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How to Create a Holiday Light Show with Aurora

Limbic Media is entering its busiest season yet. Aurora-powered LED installations are going up around the world for the 2018 holiday season and beyond.

Aurora controls LED displays by interpreting sound and mapping that audio data into lighting design. While Aurora handles interpreting and mapping the subtleties of audio data, installers have the power of manipulating lighting design features through the Aurora Mobile App. This article guides you through how to create a holiday light show with Aurora for the 2018 holiday season using the Mobile App.

 

Aurora Singing Tree, Victoria, BC

 

The Aurora Mobile App offers a library of patterns, color palettes, and parameters to give users easy yet sophisticated light show customization. The App currently contains 9 patterns—the foundation of Aurora lighting design. Each pattern uniquely analyzes incoming audio data and maps it into specific lighting behavior. The App also contains 4 parameter sliders to adjust the speed, energy, variance, and decay of patterns. Parameters affect each pattern slightly differently, so we encourage experimenting with different combinations. Aurora also contains 24 color palettes.

Combining the patterns, parameters, and palettes give users thousands of design possibilities with no lighting design expertise required. These possibilities will only grow with continuous pattern, palette, and Mobile App development. Here’s how to create an effective holiday light show.

 

 

Step 1: Calibrate your audio input

To create a light show that intuitively reflects audio input, users must calibrate audio-reactive Aurora installations. Users can calibrate audio input in two ways—with auto gain or manual gain—depending on the audio input type. For example, an outdoor installation that responds to public interaction via microphone should be calibrated differently than an installation with an audio player or professional audio equipment plugged directly into Aurora.

Calibrate Aurora for music

Aurora installations that respond to music plugged directly into Aurora are most effective when calibrated for auto gain. This means that Aurora automatically creates light shows that are consistently responsive, no matter the volume level. If a song goes from extremely loud to very quiet, for example, the lighting design will reflect these dynamics, but not disappear completely.

To enable Auto Gain, ensure that you are connected to an Aurora installation via the Aurora Mobile App. Navigate to Device Settings > Audio Control. Select the appropriate input source, and enable Auto Gain:

 

Aurora Mobile App – Auto-Gain enabled

 

Next, adjust the level of your audio source—this could be the music volume coming from your mobile device or a professional DJ booth. Aim for the loudest sound to turn the audio select status LED (SEL) on the front of your Aurora controller yellow:

 

Aurora Pro Connector Interface – Audio Select Status LED (SEL) Illuminated

 

Calibrate Aurora for audience interaction

Aurora installations often use a USB microphone as audio input. This is popular for public spaces and holiday events, encouraging passers-by to engage with lighting design through their voices, claps, and other interactions.

These open environments used with a microphone tend to vary in audio levels and the frequency or intensity of audience interaction. This is not ideal for auto gain. For example, auto-gain allows Aurora to capture a sudden audio interaction (a clap or a loud voice) effectively—but automatically normalizes to that sound, leaving a follow-up interaction not as noticeable in contrast.

In these situations, you should use manual gain. This gives installers full control over how loud audio must be for Aurora to noticeably react. To enable manual gain, ensure that you are connected to an Aurora installation via the Aurora Mobile App. Navigate to Device Settings > Audio Control. Select the appropriate input source, and disable Auto Gain:

 

Aurora Mobile App – Manual Gain enabled

 

Adjust the Gain Boost slider until Aurora reacts to the desired level of audio input.

 

Step 2: Explore Aurora’s holiday color palettes

The color palettes available in the Aurora Mobile App are developed by Limbic Media’s creative team. The palette gradients are specifically designed to produce aesthetic light shows that look like they were created by a professional lighting designer. Custom color palettes, such as corporate colors for holiday events, can also be created on request—contact Limbic Media for more information.

For textbook holiday red/green shows, installers can choose from two red/green palettes:

 

Christmas color palette

Christmas

 

Red + Green = Yellow

 

There are also cool color palettes that work well for evoking wintery weather:

 

Christmas color palette

Off White

 

Christmas color palette

Winter

 

Christmas color palette

Cool White

 

Christmas color palette

All White

 

Warmer palettes are available for holiday installations aiming for a more traditional holiday look (think golds and blues):

 

Christmas color palette

Warm Yellow

 

Christmas color palette

Crest

 

Christmas color palette

Hot Coals

 

Christmas color palette

Sunrise

 

Christmas color palette

Royal

Step 3: Design a light show

Once you’ve calibrated your audio input and explored color palettes, you’re ready to dive into the fun part—creating light shows. Here’s how to use Show Mode or Live Control Mode in the Aurora Mobile App, as well as customize some holiday-themed patterns.

