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Lessons from a 2009 Newbie - A bit long


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I started on November 14th with an order for a LOR controller and went live last weekend 5 December. As a note I could have gone live the Saturday after T-giving, but we decided to visit the inlaws over T-giving Holiday. So I ended up with a unplanned 5 day break.

Background - I have been doing static displays for several years, and consider my displays to be pretty well thought out and designed, not huge, but nice in size and definitely the biggest in the neighborhood. For the past three years, I have been lurking on the sideline waiting to go with animation. I had done the research and was ready to order the equipment in November of the last three years, yet I would convince myself to wait until the summer LOR sale . It is cheaper, and I was starting to late in the season. Well you know the rest of the story, the summer sale would come, my mind would be elsewhere and I would never pull the trigger. Hard for me to get truly excited about animating light displays in the heat of the summer. Perhaps a bit of ADD (Look Squirrel)

This year I played it different and called the ball on November 14 to order my LOR CTB16PC Controller Shortly there after I ordered my Ramsey FM25B Transmitter. So by all accounts this was a late start. In addition, in order to fill in a gap on my house, I had decided to make up my own God Jul (Swedish for Merry Christmas) sign at 2' x 8' with 16" letters with lighted garland. So here I am in Mid November looking down the road at building and hanging a sign, hanging Christmas lights and animating my display. I love a challenge.

Since everyone has been so helpful here on the PC Forums I wanted to return some of the things that I learned in putting together an animated display for the first time, starting from scratch and a relatively late start. I hope this helps out Newbies next year, and realize it can be done. So here we go:

1. Use you existing "static" display - Starting from a known commodity in your display will help greatly and allow you to focus on the new aspects of animation. Lets be clear here, you need to think in terms of animation, and that may require some changing (for example I decided to cover some bushes with lights that I had not previously covered) Starting from scratch and designing a new display along with all the other things you will have to learn (LOR controller, sequencing, cord routing, etc) is just one more level of complexity that may not be needed. It was imperative to realize that the learning curve will be step, and as such make every attempt to resist the temptation of adding more to you display (Controllers, Lights, designs, leaping arches, mega trees etc)

2. Organize, Plan and Organize. While waiting for my controller and transmitter to arrive I spent my timing laying out my channel lineup, and then I took about 1 hour walking around my house to determine the best location for the controller. My original thought was to have it in the garage, but after visualizing my display and looking at my house I was able to find a excellent location that afforded the minimal amount of cords crossing walkways, location to two separate electrical circuits and fairly invisible to the audience. At that point I was able to begin hanging lights and ensuring that all cord ends to the lights were in a convenient location for the controller.

3. Start sequencing when you get your software. Pick a song that is short in length (<3 min). It really is an art form that needs to be practiced and cannot be forced in a night. About 1 hour of sequencing a night was all that I could take before my mind went blank. Realize that you will need to Download some sequences and probably use most of those your first year. There is a fair abundance of 16 channel sequences, that are very well done. I started out with a 5 minute song and never was able to finish it before the Lights On day. More importantly, pick something with a solid beat and rhythm. Think before sequencing, you know what you display looks like and make a decision of what you want to happen. I think the slow or traditional Christmas songs are nice but you need some time and experience before sequencing those songs. TSO is a must for the first sequencing job.

4.. Plan one evening after your controller arrives just to assemble and then play around with the functionality of the controller. Get into the Hardware editor, understand its function. Learn how the software connects to the controller, the status light, etc. Check each of the channels with a set of lights to make sure you have it wired correctly.

5. Plan one evening to play around with your FM25B and Zara Radio. Learn how both of these operate and have them up running for a couple of days prior to going live, I found it nice to have my radio station up and running while I was working on the lights. I used a radio feed from PC for most of my station, but fill in at times with my own Christmas music.

6. Hang lights at night and route extension cords during the day. I knew that I would need some new cords but was not sure how many or what length. So one morning and I stretched out all my current extension cords on the ground, and then looked at each of my channels that needed to be routed. I was then able to judicially use my cords and only need to buy 4 extra cords to make it all work. In the end, routing all the lights to one spot in the yard is much easier in my opinion , than trying to spread them all around to different outlets. Moreover, I really wanted to minimize any daisy chaining of cords, and try to have one cord for each channel. I was able to route all but 3 channels on a single cord. I used some cord protectors that I found at Menards to seal the junctions on my other cords. I plan on labeling my cords when I break down my display so that it will be even easier next year.

