Creating holiday lighting magic with tweets, texts and tech

Jolt Lighting helps make Overland Park display interactive with tweets and texts

Overland Park-based Jolt Lighting helps out with setting up the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead holiday lights display every year. Aaron O’Dell, co-founder of the lighting company, volunteers to help engineer the massive show. This video includes
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Overland Park-based Jolt Lighting helps out with setting up the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead holiday lights display every year. Aaron O’Dell, co-founder of the lighting company, volunteers to help engineer the massive show. This video includes

Don’t bother driving by Aaron O’Dell’s house this Christmas. This mixer of light, music and motion is, well, making the holidays shine for others.

“My house is as dark as can be,” said O’Dell, co-founder of Overland Park-based Jolt Lighting and volunteer engineer on the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead holiday lights display. “I have about a 3-foot-tall, pull-it-out-of-the-box, plug-it-in Christmas tree.”

Consider this a modern version of the trope about the cobbler’s children who have no shoes. In business, customers come first.

The Deanna Rose display is the handiwork of Jolt’s other co-founder, Mark Callegari. It’s an upgrade from the elaborate, tree-shaped light display that moved to the farmstead after it outgrew its welcome at Callegari’s Overland Park residence a few years ago.

Jolt donates materials to the large display at the farmstead, and O’Dell volunteers his time out there, up on the roof or wherever. Otherwise, O’Dell travels to Jolt Lighting displays around the country.

Customers include the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Galveston Island, Texas, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio. Jolt also has done work for zoos, personal residences and shopping malls from Hawaii to Pittsburgh. Malls, O’Dell said, are the bread and butter of the business.

Personally, O’Dell has worked on lighting displays for nearly a dozen years with one company or another.

“It has taken me all around the country and even outside its borders,” he said of his lighting career. “I got on board, I guess, at just the right time.”

RGB tech

The men started Jolt Lighting in September 2015, having worked together previously. O’Dell runs things day-to-day, and his brother Skyler has joined the company, too.

The magic behind these elaborate lightings are computer-controlled LEDs, or light emitting diodes, with RGB pixels. That’s technical talk for red, green, blue.

One pixel can appear to be red, green or blue at any moment. It also can combine shades of each color to generate essentially any hue to suit the viewer.

Want yellow? Start with red and add green. Remember, this is producing color by adding light. The reds and greens hold all the light in the rainbow that isn’t blue, which is another way to say yellow. Add the blues, too, and you end up with white.

O’Dell explains that it’s the exact opposite of using ink on white paper. In printing, adding color means eliminating some of the white light that reflects off the white page. Yellow ink works by blocking all the other colors from reflecting back to the viewer.

LEDs create color by adding light to darkness. And that creates some issues for displays.

“Purple is a more difficult color to achieve. Darker colors are more difficult to achieve. I mean, off is black,” O’Dell said.

The lights are cool — literally low temperature — because they use little power. O’Dell said the Deanna Rose facade pulls a handful of amps of electricity. That’s far less than the 15 amps that most household circuits handle before flipping a breaker switch.

“That whole facade runs on one circuit, you know, it plugs into one outlet,” O’Dell said.

Tweet a color

Of course, all that simply provides the digital canvas, like a big computer monitor.

“That’s exactly the way to think about it. The pixels are a little bit farther apart in their spacing, but it’s the same RGB technology that’s in your monitor.”

The magic comes from switching pixels on and off in those carefully selected color combinations in sync with a holiday song. Jolt uses software called Madrix that O’Dell said was created originally for German discotheques.

“Using that software, we can put really complex patterns across those pixels,” O’Dell said.

But it is tedious work because to create the pattern can require selecting the color for each individual pixel in the program, or running a special effect across a small groups of pixels.

There are about 64,000 pixels in the Deanna Rose facade.

Other systems allow displays to be temperature-sensitive and turn red when it’s hot and blue when it’s cold, or turn a building blue in reaction to rain.

If you’d like to play with this RGB stuff at home, the “lower end” runs about $3,000 to $4,000, according to O’Dell.

Or you could take your cellphone on a visit to the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead. Its display is interactive.

Use Twitter or text messaging to send a color to the display, and the first tree in the row to the side of the facade will light up in that color. For example, tweet “@cheerlights I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” and it will turn the tree white. Text to 913-710-2463.

Using #cheerlights works, too.

As soon as someone else requests a color, your color moves to the next tree in line, and their color lights the first tree. A sequence of requests cascades down the row of trees.

For a special treat, text or tweet “Rainbow,” “Royals” or “Chiefs” and see what happens.

The Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead free display lasts about a half-hour. It starts at 5 p.m. and repeats until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The display runs through Jan. 7 at 13800 Switzer Road in Overland Park.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar