Arduino Light Show FAQ

Once in a while, I get the same few questions about my Arduino light shows. I figured it would be a good idea to address those questions and throw in whatever extra information I can.

Q. Are you processing the audio in any way?

No. I tried a tutorial that uses Processing that identifies the levels of different frequency ranges in a song and the Arduino relays the info by way of LEDs, but I think that sort of thing is better suited for mood lighting or lighting features (like those water fountain speakers). My shows include LED patterns and moving servos that wouldn’t be controlled by this method, or at least it would likely be very difficult to do.

Q. Can you post your code?

I do not publicly post my code for the shows because they’re not really meant for other people to read and interpret. I do not document the code as I program the shows so there would be a lot of confusion as you try to follow along, which happens to me at times. As long as you know how to use the Servo libraries, for loops, and delays, there’s not much else to to know.

Q. How did you program the show?

It’s trial and error. The process is just replaying the song over and over and slowly adding on more code until I reach the end. (By the time I have a video up, I’m sick of the song.) There’s nothing neat or fancy about it.

Q. What went into building the show?

Talking about the latest show, there were a few key elements. It all started with two lines of breadboarded LEDs. The towers were constructed using cardboard and tissue paper to diffuse the RGB LED light in each tower. The “spotlights” were three servo motors with an RGB LED taped onto each servo horn. Behind the scenes was an Arduino Mega 2560 (compatible) along with three mini-breadboards to distribute power and to setup the resistors for some of the LEDs. Half of the wiring was 22AWG solid-core wire, the other half were female-to-male jumper wires.

Q. Inspirations?

World of Color at Disney California Adventure started it all. Canada’s Wonderland, my home park, upgraded their fountains over the past couple of years so that has also helped inspire me to continue. I also ran a short-lived (like they all are) website called More Than Starlight that was a blog and database for fountain and light shows. I discovered many amazing shows across the world which helped build up to my first light show.

Visit the Light Show project webpage here.


All gone

Taking down the light show project took about an hour and a half. It was actually kind of fun.

IMG_20131129_105510The two black servos were reusing the same RGB LEDs from the first light show project with servos. They were soldered poorly because I don’t have a very good soldering iron or any “helping hands”. While I was programming the Let It Go sequence, one of the connections finally gave way.

IMG_20131129_110301I didn’t realize this picture came out blurry until it was all gone. I just wanted to document the mess hiding backstage.

IMG_20131129_105754I started by stripping out all of the LEDs.

IMG_20131129_110244The next part was getting rid of the cardboard towers. The majority of the time was spent on removing all of the tape holding everything together.

So that’s another project in the books. I’m looking forward to the next one! Thanks for reading!

The final go.

And that’s a wrap on this one! This project will be coming down shortly so I can regroup for a new project into the new year.

The biggest thing I learned from this one is that simplicity can still work. There were a number of different elements to this show that I didn’t know how to handle it all at the same time. I felt like the first light shows I made with servos were easier to move forward with. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep exploring new ideas, though.

I’ll probably post a few destruction pictures. It always stinks taking a project down but I’m ready to try something new.

Last chance

I’ve been close to just scrapping the new light show now but I’m giving it one more go. I have finally used up all 70 pins on the Arduino Mega. There were 9 pins still open since the Christmas Special, so where were they used?


Two more border LEDs were added. Also, the green and red LEDs were swapped out for all whites.


The last seven open pins were given two these background LEDs. Two bundles of red, green, and blue LEDs will illuminate the area behind the towers (you can kind of see the effect in the first picture). The last pin was given to a single white LED in the middle.

These background LEDs were originally going to remedy my issue of not being able to shine any light on the breadboard LEDs since the towers get in the way of the spotlights. I couldn’t do it because I ran out of jumper wires. In fact, the background LEDs were wired using wires taken from Greg the robot. Don’t worry, he still functions, he just doesn’t have any LEDs anymore.

The very last change is seen in the last picture. I play around with the configuration of the breadboard LEDs but it’s not very noticeable when I record the video and because it’s so subtle. In the next video, I do plan on recording the show a little bit higher. It’s just that I found the camera stays in focus better if it’s stable so I’ll need to find something taller (I’ve actually been using the PLC trainer as a stand).

So that’s it. I plan on doing one very very short song before the end of the year. I will probably scrap the project in favor of a refresh for the beginning of 2014. Thanks for reading!

PREMIERE — Christmas Special 2013

Yesterday I made a post about what I envisioned when I was building the show. Now that it’s out there, it’s a little easier to make a few more notes about the show.

  • The original tracklist was “Spirit of the Season” (Alan Silvestri) , “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (Mariah Carey), “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano), and “Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday” (Nsync).
    • “Feliz Navidad” was changed to the Glee version because it wasn’t as upbeat. I dislike Glee, but their rendition of Feliz Navidad was good.
    • Spirit of the Season was cut to just that short opening bit because I made it half way through the song but it was just dragging on. At that point, I lost a lot of motivation which is why Mariah Carrey’s track disappeared completely.
    • All of these revisions of the soundtrack resulted in a very short show. I suppose it’s better than nothing.
  • One thing I was counting on was having the servo LEDs shine onto the breadboard but the neighboring towers prevent it from doing so. If I keep up with this setup, I will have to move them around.
  • The last spotlight at the end of Feliz Navidad is supposed to be bowing, a homage to World of Color at Disney California Adventure.
  • I know it seems early for a Christmas show but if Disney parks can do it, why can’t I?

I hope you enjoyed it! Happy holidays!

Christmas Arduino light show coming tomorrow

As it looks right now, the Christmas Arduino light show will debut tomorrow.

It’s been a rough ride. Even though I really enjoyed how the stage came together, I found it to be a struggle to keep patterns fresh. That’s why the original 6 minute soundtrack got chopped multiple times down to a 2 minute mix of songs that should not be together. I gave up half way through the first song but I kept the first little bit of it because I didn’t want it to go to waste. It sets up a really weird tone to the show, but it is what it is. The reason the song selection is so strange is because traditional Christmas songs are just too gentle and I wanted strobes and racing LEDs and chaos. With the movement in what is the post-show, I still count it as part of the show so it’s still as long as the first generation light shows (the ones before the Halloween special). You’ll understand tomorrow…

I’m not sure where to go next with this project. I’m leaning toward destroying it and trying something different again, but I did that the last time and it took me months to get back to doing something with my LEDs… I’ll decided soon enough.

The extra feature I wanted to add was the illuminated words “Happy Holidays” above the stage which would get focus in the post-show. I scrapped that plan pretty quickly when I actually tried making it.

I hope you’ll take a couple minutes to enjoy the show tomorrow. Here are a few pictures from the final show:

IMG_20131122_170044 IMG_20131122_170103 IMG_20131122_170232

Now the stage is set…?

When I started picking out the songs, I felt like they were too slow to do anything fun so the selection is kind of weird and even features a Glee song even though I dislike the show. With the soundtrack down, I started programming.

I’ve programmed 19 seconds of the Christmas show that I’m not even completely happy with. It’s not going as well as I hoped.

With that, I thought something needed to change. The easiest thing to change was the servo orientation. I wanted to make it as if all three were “dancing” together but it looked weird with one going to side to side. I wanted to go back to the orientation like my first light show with servos but there’s not enough room. The best option I could come up with were all of them facing out moving up and down.


Hopefully this will help me figure out what I want to do. It’s a good thing I started early this year.