7. Pay for Package 5 on the Demented Elf. Kevin's Voice-overs are great and provide excellent fillers for your show. I think they add a touch of professionalism to the show. I cannot say enough about his customer service or the quality of his work. Because of a late shipment, my FM25B was not going to arrive as expected. This was delaying my verification of my frequency. . As such, I could not send in my questionnaire to Kevin. Kevin was able to turn around my order in a day!! Enough said!!

8. Don't forget the sign! People need to know what channel to tune to and listen. Home depot has some nice blank outdoor signs and Office Max has good 6" letters. I made a sign in about 30 mins, looks good and gets the point across.

9. Software. I had a Dickens (Holiday Pun Intended) of a time deciding on which package. I started with the Basic and then upgraded to the Basic Plus. Now after setting up shows, I see that the Advanced would be nice (at the very least standard). I would recommend resisting the temptation to move up beyond the basic plus. I think the Basic Plus offers enough to digest if starting late in the season, and more than enough tools to sequence a song. It would be nice to have the startup and shutdown sections, but my current show is configurable in the show builder, but I could see the ease in scheduling with the upgraded program.

10. Read and ask questions on the Forums. Do a search first of your topic, I guarantee it has been asked in the past. Take special note in the areas that can cause issues (GFCI, LEDs, etc).

There may be more lessons learned as I the show runs, and hope to see people parked outside my house enjoying my work. The moment the lights went active and started dancing to TSO WoW, it made it all worth it and I am already looking forward to next year. It is nice to enjoy the lights and see the cheer it brings to the holiday season.

Thanks for the help PC team, and feel free to add to my thoughts and hopefully we can keep a running record for 2010 Newbies.

Erik

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All very good suggestions, some of which I was ahead of the curve on when I started a few years back, and some that I was behind the curve on. Here's my 2 cents worth of suggestions:

1. Take a photo of your house and print out a couple of copies. Walk around with these and mark where exterior outlets are and measure the runs for light strings on columns, overhangs, windows, ect. This will give you an idea of how many sets of lights you will need and how many extension cords and what lengths you will need to buy.

2. Make a copy of your music for the car, ipod, office computer, ect. Listen to it multiple times before you begin to sequence it. Yes you will be tired of the music but, you can begin mapping the lights out in your head and you’ll have a better feel for the rhythm and mood changes in the music. You will end up with a better sequences (I think) when your lights don’t just blink to the music but, really follow the changes in the song.

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Great tips that you have there. Another thing that I have not read often that I learned quickly back in 2006 when I first started sequencing:

When you are first starting out, it might be a good idea to not necessarily start with a list of songs you are "going" to sequence, but instead to listen to many songs, and just keep listening with your display layout in your head.

There will come a moment in one song the first time you hear it that you will immediately see the lights do something in your mind and know that you want to do this song so that you can make them do that (notice...it just happens in your mind in a random song...it is not constant listening and visualization of an already picked out song). It might be the beginning of the song, or somewhere in the middle (heck, it might be the end). But once you find that spot in listening, start there.

Sequence that song first, before any others, and most importantly, sequence the section of the song that you visualized first, no matter where it falls in the song. Do not worry about tapping out or doing anything to the rest of it, yet. Just focus on that one moment. Once that one moment is perfect enough for you, go back and build the rest of the sequence around it (my song was TSO: Appalachian Snowfall...never even listened to or considered it until about 10 seconds of it hit me while I was driving around one night).

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All the points are pretty much how I and probably the rest of us started out. Another thing I do is label everything. All my cords are marked with the length and/or purpose. Each year I create dedicated runs to cut down on the connection time.

I also keep a journal each day of the setup season to keep me on track with last year. This is where I make notes for the following season - add more snowflakes to the roof, get spare controller, etc. We all tend to do a purge after the stuff is put away.

Also keep a light count of your pieces. This too will help in setup, especially if you need to add a controller to a power feed line. I had to do that this year. The items that it controlled were minimal so i could plug this controller into to the same 14-ga cord as another one.

Take current readings with the display fully on. Once again this will assist in planning for next season as well as piece of mind for the current (bad pun) season.

The folks here on PC are the best. There is never any shortage of opinions.

