But lighting up the Giant Wheel also makes us happier than Clark Griswold perfectly browning a turkey. Happier than Kevin McCallister alone in his house at Christmas. Happier than Ralphie Parker receiving an official Red Ryder Carbine-action 200-shot Range model air rifle with a compass in the stock.
You get the idea.
We sat down with Anthony Canzano, audio-video technician at Morey’s Piers, to find out what goes into the making of each light show, and who you might expect to see featured in this year’s December display…
Spoiler: He has a jolly happy soul and two eyes made of coal…
Obviously, the Giant Wheel is lit up all summer long. So what makes the offseason displays — like those at Halloween or Christmas — extra special? In the summer, the wheel is spinning, so there’s not a fixed top or bottom, which limits you to patterns only. But in the offseason, when the wheel is parked, you’re able to create images, like the clown we did for Halloween this year.
What other images have you done for holidays in the past? A Christmas tree, Santa Claus, a snowflake, a starry night display, and I’m currently working on a snowman and a reindeer — though I don’t want to promise anything, because the reindeer’s been presenting challenges.
Does his nose keep lighting up red? More like I haven’t been able to sculpt the face the way I want it.
Besides Christmas magic, how does that work, exactly? A software program. The one I use looks like a grid, and the numbers on that grid align with LED lights on the wheel. So I’ll plug colors into that grid in the shape I want them, and I’ll get a computer simulation of the wheel, which is pretty accurate. I start with a rough pattern, and I keep refining it until I like what I see. Once I have the image the way I like it, I can work on transitions. I don’t like a hard transition going straight from Santa’s face to, say, a Christmas tree, for example — I want to fade in or out.
How long does it take to create a holiday program? Oh, multiple hours. Halloween took about six hours. If you want to animate an image, that happens one frame at a time, like a flipbook. You have to change the image ever so slightly and hit save, then change the image ever so slightly and hit save again. When the program runs through all those frames one at a time, it makes the animation happen.
When it comes to creating images, is the sky the limit — pun intended — or are there limitations? Things that are round work best. Making straight lines on an angle is a challenge. Someone requested a sailboat once, but that was too difficult. Another challenge is the sun — AKA, the button right in the middle of the wheel. When creating a light pattern, that requires its own separate program that has to be synced up with the main wheel’s program, frame by frame.
What’s your white whale, the image you’ve been dreaming about creating? A giant Menorah? The Grinch stealing Christmas? A Nativity scene? Hmm, I can tell you about the pattern I’m most proud of, which is the first animation I ever did. It was coming up on Easter, and my wife requested it. It was a purple egg that wobbled left and right a few times and cracked down the middle before hatching a baby chick. I thought: That’s pretty cool; I bet I can do other patterns.
I know lighting up the wheel for the holidays was your idea. Do you ever kick yourself when you’re lying awake at night wondering how to make Rudolph work? No, this is something I do in my spare time. The software program came with default patterns that most parks use all the time, but I really wanted to push what this program can do. I wanted to mix LED lights to make colors and patterns I don’t see at other parks. Especially this time of year, it reminds people that Morey’s Piers is here, and we’re happy to be part of this community.