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Building the Ultimate Tree

This section gives you an idea of how the Ultimate Holiday Tree was constructed.  It takes a lot of engineering and effort to create a holiday light display this large and complex. It was definitely a team effort and I think everyone was relieved in the end when it finally worked (first time)!

Video of Building the Tree

This is a short video showing the gang putting up the tree for the first time.  Click on the picture to see the time-lapse video of building the tree.

The Details - From the Beginning...

The Ultimate Holiday Tree is similar to a Jumbotron used in stadium scoreboards.  It uses solid-state LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) to produce the light you see.  LED technology uses a fraction of the power needed by an incandescent bulbs, and has an almost unlimited lifetime (around 100,000 hours).

LED Pixel

Each pixel contains 19 LEDs.  There are Red, Green, and Blue LEDs mixed in each pixel.  Much like a television screen, varying the brightness of each color lets your eye perceive any one of 65,000 colors.

There are 760 of these LED clusters in the 20' Ultimate Tree.  When all the pixels are turned on the tree outputs the equivalent of 550 one-hundred watt light bulbs.  But since LEDs are solid state, the entire tree can be run off a single 20 amp circuit.  By comparison, the 550 one-hundred watt light bulbs would require almost thirty 20-amp circuits.

Ultimate Tree Panel Front    Ultimate Tree Panel Back

The individual pixels were installed in aluminum substrates punched with properly spaced holes.  The pixels were then wired to pixel controller boards that do all the work creating the right mix for color, fading, and lighting effects.

Each pixel controller board connects to ten pixels.  There are 100 of these controller boards, each containing a microprocessor.  They are all networked together to create the coordinated lighting effects you see.

There is one master controller called the Monster Brain that issues commands to all the pixel controllers telling them what they should be doing.  The Monster Brain is in charge of the show and synchronizing with the music.

Ultimate Tree Assembly    Ulitmate Tree Assembly

The substrates were installed in 4-foot tall plastic enclosures.  There are three shapes - a rectangle, and a left and right triangle.  Using just these three shapes you can build any size tree from 8 feet to 100 feet tall.  The enclosures are less than a foot deep allowing the tree to be placed in locations a standard 20-foot tall tree would not fit.  Then the enclosures were bolted together into rows - ready for installation.

Ultimate Tree Footings    Ultimate Tree Footing Mounts

With the tree standing 20 feet tall, there is the potential for high winds to exert large forces on the structure.  An engineer was hired to design a support system that will withstand winds exceeding 75 mph.  As a result of the engineering, it was decided that we needed three 42" deep piers, and angled support struts.

Three 12" diameter piers were poured in the ground to support the tree (which weighs almost 600 pounds) and keep the bottom from blowing out from under it.

Ultimate Tree Brace Mount

Ultimate Tree Brace

Then the support struts were bolted to the house foundation.

Unistrut Frame   

Frame with bottom row installed

Frame with bottom two rows installed   

Front view of tree in progress

Unistrut was used throughout to support the tree and keep it from blowing around.  The Unistrut supports were put in place first.  Then the rows were bolted on one at a time using a scaffold to progressively "grow the tree".

Once the supports were in place, the rows went up quickly.  All that was left was to plug the sections together with some ready-made cables and it was time to test.

Mark, Steve and Erik - ready to fire it up!

There's me, Steve and Erik relieved that it's finally complete.

The top is finally in place.  Ready to fire it up!!!