New to Disney's Magic Kingdom this holiday season is Castle Dream Lights. In a show titled Cinderella's Holiday Wish, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Cinderella, and Prince Charming decide how to decorate the Castle for the holiday season. With some help from The Fairy Godmother, the Castle is transformed into a shimmering spectacle of light. The display consists of more than 200,000 LEDs, 500 strobes, 15 miles of cable, and 32,000sq-ft. of fishing net. The objective was to cover the Castle with “magical ice.” Key buzzwords that drove the design intent were “beautiful,” “graceful,” and, “elegant.”

To achieve this, we used Blachere Illumination's cool white LED strings and Birket Engineering's programmable strobes, the combination of which used barely enough power to run two standard refrigerators. The lights are secured to the 3" netting, which was tailored to fit over each section of the Castle for a low-profile, low-impact method of attachment. Show director Alan Bruun points out that, “One of the greatest challenges was to make the lights virtually invisible during the daytime hours, so that the Castle looks normal until the moment of illumination. Nets and cables were all painted to blend into the Castle colors, with the result that the impact to the Castle's daytime beauty is negligible.”

The LEDs are grouped into 105 controlled circuits based on logical architectural detailing. These circuits run back to control boxes and not to dimmers. Inside the control boxes, each circuit was assigned to one Random Switching Relay. Because it takes so little power to light up an LED, each circuit depended on an inline resistor to provide the necessary “ghost load” and stop the small amount of trickle voltage from getting through. Each control box has one DMX control card telling the relays what to do. The strobe layer consists of 345 individually programmable strobes and approximately 150 preexisting random-flash strobes. Combined with the LEDs, the lights were programmed in various effect routines to create a shimmering look. The occasional random strobe flashes help add an icy sparkle to that shimmer.

Bruun adds, “We wanted to have a very fluid control of the lights, so that they would ‘flow’ across the castle in any direction, supported by banks of strobes that can be individually controlled. This results in a very directional control, which maximizes the impact of the Fairy Godmother's magical illumination of the Castle. As she points her wand in any direction, strobes and lights appear to shoot out of her wand and cover the walls and turrets. In the words of author Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic.’”

To program, we built a simplified model of the Castle in Cast Software Wysiwyg, layered in the new lighting and programmed our show with a Flying Pig Systems Hog iPC console. The finished looks are a combination of base color washes, provided by 34 ETC Irideon wash fixtures and this overlay of LEDs and strobes. The plan was simple, the task, enormous, but the end result is breathtaking.

Bill Ferrara is a principal lighting designer with Walt Disney Entertainment.