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The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is a display of Christmas lights and decorations at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. Initially constructed by an Arkansas businessman as a gift for his six-year-old daughter, the display has become one of the most popular attractions during the park's holiday season.
Jennings Osborne (1943-2011), along with his wife Mitzi, founded the "Arkansas Research Medical Testing Center" in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1968. The business' success allowed him and his wife to eventually purchase a large estate in the middle of town in 1976. In 1980 the Osborne's had a daughter, Allison Brianne Osborne, nicknamed Breezy.
In 1986, Breezy asked her father if they could decorate their home in lights. Osborne complied, stringing 1000 lights around their home. "Each year after that, it got bigger and bigger," Osborne would later recall. Eventually Osborne purchased the two properties adjacent to his own and expanded the display into them.
By 1993, the display had over three million lights. Some of the more prominent features included:
The lights were extremely popular in both in Arkansas and around the world, as news crews often visited to film the display. Since their house was located on one of the busiest streets in Little Rock, it eventually caused severe traffic issues, and lots of complaints.
The display grew bigger every year, and by 1993, was lit for 35 days during the Christmas season, from sunset to about midnight every day. Six neighbors filed a lawsuit, saying traffic congestion made trips to the corner store take two hours, and they feared emergency vehicles could not get down the street. Osborne responded by adding three million more lights.
The county court ordered an injunction against the display, limiting it to 15 days and directing that it be lighted only from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Osborne appealed first to the Arkansas Supreme Court and lost, then in 1994 to the United States Supreme Court, where Justice Clarence Thomas refused to halt the order. In 1995, the state Supreme Court shut the display down altogether.
However the Osborne's continued to have a light display, but on a much smaller scale well into the 2000s. After the September 11th attacks of 2001, they erected an enormous lighted American flag with the words "God Bless America and God Bless George W. Bush" Across the top and bottom of the flag. This display remained up for several years, even as the strands of lights went out and the message was barely readable.
The story of the light display's court case brought national attention, including offers from several cities to host the display. Walt Disney World project director John Phelan contacted Osborne's attorney about moving the display to the Orlando resort, and eventually discussed the potential move with Osborne himself.
Osborne was intrigued by the offer, but initially understood that Disney wanted to put the display on another residential street in Orlando. What Phelan actually offered was to install the display on "Residential Street," a back-lot section at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park (then known by its original name, the Disney-MGM Studios). Being a fan of the resort himself, and realizing where the display would go, Osborne accepted Disney's offer. In 1995, the display was set up on Residential Street as "The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights," becoming an immediate success.
Residential Street was visited using the backlot tour's tram vehicles. When the light display was in place, however, the tram tours would stop before sunset, allowing guests to walk among the displays. Initially the display was purely the original lights from the Osborne estate, but in subsequent years the display was augmented to its current size of over five million lights. The display's Disney caretakers have also added a number of hidden Mickeys into the lights. The 2007 edition of the display featured over 40 of the icons.
The display is made up of over 10 miles (16 kilometers) of rope lighting connected by another 30 miles (48 kilometers) of extension cords. The extension cords and lights are held together using two million ties. It takes 20,000 man-hours to install the display each holiday season, starting in September. The lights are turned on at dusk each night, starting in mid-November and running into the first week of January, and require 800,000 watts of electricity.
In 2004, the park began construction on a new arena for its upcoming Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show, set to open in 2005. Part of the construction included the demolition of Residential Street, thus necessitating another move of the display. The solution was to move it to another part of the park, the New York Street set (now known as the Streets of America). As part of the move, the Studios added an artificial snow effect to the display, made up of 33 snow machines that use 100 gallons of fluid per evening.
In 2005, Sylvania became the presenting sponsor of the lights, as part of parent company Siemens's long-term sponsorship deal with the Walt Disney Company's theme parks, which also included the Spaceship Earth and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth attractions at Epcot.
For the 2006 edition, the park added over 1500 dimmer relay circuits and control switches to the display to enable the lights to dim on and off electronically. The relays were choreographed to a musical score, and the display was given its current name.
In 2011 the display had a major overhaul... all the lights were swapped out for LED lights including all the ropelight. During this overhaul the lighting control was updated to a "state of the art" entertainment lighting system. This means all the previously choreographed dancing sequences had to be redone. While all these updates the production team wanted to change one more major element to the display, the canopy. The canopy in previous years was all red and separated in only 8 circuits, 4 on each side; now each light has 3 completely controllable LEDs (Red, Green, Blue) giving the canopy an almost video-like appearance. Now the canopy has 21,600 pixels capable of over 16 million colors.
Whenever a choreographed song is played the lights "dance" to the music. After each performance, the lights remain steady for about seven minutes before "dancing" again to another selection; other holiday selections play during the intermissions, along with recorded "live" segments from a fictional radio station (with Arnie and Anne) and visits from Disney characters. The dancing segments cycle roughly every 40–60 minutes.