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Brian Mitchell

How I Sequence

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I have had a few people ask me how I sequence music so I thought I would lay out my thoughts and methods in hope that it will help someone.

When I hear a song that I like, it try to imagine it in my head and think about how I can capture the emotions of the song through the lights. Is the song choppy or smooth sounding ,have lots of accents to hit, different instruments coming in and out, a feel of certain color schemes. The more I can "feel" the song, the easier it will be to sequence. Having worked with bands as a soundman for many years, I take kind of a theater approach into the basic look of a sequence. In theater and concerts, there is always a color wash of lights to set the mood of a scene or song and then spot lights or effect lighting is used to enhance and highlight the players on the stage. I use the house outline lights as my wash lights. Depending on the song I may only use a couple colors during the song or all them. I have a choice of red, blue, green, white, multi or any combination to pick from broken into three zones on the house. Since the house lights are the foundation of all my sequences, there will almost always be at least one color on except during an effect or accent. Next are the border lights which surround my yard and help to keep people out of the display. Also in five colors, these will often mimic the house but can also go different to give variety. Sometimes I use the borders as beat keepers, pulsing between two colors.

Next are what I call the yard props. These consist of the blowmolds, wireframes, gift boxes trees, shrubs and such. I usually will rotate through these in a sequence following lines of lyrics or bars of music. Lastly are all the animated props, the arches, starpoles, fan, spinners, megatree and band. They are the characters on the stage. Each will get there own parts but they must all work together for the sequence to come to life.

Now here is how I create a sequence.

After listening through the song several times the first thing I do is go into the Beat Wizard and set the basic beat for the whole song. Sometimes if the song changes tempo, I have to break the song into sections to get the beat right throughout the song. After I get the basic beat, I will create new timing tracks by subdividing the beat into different increments to match all the different props. I'll create a half beat track, a quarter beat track, also a 5, 6, 7 and 8 blocks to a beat. Sometimes if I really need some fast timing, I may even do a 12 block track. These tracks are really essential to keep all your props on beat.

After I get the timings all set up, I usually attack the singing tree first. I go through and set up the outline and eye movements first the then go back and do the mouth movements. I find doing mouth movements tedious so I just try to get it out of the way early. After the singing tree, I'll go back the do the rest of the band and the dancing Santa. Not everything is used in every song so sometimes it's easier than others.

Next I will do the house outline and border lights all the way through the song followed by the yard props.

Next I start with all the animated elements. I will sometimes work one propall the way through the song and sometimes I will work one section of the song and do all the elements where they need to work together. I always try to get the elements to complement each other and not fight for attention. As I continue filling in the song, I'll keep rewatching it as a whole to look for empty or overloaded parts to balance it out. You don't want everything going all the time and don't need to use every element in every song.

I know some sequencers will keep las files for prop patterns and just cut and paste them into different sequences and it's probably much faster but I still mostly build every sequence from scratch. I may copy a pattern here or there but mostly I don't. That is probably why I only get a couple new songs a year. Well....that and those stupid facebook games.....and youtube.

After I keep massaging the sequence there comes a point when it feels done. There may be more that can be put in but I have to decide whether it will make it better or just clutter it up more.

Well, I hope this will at least give someone some insight into sequencing and maybe help them have an easier time approaching a sequence.

Bri

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Guest Don Gillespie

This is a great thread for anyone who is doing their own sequencing, and if you haven't seen any of Brian's work you may want to take 15 minutes to really appreciate how good he is, not only is this great for the newbies, but even some of us that have been doing this for a while.

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Thank you Brian, this is exactly the kind of insight i was hoping for!

Music and lights have always held a particular fascination for me. I still have an Atari Music console in case anyone knows what that is (i guess that tells you how old i am!). I built a simple color organ as a high school project and loved hooking it up to the christmas tree lights every year. But that is not even in the same universe obviously as what you guys/gals are doing.

So I am wondering - am i really up for this kind of challenge? As I watch other's displays (from the web in general, not just people from this forum), there are some that are great and some that are sort of ho-hum to me. Sure there are tons of lights and they're all really blinking fast, but it just doesn't seem to keep my attention.

So i am trying to put my thumb on what makes a display great (in my mind) because obviously that is the kind of display i want to do. I am surely going to be my own worst critic, that is just the way i am. So in the end am i going to be happy with the result after all the time and expense? I know i will not be able to have the number of channels and lights that the displays i really like have so i think it is going to be extra challenging in this regard.

For reasons i am still trying to figure out, your displays seem to bring it all together for me. I've not seen your display live so maybe you're just a good video editor :D. But i think you hit on it (for me anyway) with the theater approach you mention. That and what seems to be incredible detail to the timing and rhythm of the animated props especially. I've watched a lot of videos where the elements don't seem to mesh with the beat necessairly, e.g. there's a tree or spinner and it doesn't quite rotate all the way (or some 45/180 degree fraction thereof) in a given 2/4/8 count, or somethings not blinking on the beat, etc. Those kind of things are very distracting for me but maybe it's just a personal preference? Not having sequenced a single second of music i've no idea how difficult that might be to keep things synchronised, but i suspect it's pretty hard.

There are some other details i notice. Your accents, the starpoles for example - you don't seem to just turn them on and off 100% but there's a nice fade-out both with channels of lights and intensity. The arch patterns are really interesting and not just simply moving back and forth. The spinners with only 2 or 3 segements on (in can-can reminds me of the Rockettes dancing) or doing other interesting patterns, Also, there just seems to be a general smoothness to the transitions. Do you intentionally do quick fades or is it more to do with the type of lights (incan vs led)?

Well, i could go on but i think you get the idea. Thank you for the reply i look forward to giving it a try!

