Water Bottle Lite Bright

The Lite Brite in use at the CLC conference

The Lite Brite in use at the CLC conference

In April this year, Watermark hosted the Church Leaders Conference, and our team executed the craziest set design we’ve ever attempted: a fully functioning, low resolution LED wall made from 6,912 water bottles and WS2812 LEDs. The design itself was simple enough; the execution was extremely challenging. There are pros and cons to this entire process, but I hope this is helpful in case you’re ever crazy enough to try something like this.

Warning: dry details ahead. Skip past this if you’re just looking for the pretty pictures.

The final product is two side walls 24’w by 8’h and one center wall 32’w by 12’h. The walls consist of 24 panels measuring roughly 4’x8′ and containing 288 water bottles each; 12 panels for the center and 6 for each side. The panels are made from 1×4’s and 1/8″ MDF with holes for the bottles on one side and the caps on the other. Each water bottle (held in place with hot glue on the cap) has a WS2812 LED fastened at the cap with staples. The cap acts as a diffuser, and we sprayed the bottom of each bottle with Rust-Oleum Frosted Glass to catch the light. Pixlite controllers receive artnet from an Arkaos media server and send data to each LED. Arkaos has an LED Mapper feature that will take a video and scale it to fit an LED array. That will probably need to be another post all on its own.

Recommendations:

  • Use a CNC. It took 4 guys 2.5 hours to cut holes by hand for half a panel (front and back) for our test rig. In contrast, the CNC did full panels in less than an hour.
  • Make your panels 17wx10h pixels. A universe of DMX accommodates 170 pixels, and a 17×10 grid also makes a 1.7 ratio. I can’t tell you how much time this would have saved me in addressing and configuration vs the 24×12 grids we made.
  • Plan for tons of time. CNC cutting the panels took just under one hour to cut a front and back panel. Plan accordingly; this will not come together overnight.
  • Don’t do this to save money. While a prebuilt wall this size would be extremely expensive, time is also very expensive. We did this as an illustration and got a low-res LED wall as a side effect.

Before I hit “post”, I need to mention community and thank Nick Rivero and Seth Thiesen. Both of these guys were a huge help and fielded questions as I set up Arkaos. If you don’t know other church tech guys, join something like CTLN or just start following some guys on twitter. Go to Leadlab or just visit another church. You can do this stuff alone, but why would you? If you’re in Dallas, message me on twitter, and let’s grab a burger.

*iPhone pictures don’t quite capture this, but I hope these are helpful. Enjoy.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Paul Christensen

    Wondering exactly what led’s you purchased from aliexpress. I saw you recommended pre-wired ws2812, but did they come in a long chain like in the pictures? or did you connect them? Could you send me a detailed item list of what you used, led’s, power supplies etc? Any further info would be so great, I would love to try something like this for our Easter services this year.

    • Hey Paul! Things change so fast on Aliexpress, that I don’t think my links still work. Search for “ws2812 10cm”, and you’ll find the prewired ones. Anticipate needing to repair quite a few and order more than you need. Power supplies were generic 5v, 20a supplies as we’re powering about 288 pixels ea, but if you drop it to my recommended 170 pixels per, you just need over 12a (allow more amps than you need). Sticking to 170 will let you put each panel in one universe and will make programming/mapping much simpler.

      As to ordering, remember that the Chinese New Year will dramatically effect your shipping times/delays. And it starts really soon!
      I hope that helps! Let me know if you need more details.

  2. Joerg

    Hi Matt,
    I really enjoyed your idea of the self-made LED-wall. I love the effects an variety which is added to the stage. Especially as a background for the people on stage.
    In one of our last stage projects we had problems with flickering white LEDs (only on video). So since the LEDs are dimmed by pwm, did you get any problems, or how did you solve them?
    Btw, how many outputs did you have to use on your media server to create that huge matrix of led chips, and which refresh rate gives a smooth picture?

    Best regards from Germany

    • Hi Joerg!
      We didn’t experience any flickering, and I think it might be due to the diffuser. Occasionally an LED would malfunction, causing each subsequent LED in that chain to visibly flicker. Resolder and/or replace that LED, and it was fixed.

      I’m not sure about the refresh rate, and our media server didn’t like anything over 30 universes. Unfortunately, we used 31 universes, and the last panel had some trouble with lag.

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