Backstage

2018 Backstage:
 
The Lights:
Our 2018 display has 35,295 lights in six colors (Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, and White).
 
Power:
The lights we are using this year require 120A (14,400W) of electricity when they are turned on all at once. Power is run to the display from a dedicated subpanel (breaker box) via ten 20A circuits. Fortunately we don't turn them on all at once most of the time (although a couple songs do for a brief moment). This year's display required about a mile of custom extension cords.
 
Light Counts (how we've grown):
2005: 8,000
2006: 32,000
2007: 35,500
2008: 36,392
2009: 41,139
2010: No Show
2011: 40,003
2012: 34,597
2013: 34,597
2014: 35,295
2015: 35,295
2016: 35,295
2017: 35,295
2018: 35,295

 
Computer Control:
With all the lights and power in place comes the real challenge: synchronizing them to music. Doing so requires a way to interface the lights with a computer, and a way to program the computer with a set of commands to tell the lights what to do (and when to do it). The electronics necessary to make this happen consist of D-Light controllers running the open source DMX firmware. The software which controls the lights is known as Aurora (we wrote it). Each song takes about 10 hours of time to synchronize to music. The music is transmitted to visitor's FM radios by a low power FM transmitter on an empty FM station.
 
Channel Counts (how we've grown):
2005: Not animated
2006: 63 (8x D-Light ACx8)
2007: 96 (8x D-Light ACx8, 1x D-Light DCx16, 2x D-Light ACx16)
2008: 210 (8x D-Light ACx8, 1x D-Light DCx16, 6x D-Light ACx16, 4x D-Light Firefli)
2009: 368 (6x D-Light ACx8, 1x D-Light DCx16, 6x D-Light ACx16, 4x D-Light Firefli, 1x DMX Intelligent Light)
2010: No Show
2011: 368 (6x D-Light ACx8 DMX, 1x D-Light DCx16 DMX, 6x D-Light ACx16 DMX, 4x D-Light Firefli DMX, 1x DMX Intelligent Light)
2012-2018: 368 (6x D-Light ACx8 DMX, 3x Blizzard Q12W DMX, 6x D-Light ACx16 DMX, 4x D-Light Firefli DMX, 1x DMX Intelligent Light)

 
Setting It All Up:
So, with all of that in place, how long does it take to hang all of those lights? The time required has greatly improved over the years. Early on, when everything was new to build, it took every day for a full month to set up. The setup of our 2018 display began in the last week of October and takes until November 30 to complete. Although it now takes more than a month, most of that is on weekends instead of every day. They all come down in just a day or two though.
 
The Mega-Tree:
Of particular interest is our 16 foot tall animated Christmas tree. First used in 2006, this display element was custom made by us out of plumbing parts just for this display. The support pole and star were assembled on the ground and then raised into place and anchored by four steel cables. A shape ring was then constructed at the base of the tree. Lights were raised onto the tree and secured between the eye bolts at the top and the shape ring at the bottom. The mega tree consists of 13,240 lights. The Mega-Tree topper was damaged during a wind storm during the 2015 season and a new topper was built for 2016.
 
The Mini-Trees:
Our Mega Tree is circled by 48 "mini trees". These are made by wrapping three strings of incandescent mini lights around a floral easel. The mini trees havea combined count of 14,400 lights.
 
The Leaping Arches
Introduced in 2008 are the four arches in the foreground of the display. These arches each consist of 16 individually controllable RGB pixels contained on a special D-Light Firefli strand. This allows us to control the exact color out of 16 million possible colors that each pixel should be throughout the show.
 
So how much is the electric bill?
Because the lights are not always on (each "channel" is only on for brief periods of time) the bill is far less than you might guess. In 2017 it only cost $80 to run the display for the entire Christmas season. Our anticipated electricity cost this year is calculated to be about the same. Electricity turns out to be one of the cheapest things in the entire display. Replacing worn bulbs each year is far more expensive than the electricity.