How to Build Animated Christmas Lights


If you've ever seen the Osborne Family Lights display at the Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, you know how magical an animated Christmas lighting display can be. But putting together a display like this is also tough work, which involves coming up with a design, stringing the lights and syncing them to music. For first timers, start off with a small-scale animated display.

Things You'll Need

  • Christmas lights
  • Fasteners, posts or clips
  • Extension cords
  • Computer
  • Software
  • Controller
  • Plot out your design. William Bottomley, who operates High Country Lights in Ennice, North Carolina, recommends sketching out this design months in advance. Estimate all of the elements that will go into this design — how many strands of lights you'll need, how many extension cords they'll require and whether you'll need to add additional sources of power. Having this information down (in writing) far in advance of the holidays will help you visualize the final project.

  • String the lights. The exact timing of this endeavor will vary depending on how many lights you plan on including in your display. Bottomley's High Country Lights display includes hundreds of thousands of lights; he begins setting up the strands as early as September and October. For smaller displays, you can hold off stringing the lights until closer to the holidays.

  • Connect the strands of lights (or the extension cords or power strips to which they are connected) to a controller box. This box will allow you to send a programmable signal from your computer to the lights to controll the speed, intensity and frequency of the lights' "animation." Each strand of lights (or each grouping of lights connected to a single extension cord or power strip) is connected to a plug, called a "channel,” on the controller for precise animation.

  • Choreograph your lights using a computer software program. This software allows you to choose a song, coordinate the movement of the lights to the selected music and send that information along a USB cord to the controller box. You can program individual or multiple channels to move in unison with each other. This is the part where you get to be creative — there is no right or wrong way to sync the lights with a given song.

  • Experiment with different song and "dance" combinations for your animated lighting display. Because these programs allow you to save different combinations of lights and music, you can create multiple "routines" for the same display.

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  • Photo Credit christmas lights image by PHOTOFLY from
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