 

Use Show Mode or Live Control Mode

Users can operate Aurora lighting design in Show Mode or Live Control Mode under Device Control.

Live Control Mode allows you to adjust lighting patterns, palettes, and parameters in real-time in response to audio:

 

Aurora Mobile App

Aurora Mobile App – Live Control Mode

 

Show Mode allows you to create a sequence of predefined lighting pattern, palette, and parameter settings (cues). These cues play in sequence at specified time intervals. This helps add variation to a synchronized sound-to-light show. Ensure that preview is enabled while you’re adjusting cue settings:

 

Aurora Mobile App

Step 1 – Add a new cue


Aurora Mobile App – New Cue Screen. Turn Preview ON!


Step 3 – Show Mode with multiple cues

 

The Aurora Mobile App V1.5 also has a silence-detection feature for Show Mode, which automatically moves to the next cue when silence is detected. This is useful with song playlists, adding further variation between songs or after a musical pause. Enable the Advance Cue on Silence feature under Global Settings > Show Settings:

 

Aurora Mobile App – Advance Cue on Silence Enabled (App V1.5 or higher)


Create Holiday Patterns

Here are a few of our favorite holiday-themed patterns to create in Live Mode or Show Mode. Keep in mind that some of these patterns only work when arranged in a light grid, such as an LED curtain, canopy, or 3D cube. Installations without lights arranged in a grid (Singing Trees, for example) can be custom-mapped to better evoke 2D or 3D effects. Contact Limbic Media for details.


Snowflake

 

Capture subtle audio features through the intricate patterns of a snowflake. This effect is ideal for LED curtains or canopies that are mapped in a grid. Start with Twinkle as your pattern, a medium-high to high speed, medium energy, high variance, and low decay. Experiment with these lighting parameters to create the special snowflake you’re after:

 

Aurora Mobile App – “Snowflake” settings

Twinkling Stars

Create your own Christmas stars with Aurora’s Twinkle pattern. The twinkling star effect looks great with both cool and warm color palettes, as well as installations without lights arranged in a grid, such as Singing Trees.

The Twinkle pattern is based on the same pattern and parameter settings as a Snowflake—except with lowered speed. In the Twinkle pattern, a heightened speed affects the light arrangement of the lighting design, resulting in a snowflake-like shape.

Christmas Ball

Aurora’s Plasma pattern creates a moving Christmas ball or ornament, ideal for grid-mapped installations. Select Plasma as the pattern with low speed, high energy, low variance, and medium-low decay. Increasing the speed will affect the “bounciness” or movement of the ball:

 

Aurora Mobile App – “Christmas Ball” settings

 

These are just a few of the suggested lighting design combinations for holiday-themed installations. We recommend playing around with different palette, pattern, and parameter combinations to reinvent your traditional holiday lighting displays.

Contact Limbic Media for more ideas and lighting design support—we will be releasing the Aurora Pro Manual in the next week for a full description of Aurora patterns and parameter functions.

 

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Interview: Challenges and Trends Facing the Holiday Lighting Installation Industry

Planning holiday lighting installations might be off the average homeowner’s radar for several more months—but for those in the commercial holiday lighting industry, projects are already in the planning phase. We talked to Darren Vader of Lumyn Immersive Media about the challenges and trends facing the holiday lighting and installation industry. Darren is the founder of The Christmas Light Emporium and Extreme Lightscapes, and has years of experience in the holiday installation industry.

 

What do your companies do, and is it possible to survive year-round in the holiday lighting industry?

This depends on what aspect of the season lighting industry a company is involved in. I see the market as having basically three top level segments: residential services, commercial services and retail/wholesale/commercial product sales.

My companies are involved in technology design and consulting for commercial projects and retail/wholesale product sales. I focus heavily on creating the highest perceived value possible. This allows me to design higher-end displays, pieces and light shows using the highest quality components available, while often implementing technology that is light years ahead of others in the market. All of these things mean I have a longer sales cycle—way longer than those who focus on residential and a good bit longer that those who only focus on commercial installation. So for me, it is absolutely a year-round focus. I spend the first half of the year selling new projects and the second half of the year doing onsite consulting/installation and managing our retail operation.

 

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers.

