NVIDIAN Harnesses 100,000 Christmas Lights to Further Austin Toy Drive

by Allison Toh

Some prepare for Christmas by trimming trees, stuffing stockings and building a gingerbread house or two.

That’s kids’ play for Lee Franzen, a senior program manager at NVIDIA’s Austin, Texas, office.

Lee begins planning his dazzling, music-synchronized, 100,000+ light show in January each year. He starts constructing his displays in the summer. And as the year draws to a close, he relies on his entire neighborhood to vote on the music — and to kick off the toy collection drive targeting contributions from the hundreds of passersby the show draws in.

Lee got his start in the over-the-top holiday light show business five years ago, after being inspired by fellow NVIDIAN John Storms, who has won international fame for his own ambitious Christmas light shows.

“John’s the master, I’m the apprentice. But my yard is bigger, so I have more lights,” Lee said.

By The Numbers

This year, he’s deployed 105,000 LEDs in his front yard, three dozen light controllers, a 12-foot tree, a 20-foot inflatable Santa and a 54-foot-long driveway tunnel that easily accommodates a Texas-size SUV.

He also uses an NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU to drive two monitors — one for music synchronization software, the other to run a light show simulator — greatly speeding up the production effort, according to Lee.

Each year Lee’s neighborhood also gets in on the spectacle. They voted on including Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” into the musical mashup that accompanies the light sequence. They also contribute donations to Operation Blue Santa, a nonprofit started by the Austin Police Department that provides gifts and warm meals to families in need during the holiday season.

Drive-By Toy Drive

Each night, a public service announcement (with synchronized lights) plays during the show, asking people inching by in their cars to donate a toy.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response this year, as we actually hit 150 toys collected to date,” said Lee. “Our goal was 100 toys, and our previous record was 82.”

What Lee enjoys most about his annual light extravaganza is giving families an opportunity to come together and share a joyful experience with each other.

“A boy going to our local elementary school was undergoing treatment for leukemia,” said Lee. “His immune system was wiped out by the treatment, so he couldn’t really go to school or out in public. Every night during the Christmas season, they would park out in front and listen to the music and watch the light show.”