As summer winds to a close I’ve been lucky enough to book Mermaid Glimmer at a fair number of events. She’s finding her audience! The people who seem to appreciate Mermaid Glimmer the most are, somewhat surprisingly, men at their 40th and 50th birthday parties.
I get hired by their wives, who think they deserve a fantasy for their birthday but who want to keep it classy. I’m loving this.
I wanted to come up with an act that was something more than just sitting by the pool looking pretty, so I used the awesome Timecode features in the FastLED arduino library to choreograph Glimmer’s lights to a piece of music. My hubby, Darrell St. Blaine, wrote me a song called Light Up the Night and we recorded it in our back bedroom. (Have I ever mentioned how super talented my hubby is?)
Then I spent far too much time tweaking the arduino code to make the lights dance to the music.
My first attempt looked amazing when Glimmer was just laid out on the floor. I had sinwave functions, brightness changes, subtle gradations of color and plenty of bright rainbows and glitter. However, as soon as I put the mermaid tail on and got in the pool, and started moving through the water with the lights on, 80% of the subtle animations were just completely lost. You couldn’t even tell the lights were synced up with the music. (Well, *I* could tell, but nobody else could.)
Attempt number 2 was a bit better. I simplified things, made everything super bright and as “Las Vegas” as possible. I was still having a problem with timing, though. Mermaid Glimmer has a bluetooth module (think “unpredictable lag time”) for control, and she has an on/off switch (think “arduino mini takes somewhere between 8-12 seconds to boot up”), but neither of those solutions were tight enough. I needed to be able to start the animation the moment the music started. Not a quarter second sooner or later, or the whole thing falls apart. It has to be tight.
Attempt number 3 seems to have nailed it. I simplified the animations even more — what shows up best underwater is bold color changes.. red to yellow to green, right on the beat. I made the colors pulse, and kept a few wild animations for contrast. I also reversed the “start” process: I have a few lights blink when the arduino startup is complete, and my hubby knows to hit “play” on the music right at the opportune moment. (iPods don’t have this lag time problem, you see)
I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’m sure I’ll keep on tweaking it, adding new stuff and making it better, but for last Saturday night’s show, the reactions of the 50 year old birthday boy and his friends really convinced me that I’ve got something worth keeping here. I swear, they all turned into squealing 7 year old girls for about a half hour. It was adorable.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes video of the latest version of the mermaid tail animating to Light Up the Night. Let me know if you’ve got suggestions or FastLED animations you’d like to see on the tail!