 

For residential services, we are chiefly talking about Christmas light installers. It is not common to see a full time, year-round business with no other revenue stream. The most successful residential installers will have a few key staff that are full time/year-round and a vastly higher number of staff that are seasonal only. They also tend to pad revenue with other services such as landscaping or landscape lighting. I always tell my friends in the residential space who are successful that it’s not their skill at light installation that makes them good at what they do—it’s the fact that they are masters of logistics.

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers. This is especially true in the residential holiday lighting installation market where a huge majority of service providers are small teams just trying to monetize on a season-by-season basis, and do not run full-time seasonal lighting operations. There are a lot of larger, successful companies in this space, but there are far more who are 1—4 person, seasonal-only operations just looking for “right-now revenue.”

 

Commercial Holiday LED Lighting Installation

Extreme Lightscapes: New Orleans Christmas in the District

 

Commercial service providers typically are able to command a higher price point for their services because it requires an advanced set of skills and new logistical challenges. The venues are almost always much larger. The installation time, equipment and logistics of working in public spaces are far more complex than in the residential space. I would say that a majority of companies specializing in large commercial installations are likely to be full-time, year-round operations even if with a limited staff. This is the segment within which technology specialists such as myself and my companies exist. Technology services and consulting for complex lighting installations is an underserved niche market that requires a very unique combination of right-brain/left-brain thinking.

Retail/Wholesale/Commercial Product Sales: this is where a good bit of the real magic happens. Manufacturers and retail/wholesale entities who have the foresight to create new and exciting products for use by commercial and residential installers are the ones who drive innovation in the seasonal lighting industry. Often they are being pushed by folks like myself and others in the residential and commercial services space who are constantly demanding new and innovative products. All of the larger commercial product companies are certainly year-round operations. There are a few retailers of seasonal lighting who are able to operate full-time as well. But most of them are supplementing with some level of marketing toward patio/landscape lighting, event lighting or even municipal and general lighting products.

Regardless of which segment of the seasonal lighting industry a company participates, I believe that whether or not a company can make a full time/year-round business out of it is chiefly based on their ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value. You have to build a reputation as being one of the best in the industry nationally or even internationally in order to command top dollar and top margins, and afford to work on Christmas all year long!

 

Commercial holiday lighting installation

Photo: Extreme Lightscapes

 

How do seasonal holiday installers survive in the off-season?

Residential installers who do not run a company full-time are very often firemen, policemen, landscapers or otherwise employed in an opposing seasonal field. Residential installation companies who are full time will almost always also offer landscape or landscape lighting services to keep some cash flow rolling during other parts of the year.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing holiday installers today?

As a business owner, I think the biggest challenges are:

  • Increasing product costs from overseas manufacturers
  • Difficulty in keeping up with changes in technology and its knowledge curve
  • Maintaining the ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value

 

How do you see those challenges being addressed?

Manufacturing of holiday lighting on the high end has somewhat shifted to Europe, but that makes the cost very high. I think that in the future we will see some of the larger European companies open manufacturing facilities in the U.S.. I already see some U.S. companies in the commercial product space who are taking European style and having similar designs produced in Asia at a much lower price point. When it comes to the basic components—lighting, technology and supplies – if costs of production continue to increase in Asia, I see the possibility of U.S. distributors moving production to places like Mexico and the Philippines or other areas where cost can be brought back down a bit.

Keeping up with technology will always be a challenge. It is a generational thing. Just like my generation was the first Internet generation, we are now getting “schooled” by our kids, who are the first social media generation. In a similar fashion, I was part of the first generation of seasonal lighting technologists. I am very often getting “schooled” by the next/younger generation of technologists who, for example, are fluent with and have pushed the limits of what can be achieved with RGB lighting and control systems. At some point I feel like we have to move beyond being hands on with it ourselves and focus more on the theoretical—coming up with visions, inventions and ideas that are superior to what exist right now—and then hire the next/younger generation to build out those visions! Much like the Apple, Steve Jobs approach to technology.

 

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space.

 

Maintaining the ability to bring to market designs and technologies that have a high-perceived value, I think, is just a matter of never getting bored. You have to absolutely love seasonal lighting. When you stop loving it more than everyone else, you will stop caring about creating things with a high-perceived value. If you don’t value your ideas, neither will anyone else.

 

Multi-sensory LED light tunnel

Extreme Lightscapes Tunnel

 

What current trends are you seeing in installation projects?

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space. The human condition is so complex, and getting more so year by year, that people are becoming desensitized to what we have known as common visual and audio stimulants. The world is so audibly and visually “noisy” that we have to cut through all the mess by offering interactive displays, immersive environments and advanced sensory experiences in order to capture people’s attention, bring their minds into a peaceful zone (or a party zone, or a reflective zone, or whatever happens to be appropriate for the environment) and give them something important that will tell a story on behalf of the producer.

