This is a very minor and could-have-been-simplistic project, but makes for an amusing story about obsessiveness. Before getting into computers, I'd planned to follow in my dad’s footsteps in graphic design. The vestiges of this interest sometimes flare up at the oddest times…

A commercial product called FakeTV simulates the changing light cast by a television set, making a home appear occupied at night and thus (in theory) a less appealing target to burglars.

As FakeTV involves microcontrollers and RGB LEDs, it’s inevitable then that fake FakeTV-like projects have appeared on various DIY web sites.

Having a one-time need for such an item, and with scads of microcontroler boards and NeoPixels already on-hand, I gave a few of these DIY projects a try.

All suffered from extreme…well…fakeness. Some cycled predictably through a canned sequence of colors. Others switched among random RGB values. I don’t know if burglars would even notice such a thing, but it immediately struck me as “off.” Way off.

Movies are not random! Whether animated or live-action, they have Art Directors and Colorists and a specific color palette. Color sets the mood and defines locales and characters and is very un-random.

For example, the cinematic gem Thunderpants focuses almost exclusively on shades of green and brown.

The FakeTV web site claims their product — unlike DIY clones — began by analyzing actual TV programming, then developing an algorithm that realistically approximates these sorts of color changes mathematically.

Pretty cool idea, but I lacked both the time and inclination to develop a TV simulation algorithm. An idea struck me though…microcontrollers have a fair amount of flash memory…suppose we just stored color palettes of some actual art-directed scenes from actual movies? We don’t need to store whole image frames, just the average screen color over time.

Okay then…but how to acquire this kind of data? I was still in a hurry and didn’t want to process tons of source video.

Turns out there are folks who study just this sort of thing. This Washington Post article highlights the work of Dillon Baker in creating color timelines from films, and links to other sites with similar visualizations. “Scraping” these sites might be one option.


The Disney Animated app for iPad includes color timelines for 54 Disney films. Mostly animated, but some with live action segments, others with more “natural” tones.

A couple of screen captures later and I had dozens of hours of source data to work with…

But wait a minute…if we’d simply used random RGB colors…is any would-be thief really gonna stop and say, “Hang on…no director would cut between those two colors…that’s a fake TV!” It no longer mattered at this point. The crust was broken, both the artist and engineer sides of the brain had been tickled. It’s an unstoppable force of nature. We’re doomed.

Some folks obsess over audio. I obsess over images.

This guide was first published on May 12, 2016. It was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

This page (Overview) was last updated on May 11, 2016.

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