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I agree in that certain songs will just jam in your mind.. you will be listening to christmas music in the summer.. i always leave one CD in my Jeep's 6 changer or a playlist on the ipod and throughout the year I play them... and bang sometimes ill just imagine my display goign to the lights.. and so I whip out the iphoneand make notes...

another thing is keep a log of the order that you lay things down when building up the display.. when you grow to have lots of lights channels and cords you will forget which ones went down first by ewnd of season.. it helps to tear down in the revierse order you built... lot less tangles and damaged equipment...

I use different colored tie-wraps to label, cords, controller feeds ,etc they dont come off in the rain or wash out etc..

and to the OP.. i started real late my first year too., mid october that year I hadnt even known what a "sequence" was but somehow pulled off a show of 48 channels that year...

-Christopher

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  • 2 weeks later...

I started on November 14th with an order for a LOR controller and went live last weekend 5 December. As a note I could have gone live the Saturday after T-giving, but we decided to visit the inlaws over T-giving Holiday. So I ended up with a unplanned 5 day break.

Background - I have been doing static displays for several years, and consider my displays to be pretty well thought out and designed, not huge, but nice in size and definitely the biggest in the neighborhood. For the past three years, I have been lurking on the sideline waiting to go with animation. I had done the research and was ready to order the equipment in November of the last three years, yet I would convince myself to wait until the summer LOR sale . It is cheaper, and I was starting to late in the season. Well you know the rest of the story, the summer sale would come, my mind would be elsewhere and I would never pull the trigger. Hard for me to get truly excited about animating light displays in the heat of the summer. Perhaps a bit of ADD (Look Squirrel)

This year I played it different and called the ball on November 14 to order my LOR CTB16PC Controller Shortly there after I ordered my Ramsey FM25B Transmitter. So by all accounts this was a late start. In addition, in order to fill in a gap on my house, I had decided to make up my own God Jul (Swedish for Merry Christmas) sign at 2' x 8' with 16" letters with lighted garland. So here I am in Mid November looking down the road at building and hanging a sign, hanging Christmas lights and animating my display. I love a challenge.

Since everyone has been so helpful here on the PC Forums I wanted to return some of the things that I learned in putting together an animated display for the first time, starting from scratch and a relatively late start. I hope this helps out Newbies next year, and realize it can be done. So here we go:

1. Use you existing "static" display - Starting from a known commodity in your display will help greatly and allow you to focus on the new aspects of animation. Lets be clear here, you need to think in terms of animation, and that may require some changing (for example I decided to cover some bushes with lights that I had not previously covered) Starting from scratch and designing a new display along with all the other things you will have to learn (LOR controller, sequencing, cord routing, etc) is just one more level of complexity that may not be needed. It was imperative to realize that the learning curve will be step, and as such make every attempt to resist the temptation of adding more to you display (Controllers, Lights, designs, leaping arches, mega trees etc)

2. Organize, Plan and Organize. While waiting for my controller and transmitter to arrive I spent my timing laying out my channel lineup, and then I took about 1 hour walking around my house to determine the best location for the controller. My original thought was to have it in the garage, but after visualizing my display and looking at my house I was able to find a excellent location that afforded the minimal amount of cords crossing walkways, location to two separate electrical circuits and fairly invisible to the audience. At that point I was able to begin hanging lights and ensuring that all cord ends to the lights were in a convenient location for the controller.

3. Start sequencing when you get your software. Pick a song that is short in length (<3 min). It really is an art form that needs to be practiced and cannot be forced in a night. About 1 hour of sequencing a night was all that I could take before my mind went blank. Realize that you will need to Download some sequences and probably use most of those your first year. There is a fair abundance of 16 channel sequences, that are very well done. I started out with a 5 minute song and never was able to finish it before the Lights On day. More importantly, pick something with a solid beat and rhythm. Think before sequencing, you know what you display looks like and make a decision of what you want to happen. I think the slow or traditional Christmas songs are nice but you need some time and experience before sequencing those songs. TSO is a must for the first sequencing job.

4.. Plan one evening after your controller arrives just to assemble and then play around with the functionality of the controller. Get into the Hardware editor, understand its function. Learn how the software connects to the controller, the status light, etc. Check each of the channels with a set of lights to make sure you have it wired correctly.

