Professional home display

Inside a pro designers mind as his house is made into a show

If you have the time to read this article then you either need more Christmas decorations to put out or you are a really organized enthusiast. Either way I am glad you took the time to visit. PlanetChristmas is dedicated to bringing the best of Christmas decorating news to you and I am honored to be a part of the process.

This time of year is extremely busy and I have been running around like crazy with the normal tasks one has during the season. At the same time I’m investing hour-after-hour on a new design for my home display. Obviously, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Not one to go about anything in a safe and easy manner, this year I again decided to take a giant leap in a different direction. In 2008 I made an off-the-cuff comment to some fellow decorators that I would be programming 3,500 channels that year. This came from somewhere out in the ether and had no foundation in any ongoing plan I had, but the commitment was made so I worked toward that goal and almost made it. I ended up with over 3,500 device channels but was only able to program 3,486. The number was so staggeringly large that even with the shortfall of 14 channels, I didn’t have to wipe any egg off of my face.

For 2009, I cut down my home display to just over 2,000 channels, but designed a huge visual facade in the front yard and integrated a video that my wife Vickie and I put together titled “Mr. and Mrs. Claus Go to Hollywood.” Let me give you some insight on the set-up and behind-the-scene facilities that went into the design.

Outdoor rated fixture
Outdoor rated DMX-512 based moving head light

The first idea was to take away our previous years efforts of using live Mr. and Mrs. Claus characters and replace them with a video. This would give my wife and I a break from dancing eight shows per night on the weekends and keep us from requiring a different show running the other four nights of the week. The second idea was to mask the large cedar trees in our front yard. We had decorated them in the same manner for the previous three years and that idea had grown tired. Combining both ideas led me to the structure you see in the above picture.

The concave shaped scrims on the right and center are for color washes, patterns, text and custom images created with Apollo gobos. The screen on the far right is a true video screen rather than a cloth scrim. The structure was built with 20.5 inch box truss and stands 23’8” high. It is guyed with steel cable and secured with ground anchors which we augured three feet deep. The guy system will withstand a 60 mile per hour wind load.

The scrims and the video screen have Chauvet Colorado 3 LED wash lights which you can see mounted on the top of the truss and on the ground in front of the structure. Each unit is individually circuited via one iDMX-1000 and uses 12 channels of control. Each of the five vertical towers is also lit with a Colorado 3 (see below) for a total of 17 units and 204 DMX channels.

In front of the two scrims and screen are three Martin Mac 550 automated lighting fixtures with moving yokes. These fixtures use a 550 watt bulb, change color, move, zoom, focus the beam and employ two rotating wheels, each housing nine gobos. The Martin’s are mounted inside Tempest weatherproofed enclosures and are chained and pad locked to ground anchors. Each fixture uses 21 DMX channels. I ordered custom gobos from Apollo Designs depicting various images which accent the music.

Behind the far right Martin 550 is a five foot tall stick of 12 inch box truss with a plate and globe mounted on top. This is the housing for the Sanyo PLC-XM150L 6,000 lumen projector utilizing inorganic LED panels. With a standard lens it will project an image 15’ x 10.5’ from a distance of 24 feet. The projector is connected to my laptop dual monitor port and is triggered via a 720 x 480 .wmv file inserted into Light-O-Rama S2 Showtime Suite software. I inserted a black color board in the video track when the video portion of the show is not playing in order to use a single continuous video file for the 30 minute show and not have breaks nor down time between show segments.

Tube light power supplies
Tube light power supplies

On the upper and lower rooftops, I have four aluminum frames each housing eighteen three meter LED tubes. There are 144 tubes total circuited by 1,440 channels and requiring six iDMX-1000 converters. I used opto-splitters to group sections of tubes in order to keep the channel count as low as possible but still retain the look.

There are 18 power supplies each capable of supplying both power and data to 17 LED tubes. However, because of the 256 limit of the LOR iDMX-1000, I could only connect eight tubes consisting of 240 tube channels to each power supply, as you can see below.

Continuing with past tradition, I installed net and mini-lights in the five large pecan trees. This alone took four days working in a 50’ boom lift. Each tree was circuited by low, mid, high and branch.
Also in keeping with tradition I kept the three color mega-trees but added rotating stars to the top of both. The large tree is 21 feet high and the small tree is 14 feet high. We had two nine foot diameter aluminum rings made with round two inch stock laying around in the warehouse and they worked perfectly for this application. The 21 foot tree is also guyed with 1/8” steel cable. See the bases in the picture above.

