Here are some answers to questions I have gotten about the display.
How do you control the lights?
The lights are programmed using software called x-lights (https://xlights.org/). Once the design is done, then the “code” is uploaded to a Raspberry Pi running the Falcon Pi Player (https://github.com/FalconChristmas/fpp). The player sends the signals out to the various light controllers over standard ethernet.
How long does it take to setup?
The display has grown over the years, and is taking a bit longer now to setup. Generally, the lights up on the gutters go up before halloween (dislike of being on a ladder in the cold is the primary reason). That usually takes a couple hours to complete. In the past, the rest of the display went up in a day. This year, it was split into two – one day to do everything attached to the house, and another for the items in the yard – including wiring up everything to the controllers and testing. There was an extra day in it this round. The first attempt of adding things on the house didn’t work out (mother nature and some high winds took most of it down). Revamped the attachment method, and (crossing fingers), appears to be working.
How long does it take to program?
Each song can vary widely. The community of people that use xlights often share the programming for what they have done, and xlights makes it fairly easy to “map” the things from someone else’s display to your own. Most of the songs in the display have come from others. It takes an hour or so to figure out what I want to map things to (the original display may have items I don’t, or may have more or less of a particular item, and figuring out what matches best takes a bit). Then, making any adjustments.
One of the songs in the 2020 display (12 days of Christmas), someone in the community provided the megatree sequence. The rest of the items that are in that song are all added by me (which reminds me, I need to go share the result). There are several hours of effort in that.
When do you start planning the display?
Pretty much as soon as this years display is done and running, the ideas of what to do next year start. So, for the 2020 display, the ideas and planning started in January. New items were ordered in February (generally try to hit the “pre-sale” or “early sale” when I can). Often these early orders don’t arrive for a few months. Once they show up, then the “pixel pushing” begins (putting all the lights in to the elements). Programming starts “when the mood hits” (was summer), but is often thwarted by design changes.
What does it cost to create the diaplay?
Quite honestly, I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. Everything in the display has been purchased over multiple years. I’ll say that it is “not cheap” to do. Depending on what quantity you order the lights in, and from where, and if they have “connectors” pre-attached, and how far apart each light is, etc, etc., I’d guess around $0.50 per pixel (light bulb). Then you need the controllers, and maybe props (pre-ordered cardboard items like the snowflakes, or spinners, or strips to make the mega tree, to tomato cages or other items used to create things).