December 1, 2023 — The Christmas Salmon are now in their second decade of blinking to the music. The display and the show have grown every year since the salmon first appeared, and they are now but a side stage to the main display. Keen observers will see small fill-in additions yet again this year. The most noticeable new thing is the snowflakes adorning the mega-arches on my neighbour’s boulevard. For the kids, Bluey and Bingo have also joined the Christmas Robot as occasional singers. As with every year, I’ve added a few more song sequences, now over 50, to the Christmas playlist, so there should be something for all tastes and ages.
There are two ways to enjoy the show 1) park on the side of the road (facing west is best), tune your radio to 99.7FM, and enjoy the peekaboo view. If you don’t mind braving the rain/cold, come out and stand on our driveway, inside the fence, to see it live.
To spread the cheer, please bring some non-perishable goods to the food bank.
How this madness started
I got into light animation 11 years ago, but I’ve always loved outdoor light decorations. My father happily gave me the go-ahead to decorate our home with Christmas lights when I was twelve, and I haven’t looked back. Consequently, our house has always had a lot of lights at Christmas and on any other special occasion.
The current madness started a few years ago when my daughter drew some pictures of spawning salmon, which we promptly decided would look great at Christmas. In 2011, we built some outlines, added lights, and set them out, so they looked like they were swimming up a 60-foot river of lights. A year later, I got them to “dance” to music – sort of. Since then, I’ve added a mega-tree, arches, ground lights, and many other props.
Our Beachview display featured over 50 hand-built elements, 18,000 lights, and over 50,000 channels – one channel corresponds to one conventional LED. Over 17,000 of those lights are individually controlled pixels, with red, green, and blue LEDs inside each pixel (i.e., 3 channels) that can each be controlled to produce over 16 million different colours. The Eureka Place display features over 100 elements, 15,000 lights, and 40,000 channels. Including the display matrices, there are over 60,000 individually controlled lights and 180,000 channels. The lights are connected to a network of controllers that interface with the lights. I built most of the original controllers based on designs (and “kits”) by Robert Jordan at DiyLightAnimation and David Pitts & MyKroFT at Falcon Christmas. As this hobby has grown in popularity, I’ve been able to upgrade to more advanced pre-built controllers from Falcon Christmas and Kulp Lights.
This year’s show runs on a Raspberry Pi 4 running Falcon Player software originally written by David Pitts but is now continuously updated by a team of volunteer developers, which drives the controllers. In total, there are 15 controllers spread around the yard. Each of these controls a set of lights, e.g., the inside tree and the ground lights. Each controller is connected to a master through a high-speed ethernet network, both wired and wireless.
The light animation sequences are created using Xlights/Nutcracker software, originally designed by Matt Brown (Xlights) and Sean Meighan (Nutcracker) but now continuously updated by a team of volunteer developers from all over the world. All the software and hardware I use are non-commercial.
Each song takes me about 8-10 hours per minute to animate and synchronize to the music, so the average song you see has taken about 25 hours to sequence, often much more. Because sequencing is so time-consuming, I have not had enough time in recent years to sequence all my own songs. Fortunately, there is a growing community of light animation enthusiasts, and we have been able to start sharing each other’s sequences. One of the most talented is Lilia Meighan from Colorado, and I have several of her sequences in my show. Starting with someone else’s initial sequencing reduces the sequencing time to 2-3 hours per minute, which makes it possible for me to add several new songs every year instead of only 1 or 2. I now have over two and a half hours of sequenced music.