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Make some Christmas cheer with the Centennial Square tree - it responds to music, yelps and texts (with video)

Interactive downtown displays respond to sound, text messages
When the Downtown Victoria Business Association's Ken Kelly claps his hands, the lights on the cherry tree in Centennial Square flash and change colours. They also respond when someone sings or makes noises. The tree and an animated video that responds to text messages are on display until Christmas Day.

They're singing, clapping, yelling and texting to the Christmas displays at Centennial Square.

Passersby have until Dec. 25 to interact with decorative lights on a "Christmas tree" and a claymation video projected on the McPherson Playhouse wall.

Sounds trigger the lights to glow and change colour while the stop-motion clay-mation moves when prompted by a text message. Both were designed by Limbic Media, a local company that creates technology allowing people to interact with animated objects.

"It's the most fanciful addition to Centennial Square this year," said Ken Kelly, general manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, which commissioned the pieces.

"The Christmas tree is actually a cherry tree with hundreds of lightbulbs," he said. "They change colour and intensity depending on how high or low you sing."

Parts for the light display were shipped from China and the U.S., said Justin Love, Limbic Media's vice-president of operations.

"The lights we use are quite specialized. You can talk to each one individually and they can be millions of different colours," he said.

In just five weeks, Limbic Media designed the pieces, wrote software code from scratch, organized a power supply and more.

"There were some interesting engineering and creative challenges," Love said.

The stop-motion clayma-tion video, which is activated from 4 p.m. to midnight each day, features a marmot and a bear character, designed by Vancouver artist Annie Briard.

Visitors can send text messages to the number displayed on the projection to give the character prompts, such as "rub noses."

"It's sort of a quixotic, fun undertaking that any family can enjoy," Kelly said. "They sit there or run around and they interact with each other and the person who is [texting]."

After a few kinks were worked out in the wake of the launch two weeks ago - Love said people climbing trees affected the power supply, for example - the works have received a warm reception.

"Almost every time I go by, someone is yelling at the tree or singing," Love said.

Wintertree from Limbic Media on Vimeo.