 

If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

 

When it comes to how: RGB RGB RGB RGB. European design. Video mapping—both using traditional projectors and more recently by using RGB pixel grids and feeding them video content. Sound, motion reactivity, physical interaction, etc.

 

What are the differences in the demands you get from commercial vs. residential clients?

I would say that commercial installers are being hit with all of the tending demand we just mentioned. They are being asked to execute these interactive and immersive visions within often very tight budgets. Residential installers I think have a completely different challenge. Residential buyers are notoriously “best price” shoppers without much regard to who the best person is for the job.

 

Up to how much do clients pay (residential vs. commercial) for their installations?

This is all over the map. I focus on commercial projects. My average project is probably around $100,000 with a huge range of $50,000-$1million, with a mean budget probably around $50,000-$75,000.

For residential installers, the range is also very wide. Most of the non-full-time, one-man operations are also wildly undercutting the full-time installers and and probably average around $200-$300 and focus on 1-story or smaller 2-story neighborhoods. At the same time, I know several full-time residential installation companies who have a $1,000 minimum per project and they are extremely successful. Their clients are typically wealthy neighborhoods and small commercial venues (small shopping centers, stand alone restaurants, etc).

 

Do you ever have clients request holiday installs that are also adaptable for year-round use?

Rarely. This is something that I am trying to educate my customers on. A seasonal display that is truly designed to bring out the feeling of the holidays is never going to be something you want left up all year long in its entirety. But we almost always are including components within those displays that most certainly could and should be considered for permanent, all-year use. This is especially true of some of the interactive displays and many components that use RGB lighting systems or projection. These systems are relatively easy to create new content for changing times of the year.

 

LED Christmas tree light show

Extreme Lightscapes Installation at Dallas Zoo

 

What role does new technology play in your business?

Massive. It’s all I do. This is what makes my company unique. There are not many of us in the seasonal lighting business who only focus on new technology. This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything else, but new technology is always what we lead with and it is what my companies are known for. There are only a small handful of others who approach seasonal lighting this way who are full-time operators. If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

 

Is interactivity a growing component of the holiday lighting install industry?

Absolutely. And not just with technology. One of the most popular types of display pieces I have included in my designs recently has been 3-dimensional pieces that people can walk through or touch. This year I am pushing these limits with the vision to bring to market solutions that are both 3-dimensional walk-through piece and immersive, multi-sensory experiences. I fully believe that this is where the market is heading. And there are a million different ways to bring this vision to fruition. I believe that the immersive movement will last for a while into the future.

 

What are some examples of interactive installations you’ve done?

Walk-through ornaments, stars, tunnels, light show tunnels, sound-to-light, Santa set built inside a light-show tree, next step—multi-sensory displays!

 

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New Developments in Sound Reactive Lighting

Welcome to Fall. As the days get darker, things at Limbic Media are lighting up.

Aurora™, our sound reactive lighting system, is getting major attention across North America with holiday installations planned in cities from coast to coast.

innovationtree1Innovation Tree

Last week we unveiled our latest project the Innovation Tree, a testament to Victoria’s high-tech innovative spirit. The Innovation Tree was made possible through a collaboration between the DVBA, the City of Victoria, and VIATEC.

The Innovation Tree is located at the bottom of Government Street near the Empress Hotel. The Innovation Tree is powered by Limbic Media’s sound reactive Aurora™ lighting system. The Aurora™ system controls 1000 LED lights in the tree and responds to the sounds of the City to create intricate and beautiful patterns of light.

At the launch the Innovation Tree came alive to the music of the The Jonnie 5 brass band and even Mayor Lisa Helps was moved to dance in the street alongside the other revelers!

 

 

Sound Reactive Lighting Algorithm Development

On another note, the amazing engineers and lighting designers at Limbic Media have been developing the audio analysis algorithms that drive the Aurora™ product. Here is a video demonstrating its power using our large globe-style fixtures.

Lights are 100% controlled by the music in real-time, no designer needed.

High Density 3D Volumetric LED Display

Recently we have been experimenting with an amazing new 3D LED display.

For the Integrate Art Festival we built an installation using more than over 1000 individually controllable 360 degree LEDs, mapped them into a 3D geometry, and used Aurora™ to analyze and visualize the incoming audio stream live from a DJ (Arya from EMP Productions).

The result is mind blowing…and this is just the beginning 🙂

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