Garage converted to a green screen studio
Garage converted to a green screen studio

A place where Vickie and I have spent an inordinate amount of time this year was the green screen studio I made in an empty garage. Rather than buying a green screen set-up, we went to Home Depot and bought two gallons of Behr Disney Gamma Sector Green paint and a few halogen work lights. I installed a 4 inch deck on the concrete floor, skinned it with Luan and painted it green. The real key to a successful green screen studio is even lighting and a floor that curves up into the wall. This was a very interesting project. I had no idea what I was really getting us into.

Finally, worth noting is the time saving multi-cables typically used in the professional lighting industry.


Each multi-cable provides six circuits and is handy for cutting down on the number of green and/or orange extension cords upon which we all rely.

In spite of the stop and go rain, I am looking forward to a great year. The city disconnected the street light adjacent to my house today to help darken the area. A steady stream of cars have been trolling the neighborhood the last few nights as I sat in the front yard with my laptop doing touch up on the timings between rain drops. The candy cane containers are stacked up on the buffet in the kitchen and my grand daughter has big plans for her “Mrs. Claus Hot Chocolate” stand. See our official invitation below.

But wait. There’s more than just Christmas displays!

Since writing the November article for PlanetChristmas magazine, a couple of exciting events took place. The first was a phone call from an ad salesman for a trade magazine who asked if I was attending the LDI show and Parnelli Award Ceremony in Orlando the third weekend in November. The LDI is the annual trade show for professional lighting products and the Parnelli is billed as the award ceremony which “recognizes pioneering, influential professionals and their contributions, honoring both individuals and companies. It is truly the “Oscar®” of the Live Event Industry.”

Because I was so busy during that weekend I could not find the time to make the trip. The salesman guardedly stated that he really, really thought I should go. Earlier in the month our production company, Onstage Systems had been the Southwest Region nominee for the Hometown Hero Sound Company of the Year, which is a category comprised of sound companies from five regional areas of the United States so his words sent pause through my already jumbled mind. While he would not say what he obviously already knew; the wink, wink, nod, nod tone in his words were clear enough to me.
My son and daughter now manage the company. My son had another project working so my daughter was elected to attend the award show. This was on a Thursday and she boarded a plane on Friday from Dallas to Orlando. She landed at 7:00pm, taxied to the Peabody Hotel and walked into the ballroom at 7:45pm just in time for the 8:00pm dinner. The award for which we were nominated came up at 8:15 and WE WON THE AWARD! The host for the night, founder and leader of the group Styx, Dennis DeYoung along with Big Mick Hughes, the sound engineer for Metallica presented the award to my daughter. She actually had to go up on the stage in between these industry veterans flanked with two 20’x15’ screens projecting the image of the podium, accept the award and speak to the huge audience. I am glad it was her and not me.

Just to get an overview of the industry heavyweights who were given awards that night and who helped make up the nearly 700 guests were Jake Berry, Production Manager for U2, Rolling Stones and Madonna; Stan Miller, Neil Diamond’s long time innovative sound engineer and Marc Brinkman, lighting designer for Pink Floyd. It is truly an honor to be included among all of the nominees and winners of the Parnelli.

The Monday after the Parnelli we began the set-up and rehearsals of the halftime show for the Thanksgiving Day Cowboy game at the new Cowboy Stadium. Now this is an exercise in precision timing. I thought those 0.10 second timing marks in Light-O-Rama were tedious. The amount of coordination that goes into putting a three minute production presentation inside a fifteen minute window of time beginning when the football players clear the field after the halftime whistle and ending just before the second half kickoff is exceedingly challenging and requires repetitive move-ins and move-outs with a crew of around 60 people to perfect the timing literally down to seconds on a stopwatch.

Grammy Award-nominated band Daughtry kicked off The Salvation Army’s 2009 Red Kettle Christmas Campaign with a live and nationally-televised halftime performance on CBS. It went great and I’m proud I was part of it.

And the merry-go-round goes round and round.


This article was included in the December 2009 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Charles Belcher

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