A synchronized light show in Alpharetta Georgia. Over 50,000 Lights.
We're going to cover the following topics on this page:
What is Sequencing
Our approach to Sequencing
Using Light-O-Rama to Sequence
Using xLights to Sequence
What is Sequencing
Simply stated, sequencing is the process of choreographing the lights to the audio file (music). However, it's not really that simple. I recently heard it said that sequencing is more art than science. It's the art of melding the lights and music so the viewers see them as one cohesive presentation that they both see and feel.
That said, it can be well done or it can be badly done and there are shows that represent every point on the spectrum.
Our Approach to Sequencing
I hear from a lot of our viewers statements like "Your show just feels different from other shows we've seen." In this section I want to explain our approach to the art of sequencing and share my thoughts on why our show "feels" different. Apart from the music, sequencing is about color and motion. In the next sections I'll share how we use these factors in designing our sequences.
Choosing a Color Theme
When we decide to add a song to our show, one of the first things we do is consider a color theme for the song. Does the song make us think of a specific color (or set of colors). For example, when we began thinking about the song Feliz Navidad we thought festive colors would be perfect. We considered that the song has both Spanish and English portions. Based on that we chose to use the festive colors for the Spanish parts and more traditional Christmas colors (red and green) for the English parts.
Some songs may not call to mind a specific color, or combination of colors, so we look at the other sequences in our show consider a color combination that we have not used for the next song. Blue is a great color for any winter themed song (like "Let it Go" from Frozen) or maybe Elvis' hit"Blue Christmas."
Motion or No Motion
When you look at most animated lights shows you see all the lights flashing all the time. We think it feels better to split the props into three categories:
Static - On steady or Off
Slowly Changing - Rotating through sequence colors
Motion - Fast or slow movement based on the motion identified for the sequence
We like to have about 50% of the props static or slowly changing and the other 50% doing motion. We also shift the roles around during the sequence. For example, the rings and pixels trees might switch from motion to slowly changing or static while the spinners and arches take the motion for another portion of the sequence.
Identifying the Motion of the Music
We start by listening repeatedly to the music to feel the motions. Does it feel like a fast chase, a controlled fade or maybe a bounce. Some songs may feel different in different parts leading to the choice of more than one motion. It's not a problem if a song only suggests one motion because we can do the same motion on different props, or in different colors, at different times in the song.
An example of feeling a motion would be how we handled the windows in our song Light of Christmas. We felt like a bounce was a prominent feel in many parts of the song so we gave it a prominent place in the windows. We usually consider the windows for static or slowly changing effects but for this songs they get to be stars in the show.
Looking for Opportunities to Repeat Motions
We can use the fact that the human brain is an amazing thing to save time and still make our sequence feel good to the viewer. Too much motion can result in a feeling of chaos but there's a way to have plenty of motion and still have it look good. We can put the same motion on different shaped props and the viewer won't realize it's the same but their brain will spot it and it will just feel right.
An example of this can be found in our song Wizards in Winter. For the last third of the song, where there is a lot of movement, the arches, wreaths, spinners and half spinner are all doing the exact same motion. Since the props are shaped differently the motion looks different. I was able to just copy and paste, so trust me when I tell you it's the exact same motion.
Using Light-O-Rama to Sequence
A lot of folks have placed videos on YouTube explaining how to use the the Light-O-Rama (LOR) sequencing tool so I'm not going to cover that here. Instead, I want to share my thoughts about what I consider to be the strengths of the tool.
The LOR sequencer is our primary sequencing tool for two reasons:
Because it's the one we learned first and feel the most comfortable using. A recent switch to the totally redeveloped S6 version caused us to temporarily question this choice. We took a 2 day class on the S6 software at Christmas Expo and decided to stays with it.
Because it's a "time increment" based sequencer. LOR has always been about making something happen in individual increments of time. This requires quite a bit of work but it seems to work with our brains.
An example: To make a 25 pixel arch start at the left and end at the right and move one pixel at a time in 50 beats of a song I could set the timings at the beats and just turn each pixel on/off in pairs of the timings. When I execute the sequence on our arch it would move exactly with the beats.
The new S6 version has something called Motion Control that would let you do it with much less work but it would not be exactly the same when executed. I'll explain further in the xLights section below.
Using xLights to Sequence
A lot of folks have placed videos on YouTube explaining how to use the the xLights sequencing tool so I'm not going to cover that here. Instead, I want to share my thoughts about what I consider to be the strengths of the tool.
Thousands of people would tell me that it's possible to use xLights just like I described above (in the LOR section) and I won't argue with them but I would argue that it's not what xLights was designed for and it's not how most xLights users use it.
Before someone misunderstands, I love xLights and there are a number of things for which xLights is my go-to tool. I develop it in xLights and paste it into the LOR sequence. In my opinion it's the best of both worlds to accomplish my sequencing.
I consider xLights to be a "window of time" based sequencer. The xLights sequencer is more about having an effect happen in a window of time instead of what I called an "increment" of time above (LOR section). I'm going to use the same example as above to explain what I mean.
The example: Using xLights I can set a timing at the beginning of my 50 beats and another at the end of my 50 beats. Then I can specify that I want a chasing effect to happen one bulb at a time and complete just once during the timing (50 beats) duration. If I execute the sequence on our arch it will probably look exactly the same as it did using the 50 paired LOR time increments.
If I took the commands that xLights generated and pasted them into LOR, I would probably see slight variations in where the pixels were turned on/off and they would not line up exactly with the LOR time increments. Why is this? Because xLights did the math to divide the time into 25 equal divisions and control the lights. Here's the important point, in reality the difference WOULD NOT MATTER to someone watching the show. The key difference is that xLights was a lot easier to use to accomplish the task. Before you think I've lost my mind, I must explain that my example is a purposely simple one and there are scenarios where I would consider the variance caused by xLights approach to be unacceptable.
I mentioned the addition of Motion Control to LOR in the S6 software. They added that to allow LOR users to do it exactly like the xLights folks were doing it. While future releases may get better, I think xLights still does it better.