We are Live ’22!

We are live, our lights turned on at 7pm on Nov 30th and will run 6pm-10pm every night until Jan 2nd. It’s been quite the adventure getting here. Not because of the build and install, although there were some technical and skill challenges, the biggest challenge was due to time.

This year I didn’t add a lot of lights but did change the layout significantly to include a walk-through area and added a new feature piece: A “Santa House” with a pixel panel window. I also added some Matrix panels to the lower part of the house on each side of the garage.

The Plan
The Plan

I had a well laid out plan to follow and a reasonable amount of buffer in the schedule to get it all done. But with multiple kids’ hockey practices per day, having lots of out-of-town showcase weekends and starting a new job it was hard to create the time to get it all done. I like to work in dedicated chucks of time where I can focus on a specific set of items start to finish and then clean up after. I had a couple of weekend days early and late in the schedule I could do this but in general it was getting as much done in an hour here and a couple there. I am also not as resilient to the cold as I used to be, the second half of the install schedule was very cold this year making it difficult to motivate myself to get outside some days. The heavy time commitments and travel schedule for hockey meant we had to push out light-up party and Food Drive kick off back to a weekday. This did come in useful as I needed the final weekend that we would usually turn the lights on to install the last of the lights.

Sequencing was relatively uneventful, I started early (June) and finished in mid-October. I only added one new sequence (O Christmas tree) at the kids request. I may add a couple in December if I get the time or may focus on improvements so some of the existing ones. I did try to add more of the singing trees to the songs where I saw fit. Upgrading the sequences was a little more work this year because the walk-through area really changes the layout; removing lots of the left side props that needed to be accounted for in the balancing of the show. The big prop that moved was the pixel panel on the left side of the driveway requiring changes to all text messages that ran across these and some of the images.

The only lights I added were the Pixel matrixes on each side of the garage. These were built mostly using excess pixels I had in inventory. I just needed to order some pixel mesh and build some frames. This was relatively easy as I used the same approach (1/2″ PVC Pipe) as the pixel panels that I added last season on the upper level of the house. The only challenge here was how to get the mesh around the house lights, a little cut out and attaching the top of the mesh to the frame after the install solved this.

The big item I added was a Santa house and pixel screen to play a video on. The idea of a walk-through area came from visiting other Lighhten Up Calgary displays last season. Seeing how people had areas to take photos I wanted to do this but wanted to do something different.

Thinking about this I decided it would be fun to build a Santa house and incorporate the food donation bins into it. As I thought about it, I came up with the idea of using a projector to project Santa into the widow but that evolved into building a pixel panel window. The panels were not too challenging to build but took some learning to configure and to get working with Light-O-Rama, it also required some additional networking which is one of my least favorite things.

Building the house was an adventure, my initial design was a little over engineered to a point I was building an actual house. I simplified my design to be just a facade. It took a lot of work getting this done (I’m not awesome at construction type things) and I’m sure there would have been much better ways to build it. I had some much-appreciated help from a couple of painter elves who did an amazing job painting the house and making it look like the image I had based the design on. I will write a post with more details about building the Santa house and setting up the pixel panel window.

The Install started relatively well getting the entire upper levels of the house done (Canadian) thanksgiving weekend. I was in the process of switching jobs and had taken the week off between to get a head start, but life happened, other distractions came up that prevented me from getting as far ahead as I hoped. Things went quite smooth in October, getting the house finished. I made a decision to put the RGB stockings up on the house prior to Halloween (I try to avoid any decorative items prior to Remembrance Day (Nov 11.)) but there was snow coming and I was worried I’d lose access to the roof, so I put them up. Halloween night I had a panic moment when I realized that I had everything I couldn’t reach by ladder installed but I had not run the cables for the right Garage matrix which were to be connected to a second story controller. I had to jump up on the roof in the dark and run the three cables before the kids headed out trick or treating and the snow started. Halloween is always a good time for testing the lights that are installed and making sure I have the networks set up right.

There was a big push getting everything installed the last two weekends before Light-up. The second to last weekend was very cold with lots of snow. When it warmed up the next week, many of the items I had installed fell over in high winds as I hadn’t penetrated the frozen ground deep enough. Another couple of hours fixing instead of installing put me further behind. But finally, all the key items were installed and ready for the light up, a few detail items were still missing but could be added later.

This was definitely one of the most trying installs just because of the lack of time to consistently work on it. I will need to really consider if I want to do it all again next year (don’t worry I feel this way at this time every year and again in April after getting everything put away).

The light-up went off mostly without a hitch (one speaker came unplugged so the music was barley auditable over the people talking, but I quickly got that fixed), it was very cold (-18′ C) but that didn’t seem to dampen people’s spirits and the kids still managed to play road hockey for around four hours. The new Light-O-Rama control panel that I had up on a TV in my garage was a great talking point and allowed people to understand how the show worked. It was so good been able to have an in person Light-up event after having a drive-by events for the last two years. It was also very successful in its main goal of kicking off our food drive with over $1,500 donated online by the attendees and two large bins of food collected.

Now it’s time to enjoy the show and hopefully hit our target of a combined 2,500 dollars or pounds of food.

Happy Holidays!

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