A Conversation With the Head Designer of Blink!

John Carter is director of Parker 3D and the head designer of Faneuil Hall’s annual light show.

blink light show boston

Photo by Olga Khvan

More than 350,000 LED lights, 12 miles of copper wire, and 4,000 watts of sound combine to make the extravaganza that is Blink! In its third year, the light and sound spectacle fills Faneuil Hall with sounds of the Holiday Pops each night.

John Carter is the head designer of the show and the director of Parker 3D, the company that created the program. Here, he talks with us about what it takes to create the only light show of its kind in New England.

First off, what exactly do you do?

We do all kinds of immersive display work, interactive display work, technology display work, and we are highly focused on holiday work at Parker 3D. So, we have done around 50 or 60 synchronized light shows worldwide. We also do entertainment work as it pertains to video and sound and immersive interactive experience.

How do you begin to create something like Blink!?

There’s a couple of parts to that. Usually, I go first and take a look at the space, or one of my designers will look at the space, and say ‘What can we do here with what they already have? How can we take what they already have and somehow make it come alive? How can we sprinkle magic dust in this space that already exists and make it feel completely different for people who have already been here?’ So, we try to use tricks of the trade with sound, with lights, and with wireless programming to activate the space differently. We design a sound system and we design technology to activate things that are already there.

Do you choreograph the lights to music, too?

Our secret weapon is Carson Williams. Carson Williams is a guy whose house became famous on the internet maybe seven or eight years ago. He set his house to the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and just about everyone e-mailed it to each other because it was before YouTube. A lot of people didn’t even believe it was real because he had synchronized his lights to music so carefully. But it was, and he was on the Today Show and they did a Miller Lite commercial with his house. So, years ago, we met Carson and talked to him about what could be done for a shopping center and he agreed to collaborate with us to try and bring this light show concept to a larger space. To this day, we go to a space and we make a map or a model of that space, which he then puts in his computer and programs it from his basement just outside Cincinnati. You know in the Wizard of Oz when they say pay no attention to the man behind the curtain? He’s the man behind the curtain.

How big is the team that works on Blink!?

In the first season, there was an awful lot of us. I’ll go to every site a number of times during the first year to make sure things are bright enough and to make sure the counts that we’ve chosen are correct and the sound is correct. We have a whole team of about a dozen designers who are involved in every piece of this. They will design each piece of garland or each piece of snowflake, and we have industrial designers who will draw out the frames for the snowflakes that hang on the buildings. Then they work with a local engineer, we work with Simon Design Engineering in Boston. So it’s a pretty large team that puts this on. I would say that a typical project involves up to 100 people operating out of eight or nine different states. Blink! took the better part of a year to make.

How is this different from other projects you work on?

I think there’s a number of things that sets [Boston’s] apart. There are possibly more programmed elements in [that] show than any other outdoor show we’ve ever done. You have a total of maybe 35 large trees that are all programmed, so just the scale of it for an outdoor installation is probably larger than anything else we do. You have the tallest tree that we’ve ever programmed. It’s a standout in our industry. We do lots of different kinds of programs, but in terms of just the scale of it, how loud it is and how big it is, its really one of the largest in the world that we’ve done. You also have a unique radius. There’s nothing else like Blink! until you get to New York state. Many of our attractions are paid attractions, but its really special Faneuil Hall has made this show a gift to [the] community. I will also say that I believe it’s the only show we do that has a live network telecast associated with it, so that’s special, too.

So, Blink! is a lot more than just blinking lights.

Here’s an interesting fact: When we collaborated with Faneuil Hall, we came up with over 150 possible names for the program before we decided on Blink!, just to give you an idea of the process. Sometimes it takes going the longest route to come up with the shortest name.

Performances run nightly at Faneuil Hall Marketplace; more info at faneuilhallmarketplace.com/blink.