Did you watch the finale of the Great Christmas Light Fight on ABC? The winner of that competition series (not a spoiler alert since it aired already) is a home in “Hollywood, California” that uses animatronics, the technique of making and operating lifelike robots, typically for use in film or other entertainment. In this case, it’s all over a Christmas lights display!
The Great Christmas Light Fight 2015 took a bit of creative license when saying the home is in Hollywood, since the house is actually located in Sherman Oaks, roughly 10 miles from Hollywood. (Guess it’s close enough if you live in Minnesota, but makes it challenging if you live in Southern California and you are trying to find the house to eyeball it yourself, which is what happened with me and my family.)
After searching online, we did find the house featured on Great Christmas Light Fight 2015. And it was well worth the search!
What a sight!
The house could not be more inviting for visitors. There was even a heat lamp on property, as Southern California, both Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, experienced record low temperatures.
Right there watching, as each visitor enjoyed his display was the homeowner, Mike Ziemkowski.
“As I stand in the front yard and watch the display, a flood of wonderful childhood memories of Christmases past resurface. My parents always made the holidays so special and I love to be able to share a little bit of the magic they instilled in me,” said Ziemkowski, who created a website for his display. “One of my greatest joys is watching the smiles of the children and their parents enjoying their children’s happiness!
“I guess traditions like these and the memories they rekindle are one of most special things we have, and one of the greatest joys of Christmas.”
In true Hollywood form (you can’t make this stuff up), he’s won an Emmy Award. He’s a video editor who creates theatrical and television commercials and presentations. He’s also an entrepreneur.
“The works of my creativity are displayed on a flat screen, and each Christmas, the display allows me to break out of the tube and put on a show in the three dimensional world,” he says.
Ziemkowski says growing up his dad created motorized displays of the Little Drummer Boy drumming away at the manger, Santa playing a pipe organ and a workshop fully staffed by Santa and his elves.
“His displays were always a must-see for the small town of Saint John, Indiana. As I grew up, I knew I had to continue the tradition and by my freshman year of high school, I took over the decorating. Occasionally my father would lend a hand, but mostly I was on my own. The display continued to grow as I added more and more lights and decorations of my own creation. I began to build my own animated figures when I realized I couldn’t afford what I saw in the malls or the department store windows of Chicago. So each evening after school and on weekends, I would make my own animated figures fashioned from plywood, chicken wire, fabric and vending machine motors. I kept adding to the display for years until my job took most of my free time. I can still remember the rush to get the display up and running over the Thanksgiving holiday in the cold Indiana weather.”
He says in the years that followed, his display continued to grow and advance. He added computer control in 2003. It gave him the ability to animate lights to music.
“As I fired up the PC, a long-time dream of computer-controlled lighting was realized. Weeks of programming had paid off, as my lights changed to the beat of the music. In my line of work, computers and technology are commonplace, but that evening was truly special and I wished my dad could have seen the display. It also saw the addition of the original ‘Z-Tree’ to the display,” he says on his website.
“I always wanted a large traditional tree to be the focal point of my display, but the price was well outside my budget, so I created my own out of PVC, cable ties, pine garland, and lights. Over the years, there have been numerous versions made by fellow decorators coast-to-coast. The tree was named by a fellow decorator on the Planet Christmas forum, and it stuck to this day.”
In 2008, he added something extraordinary: Those animatronics.
“I created my first true animatronic, which was a singing and dancing Frosty the Snowman. He was an immediate hit, and display became more than a light show, it was now a concert, complete with a performer!”
And he’s added more and more to the display each year and converted all the lights to LED.
“Dancing and pop-up singing elves were added, and Santa in a sleigh pulled by Rudolph took flight over the display; 2010 saw the addition of one of my visitor’s favorite display elements, “DJ Jingles!,” I now had a host, as well as singers and dancers. The show was now complete!”
The show, at 3901 Longview Valley Road in Sherman Oaks, runs from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Day. New Year’s Eve goes until 12am, weather permitting. If you are planning a visit, check this Facebook page for announcements regarding weather.