The 2010 Virtual Santa Project

Virtual Santa

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa

For 2010, we're taking the plunge with a "Virtual Santa" in our display. What in the world is a Virtual Santa? We'll let you in on a little secret! We'll be featuring Santa in our upstairs bedroom window this year. He'll be bringing gifts, checking his list (twice), and waving and talking to the passing folks down below. Word is that the little ones visiting the display will be completely taken in by Santa, as they think he's right there!

Ok, so here's the secret...It's really not Santa, but a projected DVD image of him in the window (Don't tell the kids!). It still makes a pretty powerful impression. Sounds easy, right? Like all great projects, there's always a level of complexity below the surface. Let's check out the details of our Virtual Santa project below...

Virtual Santa Screen Design

Virtual Santa Screen Design

The first thing you need for a Virtual Santa installation is a screen to project him on. There are various ideas for screen material on the internet, from white sheets to shower curtains to mylar. We wanted Santa to look as realistic as possible, so we actually purchased some rear screen projection material from a seller on eBay and planned to construct our own screen frame out of PVC. The projector will be in the bedroom behind the screen and the display visitors will see Santa on the front side of the screen through the window.

The frame will really be a frame within a frame, to allow for mounting of the screen material. The overall size will be 68"W x 56"H, which is dictated by the window size. Let's see what the frame looks like...

Virtual Santa Frame Parts

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Frame Parts

From the design calculations, we'll need 16 pieces of PVC total, 4 that are 32 1/8", 8 that are 26 1/8", and 4 that are 20 1/8". We measure those pieces out and cut them using a standard PVC cutter. We're using standard schedule 40 white PVC pipe that you might use for a spinkler system. Acetone was used to get the black paint / labels off the PVC pipe. We want a clean appearance.

Virtual Santa Frame Parts

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Frame Parts

Standard PVC fittings such as Tees and Ells will be used to assemble the frame. It all has to be built flat and square, and the glue dries fast. So some special care will be required to make sure that everything is assembled correctly on the frames. Let's get started with the primer and glue!

Virtual Santa Frames

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Frames

We have some special bungee cords for stretching the screen over the frame when done, and they require a 6" overlap. So that's why the frame within a frame has a 6" gap. In this photo, you can see the dual frames and the mid-span supports that will be built in for strength. We used standard purple primer and PVC glue to glue the frame together.

Virtual Santa Frame Construction

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Frame Construction

This photo shows the completed frame with all the pieces glued and in position. We're ready to attach the screen to the frame with the bungees. The frame is quite stable and robust, which is necessary when the bungees are installed due to the stress and "pull" they will apply to the frame.

Virtual Santa Screen Fitting

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Screen Material Fit

We purchased a large roll of rear projection screen material, so after the frame was built we brought everything into the house to continue. We needed to trim the screen material for mounting, so we laid it out on the carpet for measuring. Next we used a pair of sharp scissors to trim the screen material all the way around, leaving an overlap of several inches for the bungee clamps.

Virtual Santa Screen Mounting Clips

Screen Mounting Clips

Here is a photo of the clips that are used to clamp securely on the screen material. 24 clips and associated bungee cords were used for this project. The clips and bungees were purchased from an eBay seller.

Virtual Santa Screen Mounting Bungees

Screen Mounting Bungees

Here is a photo of the bungees with the built-in retainer balls. The loop on the bungee is inserted into the hole on the clips, and then looped around the frame and looped over the retainer balls. It puts a constant amount of pressure on the screen and pulls it tight on the frame.

Virtual Santa Screen Mounting

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Screen Mounting

Here is the screen after mounting on the frame with the bungees. There is some wrinkling around the edges, but the image will be projected within the inner frame and that is nice and tight. The frame will be suspended from the ceiling in the bedroom.

Virtual Santa Screen Shot

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Screen Shot

Here is a photo of the finished screen with Santa being projected from behind. The PVC screen frame won't be visible from the street when Santa is being projected for real...

Virtual Santa Bedroom Installation

Belardo Lights Virtual Santa Bedroom Installation

Here is a photo of the finished project installed in the bedroom window! Santa is being projected from behind the screen, and even though we used a flash to take this photo, it doesn't wash Santa out. It produces a very bright high quality image for our visitors that is free of hot spots.

We can't wait for the kids to visit the display this year and see our Virtual Santa! We are predicting it will be a big hit with everyone, especially our younger visitors. We hope you enjoyed our photos and description of the Belardo Lights Virtual Santa project. Please stop by and see the real thing in person this season...