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Nov. 23, 2017
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It’s Magical Nights of Lights’ 25th birthday

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
The silver anniversary of Lanier Island’s Magical Nights of Lights promises some all-new displays and a return to the traditions that have made the drive-through Christmas light show a big draw in the Southeast. When it opens on November 17, the 7-mile holiday display will be bigger and better than ever. 
 
“This year, we’re returning to the great traditions that are the foundation of Magical Nights of Lights,” said Missy Burgess, director of public relations at Lanier Islands. “For instance, people have been asking about the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ display for the past several years, so it’s coming back in 2017. And we’re also creating some big surprises, including a gigantic decorated Christmas tree at the clock tower and a brand-new sparkling red 3-D tunnel of lights, presented by Coca-Cola.”
 
Man behind the show
Over the past six or seven months, Islands’ staff has been working closely with the display’s original and long-time designer, Greg Fulwood, who owns Universal Concepts. Over the years, his Cumming-based company has created light and sound spectaculars for theme parks, major sporting events and national attractions. His work with the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Dollywood, several Six Flags Theme Parks, plus several Super Bowl extravaganzas, keeps him in high demand all year long. 
 
“It was really a quirk of fate that I’m even in this business,” said the 63-year-old Fulwood, who’s an avid boater and musician. He graduated from Newberry College in South Carolina with a bachelor of arts degree, focusing on political science, married, then took a job with a lighting company in California in his mid-20s.
 
By 1980, he was ready to open his own company and chose to concentrate on creating commercial holiday lighting and décor. “Our Christmas business is our bread and butter, but we handle all types of projects,” he said. “Our most outrageous to date was a project for the Superdome when we actually designed lighting for the outside of the building. It included an animated 65- by 150-foot display with all the bells and whistles. We literally used every skill we had.”
 
For the third year, Universal Concepts has created Harbor Lights for Gulfport, Mississippi’s Winter Festival. “It’s the largest RGB light show in the world,” Fulwood said. “And with all the new technology, it just keeps getting better.” 
 
World record broken
Universal Concepts also broke a Guinness Book of World Records by installing the world’s largest self-standing 137-foot Christmas Tree at Florida’s Cypress Gardens, now Legoland Fla. After the holiday season the display was converted to a giant colorful, animated spring/hibiscus floral bouquet.
 
It’s keeping up with technology that makes a good lighting company an excellent partner. “Lighting designs have changed with new technology and manufacturing techniques,” he said. “Back in the day, we used incandescent bulbs and totally different materials for the structures. Today, everything’s LED, which is much more environmentally friendly and the lights last so much longer. Plus, with computer technology we can program animation, not only to make displays appear to be moving, but also to change colors. And we have 3-D displays that are simply dazzling.”
 
For Fulwood, it must seem like every day is Christmas, being surrounded by giant reindeer, snowmen, towering Christmas trees, miles of lighted bows, ribbons, banners and colorful hanging icicles. But, he admits, it’s all in a day’s work. 
 
“Growing up in Stone Mountain with my parents and two brothers, we celebrated Christmas like most any family would do,” he said. “As I said, it was never really my vision to own a commercial lighting business, but it has been a great career so far. When we landed the contract with Lanier Islands 25 years ago, that was a real feather in our cap, because here we are a local Cumming company and we’re doing the annual Magical Nights of Lights for Lanier Islands – right in our own back yard. That’s saying something!” 
 
Ideas on napkins
Back in those days 25 years ago, Fulwood met with the resort’s officials and literally designed the early elements of the light show on the backs of cocktail napkins. “We drew out their ideas and collaborated on the parts of the show. And each year, it’s grown even more. We are so proud to still be working hand-in-hand with Lanier Islands, and especially the Williams family.” 
 
“There is no typical day for me,” he said. “I spend a great deal of time on the road between Los Angeles, Boston, Mississippi and Miami, then I’m at home in Cumming. That’s just the way it is and I really do enjoy getting to be so creative and to help cities, towns and organizations kick up their community involvement a couple of notches.”
 
Universal Concepts does much more than holiday displays and light shows. It creates fully lighted architectural lighting for skyscrapers, animated company logos, and lighting that’s sound-activated or sound-synchronized. The displays are often set to music.
 
At Lanier Islands, Magical Nights of Lights will have its own radio broadcast of holiday music on FM 107.9. “For our guests, we have created a totally immersive holiday experience,” said Burgess. “And they’ll be able to experience all the fun of years past with Holiday Village, carnival rides and fireside activities like roasting marshmallows, all inside LanierWorld.”
 
This year’s sponsors are Universal Concepts, Coca-Cola and Georgia Power. Admission per vehicle is $35 if purchased in advance online and $45 at the gate.
 
“We can’t wait for the opening of Lanier Island’s Magical Nights of Lights this year,” Fulwood said. “You just need to come on out and keep your eyes wide open for all the magical surprises in store for you and your family.”

Posted Online 10/30/17
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