Festive displays are one of the highlights of the holiday season. With lights dancing across his home, Lakeland resident Allen Range knows all too well this delight. He also knows the joy it brings others, seeing cars stop to watch the display and children dancing along to the choreographed light show. While a magical sight to see, it takes quite a bit more than magic to bring together.
Range and his wife Jane had a static holiday display for many years. Made up of “static lights and some inflatables,” Range described, “it was very basic.” That all changed in 2015 after Range watched The Great Christmas Light Fight Show the year prior.
“I’ve always been drawn to electronics, modifying (hacking) electro-mechanical systems, and all gadgets,” shared Range. “I had watched the great Christmas light fight show on TV in late 2014 and one of the participants talked about all the DIY electronics involved. Shortly thereafter I happened to see a small automated display including a tree with RGB lights in Sumner. Later that week I got online and searched for how to build my own automated display.”
Connecting with an online DIY Christmas Forum, Range was off! “[I] connected with the community, I asked a lot of questions and that helped me get started.”
Auburn Examiner: How do you plan the songs and light choreograph?
Allen Range: There’s a big online community for Christmas lighting where people share techniques, song selections, and even sequences. I watch a lot of other displays for inspiration and ideas. Then I translate those to the equipment and setup I have built out for the year. The actual programming (called sequencing in the hobby) requires a significant amount of time as well. I spend between two and five hours per song depending on how much of the sequence needs to be created from scratch and how much can be adapted to my show from shared sequences and routines.
AE: How do you select the songs?
AR: I like upbeat and fun songs, but I also like to include some classics. I want enough variety to make it worth visiting multiple times. I also like to include the singing trees when possible to add life to the show.
AE: When do you begin planning the display?
AR: As strange as it sounds, I start planning for the following year between the current Christmas and New Year. Since I don’t want to make any changes to the display during show weeks I spend time critiquing and looking for ways to improve the experience. I will usually order more pixels (individually controllable RGB LEDs), controllers, and props between mid-January and March when they are discounted.
AE: How long does it take you to put up the display?
AR: This year I probably spent about 400 hours planning, building props, electronics, housings, cabling, and mounting systems. For example, I bought over 500 linear feet of ¼” PVC which acts as a mounting structure for props and pixels. That all must be measured, cut, and built-in advance to reduce setup time in early November. The actual seasonal installation began in early October with the roofline and some of the roof-mounted items to avoid being on the roof in the rain. The rest was completed over three or four weekends leading up to Thanksgiving.
AE: How has your display changed over the years?
AR: In 2015 I had 16 channels of controllable LED lights. Each channel could be turned on and off and dimmed but was essentially a programmable dimmer switch for 110V AC light strands. For 2016 and 2017 I added the four singing Christmas trees that lip-sync to the song vocals. In 2018 I added my first Pixels in the form of a 650-pixel tree. For 2019 I’ve gone all pixels (except for the singing trees) with over 5700 individually controllable lights including the 1900-pixel mega tree. This required learning an entirely new sequencing software product and hardware architecture.
AE: How did you learn to build an animated display?
AR: A lot of research and time on the various Christmas lighting forums. The user community is extremely available, knowledgeable, and supportive of new members. Often an answer to a question posted in the group is available within minutes and there is a large video tutorial library developed by community members.
AE: What equipment do you use?
AR: Physical equipment includes Falcon pixel controllers, an e1.31 bridge and Renard SS24s for the singing trees, and various networking gear.
AE: How do you have your own radio station?
AR: FCC regulations allow individuals to run low power transmitters if you transmit on an open channel. It’s really nice to be able to have folks listen and view from their warm, dry car.
AE: How much power do your lights take?
AR: The whole display consumes less than 1000 watts when all LEDs are on full. This is primarily because I only run the pixels at 30% power.
AE: Where do you store it all?
AR: I have a 6’x10’ storage shed dedicated to the storage of the show items. Most of the items store flat and I have plenty of room in the shed for expansion.
AE: How do the neighbors feel about your display?
AR: They are very supportive – often asking me about upcoming changes. The children in the neighborhood really have enjoyed the lights and can often be found dancing in the driveway to the music.
AE: Which is your favorite performance?
AR: I would say that this year it is Sleigh Ride by Pentatonix. It’s one of the sequences I purchased from a professional sequencer I met online and then I spent two-hours adapting and modifying it to my display.
AE: Do you decorate for any other holiday?
AR: Of course, but not to this degree. However, next year I would like to add some Halloween props and sequence a few songs for that holiday. I’m thinking Ghostbusters, Thriller, or something along those lines. It will also give me a chance to test and tune the hardware before the main event – Christmas.
Range’s hard work recently paid off when the display received four Paper Plate Awards. The display won “Bright Award,” “Best Music,” “Best Singing Trees,” and “Most Christmas Spirit.” “This means a lot to us and [we] really appreciate the kind gestures,” said Range. “We will use these as motivation to keep improving our show!”
Visit the Lakeland Hills Light Display
The Range’s display can be seen in person at 1521 59th PL SE in Auburn, WA (in the Ashton subdivision of the Lakeland Community in South Auburn). The show runs daily through January 6th from around 5:00pm to around 9:30pm. You can tune in to 92.1FM and listen from the comfort of your car.
Range’s Tips for visiting:
- Tune to 92.1FM and stay warm in your car
- Current show length is about 45 minutes with song changes happening throughout the season.
- Please be courteous to our neighbors and other viewers by keeping your volume reasonable and turning your headlights off.
- The best place to watch from is the center of the cul-de-sac (as shown in the preview video).
- Please don’t block the display while watching.
- We often have children dancing in front of the display so be on alert (dancing is optional, but encouraged).
If you can’t make it out to the Lakeland Hills Lights display, Pacific NW Christmas Lights recently did a live stream from their display. The video is featured on the group’s Facebook page. Pacific NW Christmas Lights highlights holiday displays of all kinds in the Pacific Northwest. Their website features a map of submitted displays worth checking out. The group’s Facebook includes videos of their visits to submitted displays.