5. Plan one evening to play around with your FM25B and Zara Radio. Learn how both of these operate and have them up running for a couple of days prior to going live, I found it nice to have my radio station up and running while I was working on the lights. I used a radio feed from PC for most of my station, but fill in at times with my own Christmas music.

6. Hang lights at night and route extension cords during the day. I knew that I would need some new cords but was not sure how many or what length. So one morning and I stretched out all my current extension cords on the ground, and then looked at each of my channels that needed to be routed. I was then able to judicially use my cords and only need to buy 4 extra cords to make it all work. In the end, routing all the lights to one spot in the yard is much easier in my opinion , than trying to spread them all around to different outlets. Moreover, I really wanted to minimize any daisy chaining of cords, and try to have one cord for each channel. I was able to route all but 3 channels on a single cord. I used some cord protectors that I found at Menards to seal the junctions on my other cords. I plan on labeling my cords when I break down my display so that it will be even easier next year.

7. Pay for Package 5 on the Demented Elf. Kevin's Voice-overs are great and provide excellent fillers for your show. I think they add a touch of professionalism to the show. I cannot say enough about his customer service or the quality of his work. Because of a late shipment, my FM25B was not going to arrive as expected. This was delaying my verification of my frequency. . As such, I could not send in my questionnaire to Kevin. Kevin was able to turn around my order in a day!! Enough said!!

8. Don't forget the sign! People need to know what channel to tune to and listen. Home depot has some nice blank outdoor signs and Office Max has good 6" letters. I made a sign in about 30 mins, looks good and gets the point across.

9. Software. I had a Dickens (Holiday Pun Intended) of a time deciding on which package. I started with the Basic and then upgraded to the Basic Plus. Now after setting up shows, I see that the Advanced would be nice (at the very least standard). I would recommend resisting the temptation to move up beyond the basic plus. I think the Basic Plus offers enough to digest if starting late in the season, and more than enough tools to sequence a song. It would be nice to have the startup and shutdown sections, but my current show is configurable in the show builder, but I could see the ease in scheduling with the upgraded program.

10. Read and ask questions on the Forums. Do a search first of your topic, I guarantee it has been asked in the past. Take special note in the areas that can cause issues (GFCI, LEDs, etc).

There may be more lessons learned as I the show runs, and hope to see people parked outside my house enjoying my work. The moment the lights went active and started dancing to TSO WoW, it made it all worth it and I am already looking forward to next year. It is nice to enjoy the lights and see the cheer it brings to the holiday season.

Thanks for the help PC team, and feel free to add to my thoughts and hopefully we can keep a running record for 2010 Newbies.

Erik

What is package 5 of the Demented Elf and what are the voice overs?

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6. Hang lights at night and route extension cords during the day. I knew that I would need some new cords but was not sure how many or what length. So one morning and I stretched out all my current extension cords on the ground, and then looked at each of my channels that needed to be routed. I was then able to judicially use my cords and only need to buy 4 extra cords to make it all work. In the end, routing all the lights to one spot in the yard is much easier in my opinion , than trying to spread them all around to different outlets. Moreover, I really wanted to minimize any daisy chaining of cords, and try to have one cord for each channel. I was able to route all but 3 channels on a single cord. I used some cord protectors that I found at Menards to seal the junctions on my other cords. I plan on labeling my cords when I break down my display so that it will be even easier next year.

I know this seems weird, but it works. If you have lots of bushes to do, it's a good idea to do them at dusk, so you can see what you're doing! I did mine during the day and they look alright. As I look back at them now, I see how I could've evened them out more, but my bushes are really small.

Because I was crunched for time, I had to do extension cords at night. It was dark, cold and I was tired of cabling...so I just plugged cord into cord the fastest and easiest way possible (the shortest distance, too!). In some places, I have a few 9' extension cords together...and they're running all over the landscape.

Do set your cords out and find proper lengths, plan cords too!

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You beat me to the punch! ;-) I was actually thinking of posting the same thing. Great suggestions in this thread for anyone just starting out. If your either new to the board, or considering your first animated display...you will get great support from this group!

I'll try to interject a few thoughts...but man...you guys are good! Covered just about everything in my head :-)

I started on November 14th with an order for a LOR controller and went live last weekend 5 December.

>>>>Very brave soul ;-) If your reading this thread now or into the late summer

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