Tony

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Nice tutorial Brian. It's amazing how similar our approaches are, esp setting up the sequence timing grid framework. I just automatically create grids all the way up to 9x because I have elements that fit every one. (Except 5, but I like that to give a spit of darkness between patterns with 4-section elements)

In my case, I sequence beat items first - 3 types of beat trees, and the candy cane hoppers. Then the face if that song will include it. Then I fill in the color. (Red, green, blue). At that point, I could show it in the yard if need be and first-time visitors wouldn't know it wasn't finished. But then the fun part comes - adding the various devices and elements.

There's one thing in particular that Brian said which bears repeating over and over:

"You don't want everything going all the time and don't need to use every element in every song."

For new people, if you have enough channels to do it, this is the biggest trap to fall into. And almost everyone does. I did, but I recovered pretty quickly when Sharon told me in 2010 that things were starting to look confusing. When you're working with fewer channels, you don't have much choice in a lot of cases. But as your channel count grows and your devices multiply, it becomes more and more important. It can be a real fine line sometimes between art and visual gibberish.

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Thank you George and Don.

Tony,

Using fades gives a lot smoother look to things. I can't say I have a formula for the length of the fades, I just try different lengths till it looks right to me. Having done it enough, I'll usually get it close in the first or second try. In faster, choppier music, I use less fades and a lot more sharp cuts to keep the edge on the feel. And thank you for the compliments too.

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Awesome reading, thanks for the post. Question. If I only have 16 or 32 channels, I'm much more limited in what I can do. I don't have enough channels for a full band, let alone all the background singers. :D What advice would you give someone in my spot, to try to get the maximum effect with limited channels?

This was my first year with LOR and I didn't start until mid-summer, so I was behind the curve. I only managed to do one song on my own, Call Me Maybe. For a total rookie, I think it came out OK, but what I really struggled with was how to translate what I heard into lights. Trying to decide what effect to use when is something I had a hard time wrapping my mind around....and still do.

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Awesome reading, thanks for the post. Question. If I only have 16 or 32 channels, I'm much more limited in what I can do. I don't have enough channels for a full band, let alone all the background singers. :D What advice would you give someone in my spot, to try to get the maximum effect with limited channels?

This was my first year with LOR and I didn't start until mid-summer, so I was behind the curve. I only managed to do one song on my own, Call Me Maybe. For a total rookie, I think it came out OK, but what I really struggled with was how to translate what I heard into lights. Trying to decide what effect to use when is something I had a hard time wrapping my mind around....and still do.

Wow, that's an exellent question. Maybe George and others will chime in on this too. My first advise would be to always have something lit unless you are using darkness as an effect. I see too many displays where people just flash channels and leave total darkness in between.

With low channel counts you dont want to get into a lot of color changing but there are a couple tricks you can use to save channels and change colors. Say you have four bushes you want to do in three colors. Where you would want to use 12 channels, you could do it in 6 channels by using a channel for each bush in white then 1 channel for all 4 in red and 1 for all 4 in green. or if it's really tight just use 3 channels, all 4 bushes in each color. People will not notice that whenever you chase the bushes it's always in white.

Sometimes you can tie items together to make it seem like you have more channels like plugging a line of mini trees into the same channels as a mega tree on the opposite side of the yard. Again the average Joe won't notice they are always working together. Candy cane spinners and mega trees tie nicely together also. The first year I had arches, I only used 7 channels for all four arches.

Getting to know what you want to do with your props and when is something that you get better at as you gain experience. A lot is trial and error in seeing how an effect looks and whether it worked or not.

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Thanks for the invite Brian.

My advice would also be to use just a minimal number of channels for color and have that as background. All red, all green, all blue, etc.

And then devote the remainder to things that "move". Mini trees are always a good choice, spinners work well, arches are well received.

Other people's videos are the best place you'll find for ideas that will work well with your yard.

Interesting that I happened to see this thread today... Just yesterday I was PM'ed a video that might be worth checking out. I never thought I'd see 3-channel arches that looked good, but the way Patty used them they worked quite well. Only twelve channels total for four arches.

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I wanted to bump this thread as Brian and George give some really good sequencing ideas, so for the new guys, and older guys alike, you may extract a couple of good ideas.  I myself am sequencing today and wanted a refresher course, and this helped me.  :D

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Time to give it another bump! Very good information.

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Thanks Brian for the great information. I have been watching the video of the marty fan and love it. How many channels are you using and the # of strings per Channel?   I did make a smaller one but could not get the same effect you have and dont know if it is the progamming or the # of  channels I am using.

 

5th year and still a Newbie  

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Thanks Brian for the great information. I have been watching the video of the marty fan and love it. How many channels are you using and the # of strings per Channel?   I did make a smaller one but could not get the same effect you have and dont know if it is the progamming or the # of  channels I am using.

 

5th year and still a Newbie

16 Channels. 15 wedges and the border. 200 lights per wedge.

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Noticed a couple other threads talking about this subject, so I just giving this a bump.

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Noticed a couple other threads talking about this subject, so I just giving this a bump.

 

Still the best!

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As a newbie just starting out on sequencing, I found your post to be very helpful,thanks....Marc-Anthony.  Is there a site I can see your display on?

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Great info. Tks!

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Since we are in crunch season again, I thought I'd give this thread a bump.

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This is a great thread. I need to upgrade my software license to get all the Wizards to work with. Just went basic this year as I only have 16 channels and did 7 songs all by hand. :) my wife has already given permission to upgrade a bit next year adding at least 16 more channels.

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Fades from one color to another color are key as well as accurate timing of beats.

Cascades up to the beat work well also.

Sequencing of common colors and left/right and/or up/down movements help "widen" your display.

A singing face is a must.

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