to get the lights completely up and ready to flash to our music. Our unconventional, never-imagined process to hoisting our lights onto the house made the experience a little more interesting. One of the main reasons it took so long to hang our lights was the inclement weather: be it rain, wind, or a lack of sunlight, Mother Nature really fought against our mission. We never gave up, though. Like I said in the section before, we used the Plexiglass in a clever way to ease the difficulty of hanging the lights. We unloaded all seventeen strips of the Plexiglass into the garage and set up a small "workhorse"-like table to drill the holes into the Plexiglass. The tricky and time-consuming part of the project was that we had to make custom mounts for each strip. This meant climbing onto the ladders, measuring, marking and finally drilling into the Plexiglass. In one area, we had to hang the Plexiglass first, then come back and zip tie the rope light to it. (This was the stretch above the garage that spanned a little over thirty feet.) In the picture on the right, you can see the three rope lights zipped together. Part of what made it so challenging to hang was the shape of the wire. When we received the spools, the rope light was twisted so tightly that it fought us all through the project.

 
  

Hanging the lights was an adventure that I'm glad we endured. It took 3 full days, too many trips to a home improvement store, and a trip across town to get the lights completely up and ready to flash to our music. Our unconventional, never-imagined process to hoisting our lights onto the house made the experience a little more interesting. One of the main reasons it took so long to hang our lights was the inclement weather: be it rain, wind, or a lack of sunlight, Mother Nature really fought against our mission. We never gave up, though. Like I said in the section before, we used the Plexiglass in a clever way to ease the difficulty of hanging the lights. We unloaded all seventeen strips of the Plexiglass into the garage and set up a small "workhorse"-like table to drill the holes into the Plexiglass. The tricky and time-consuming part of the project was that we had to make custom mounts for each strip. This meant climbing onto the ladders, measuring, marking and finally drilling into the Plexiglass. In one area, we had to hang the Plexiglass first, then come back and zip tie the rope light to it. (This was the stretch above the garage that spanned a little over thirty feet.) In the picture on the right, you can see the three rope lights zipped together. Part of what made it so challenging to hang was the shape of the wire. When we received the spools, the rope light was twisted so tightly that it fought us all through the project.



There wasn't a precise way we could measure the gables and predict how much distance we needed to put between the Plexiglass at the peak, so we ended up guessing. We got lucky on the first try and managed to allow the perfect gap on both gables. Following the success of the Plexiglass on the rafters, we decided to take a small break from hanging lights. We used this brief break to mount our Light o Rama controllers to the board that is then mounted to the garage wall. Additionally, we mounted the controlling computer to the same board. This is currently a permanent fixture which will hang in the garage all year long. The hardest part with mounting the controllers to the wall was correctly identifying the location of the studs in the wall. It took several attempts to get the controllers to their current location, but wasn't as difficult as hanging the lights. The one night we worked in the dark was the best night of our show - we labeled every single plug, plugged it into the correct channel, then began our first show! We made some minor tweaks but by 8:30pm, we had the show going live on the stereo. A week into the show, my dad and I knew we just needed to add a surprise for my mom - adding the lawn decorations. She was out of the house and wouldn't return until a little after the lights began dancing, so it was the perfect day to implement the plan. It took less than a day to add our lawn decorations to our setup, including re-programming our existing sequences to include the new additions to the show. The snowman was propped up using leftover Plexiglass chunks, while small hooks stabilized the train. I'm glad we opted to add these elements to the show, it added a significant touch to the appearance. In our 2015 show, look out for some potentially new similar elements added to our display. Renovations of the current display are being researched currently, but we want to try to keep it as similar as possible for now. One could potentially expect new lighting types and/or rearranging lawn decorations. (This includes RGB devices, re-purposing current lights, more channels, and other fancy ideas.)

 
 
   

From the Archives
I'm proud to be releasing this new document that has recently surfaced from our pile of drawings, doodles, ideas and concepts! The document below is a 2012 spreadsheet that was a proof-of-concept write-up I created to show my dad what was needed to get this show on the road. Sure, it took two years of convincing for us to get started... but because of this document, we have the show I'm so fond of today. Here it is: