When the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights opened with the new display, “A Frozen Christmas,” the past few years of hard work, delays, and health issues melted away for creator Paul Ernst and his wife Sue. Adults and children alike were awed by the ice tree rising out of the snow in sync to the hit song “Let It Go,” with Anna and Kristoff’s arms full of presents and Elsa, Olaf, and Sven
on board too.
The plans for “A Frozen Christmas” began not long after the Ernst family’s other display, “A Toy’s Christmas,” debuted at the Fantasy of Lights in 2013. Paul, a petroleum engineer, began wondering what else he could do. And Armando Muniz, MSU Texas Grounds Maintenance Superintendent and supervisor of the display set up, prodded Paul, asking when he was going to build another masterpiece.
When the animated movie Frozen came out in late 2013, Paul wondered how he add a Christmas touch to the characters. He also wanted to try something new – movement synchronized with music. “A Toy’s Christmas” has many moving figures that are challenges in themselves but the movements are not synchronized with “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” And what song other than the hit “Let It Go” would be better to sync with?
He found Light-O-Rama, a technology company that develops hardware and software that creates synchronized animation projects. “A Frozen Christmas” came to life, with Anna and Kristoff loading presents onto a sleigh and the ice tree rising to the climax in “Let It Go.”
As he did in A Toy’s Christmas, Paul used weatherproof materials such as PVC, steel, and weatherproof siding and paint. With the help of molding clay, faceless mannequins became Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff. The Ernst’s son Robert, an MSU alumnus, helped with sculpting faces and Paul painted the characters. Paul said that the display could not have been finished without the help of Robert, Muniz, and MSU Texas grounds foreperson Jason Cooper and groundskeeper Justin Goetze.
History of Wonder
In the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Ernst was one of the children in the thousands of cars that paraded past the Christmas wonderland at the home of Mr. and Mrs. L.T. Burns at Harrison and Clarinda streets. Even though his family moved to Oklahoma when he was in the third grade, memories of those Christmases never left him. When he returned in 1975 with his wife Sue, his new family made seeing the lights, now moved to the front lawn of MSU’s Hardin Administration Building, part of their Christmas tradition.
After taking their grandchildren through the displays during the 2012 Christmas season, Sue noticed that there hadn’t been a new display added in some time. “I just had a dream, or a vision, and I looked at Paul and said, ‘Why don’t you build something and let’s just donate it to Midwestern,’” she said. “A Toy’s Christmas” was born.
The Ernsts wanted to contribute the new displays to the Fantasy of Lights as a small legacy in hopes their kids would bring their own children for years to come, but it grew to something larger. “We never imagined the joy and pleasure we’d receive in watching hundreds of other kids and their families look in awe, point, and take pictures and video in front of them,” Sue said. “It still brings tears to our eyes and joy to our hearts to think they will be enjoyed for years to come by this community we love.”
The last night for the Fantasy of Lights is Saturday, Dec. 28.