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Light Work

Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands mega palace of hedonism scored a laser and lightshow deserving of its $5.7b price tag. We talk to the Australians who masterminded it.

By

19 December 2010

We’re in an era of ‘mega’ structures. Tall buildings that even Superman will need a leg-up to leap in a single bound; architecture that defies gravity and looks like something from the cover of an Isaac Asimov novel. Mega structures demand mega-opening ceremonies, which usually means mega-light and sound shows. It’ll be no surprise to know the newest sky-scraping wonder, the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, comes with a casino. The job of drawing attention to it and luring the punters through the doors with a dazzling display was awarded to Laservision from Australia, along with local support from the Showtec Group.

BIG BUCKS, BIG POOL

It’s worth looking a bit more at the complex itself, not just to be amazed at the bricks and mortar facts, but to get a sense of the daunting task that the Laservision team were dealing with. Hailed as the world’s most expensive ($5.7 billion) standalone casino, Marina Bay Sands is a sprawling resort and casino fronting the ocean in Singapore. 

Aside from the casino section, the complex also features a 2560-room hotel, a 120,000sqm convention and exhibition centre, a shopping mall, an art and science museum (always a big hit with the gamblers), two theatres, six restaurants and two floating pavilions. The casino has 500 tables and 1600 slot machines. Three towering structures are topped by the 340m-long SkyPark (in comparison, the MCG is a paltry 171m from fence to fence), which is a theme park with capacity for 3900 people. There’s also a 150m-long infinity swimming pool set on top of what is currently the world’s “largest public cantilevered platform”. (If like me you’re wondering about the “public” bit and what non-public platform is bigger, you may Google in vain. But I’m guessing something at Cape Canaveral.) Anyway, just looking at pictures of the pool sitting almost incongruously high above the city is enough to give most people vertigo. They must have had one hell of a garden hose to fill that.

TEST RIG

For this project Laservision turned to Colin Baldwin, who has a long track record in designing and running large-scale multimedia events. Colin and the Laservision team arrived at Marina Bay well before the final building was finished to carry out some preliminary planning and invite several suppliers to help offer some solutions to problems. His initial attempts at testing various lights and designing a rig – if you can call such an undertaking a mere ‘rig’ – were often thwarted by being on what was still essentially a construction site. Equipment would be shifted overnight, routes blocked, scaffolding and boom lifts would magically appear and take over an area… it wasn’t easy. Sometimes just getting into one of the elevators required politely, but firmly, ejecting some of the workers to make room and allow the overload mechanism to reset. 

To further complicate the project, the resort already had, or was going to have, a large number of effect lights that would be permanently installed and could be used during the ceremony. They needed to be integrated with whatever specialist fixtures Laservision brought in for the show, but at this stage many of them hadn’t been fitted, and it was difficult to envisage just what impact they might have. Laservision flew these fixtures in ahead of schedule so they could be integrated with the ceremony’s lighting design.

Weather-protected DTS XR3000 profile spots project moving water ripples on the underside of the SkyPark . Images courtesy of Laservision.

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPONS

The three spectacular towers supporting the theme park are the Sands Hotel. Much of the rest of the complex such as the exhibition centre, casino and theatres occupy ground level space and share a large, concave roof structure. To light the roofing, Illumination Physics IP36 LED washlights were selected and put in place just in time for the ceremony. This aspect of the design alone  required 998 of the IP36 fixtures; that no one could find space for another two and make it an even 1000 reveals a disappointing lack of a sense for the dramatic, but never mind…

The 12 sheer walls of the hotel towers are also shaped with unique curves and oblique lines that carry upward for the entire 57 stories and lighting these was another challenge. After dabbling with a few ideas, Robe’s CitySkape Xtreme LED fixtures got the nod. The Xtremes have twin-blades of 94 Luxeon K2 RGBW LEDs and a selection of lenses that were combined to cover the area.

SHIP IN THE NIGHT

And in one of those quirky bursts of inspiration that architects are prone to, the SkyPark is supposed to be reminiscent of a ship travelling through night – albeit more than 300 metres above the perfectly good, real ocean under its keel. To create this illusion, some 14 DTS XR3000 1200W moving spots inside Tempest’s Tornado domes were positioned on the roof of the casino area with animated gobos installed. Special gobo slots were manufactured to mask the light away from hotel suite windows close to the base of SkyPark and the effect of water moving along the ‘hull’ was complete.

Things got serious in June 2010 with the return of Colin with the Laservision crew and the beginning of the bump-in proper for the ceremony in conjunction with Showtec. Along with clean socks, boxers and a toothbrush, Colin and the Laservision team brought 14 Alpha One Falcon Beam 7kW xenon searchlights, 18 Syncrolite 5kW and 7kW xenon searchlights, 36 CitySkape Xtreme LED washlights and seven Laservision Stella Ray YAG lasers to be deployed along the water’s edge of Marina Bay. Now it was a ‘simple’ matter of making it all work.

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Sometimes just getting into one of the elevators required politely, but firmly, ejecting some of the workers to make room and allow the overload mechanism to reset

Images courtesy of Laservision.

ROOM WITH A VIEW

The scale of the project and the size of the canvas they were working with produced a problem of its own – how and where they could operate the equipment with a clear view of everything. The answer was from 800m away and across the other side of the bay – yes, the bay… the thing filled with salt water and lots of creatures that want to kill you. Running cables around the rim of the bay was logistically too hard (and would enormously increase the length of the runs) because of major roadways and buildings. The solution was to establish a wireless link directly across the water.

We all tend to take this type of approach for granted these days. Large events like Olympic ceremonies and World Cups have got us used to employing multiple – I mean multiple – wireless networks over long distances. But this was still a big call by Laservision and a credit to them that things worked flawlessly. It was nearly a kilometre between transmitters and receivers, and don’t forget the airwaves around Singapore probably carry more radio traffic than the Pentagon on payday.

Eight DMX universes were carried via Wireless Solution W-DMX links from a suite in the Fullerton Hotel straight across the bay, to the roof of the Marina Bay Sands building. A grandMA2 full-size running in Series 1 mode and a grandMA2 ultra-light console were used for lighting control with the latter being on Level 4 of the casino opposite and being triggered via one of the DMX links. Everything was programmed and ultimately run from the room in the Fullerton.

Images courtesy of Laservision.

EXPLOSIVE RESULTS

The end result was a stunning 15-minute display that started off quite subtly and built to a crescendo of blazing, flickering lasers spreading across the whole bay while the resort itself became an explosion of lights and colours. The light show stood on its own without any accompanying audio. The sequence was run every quarter of an hour from dusk until midnight. Event managers also organised cameras to be set up on the Fullerton Hotel side of the bay with the vision broadcast on large-screen displays at VIP events inside the complex.

While it was a huge success the final design and programmed performance was actually temporary, but will form the basis of a permanent son et lumiere shown daily by the Marina Bay Sands that’s expected to entertain 10,000 people every night.

PRODUCTION TEAM

Project Director:  Colin Baldwin
Event Manager: Shannon Brooks
Technical Production Manager: John Cashion
Head Lighting Technician: Patrick Williams
GrandMA Programmer: Ryan Marginson
Laser Technician: Robert McRostie
Lighting Technician/Laser Programmer: Daryl Bowen
Lighting Technician: Regan Hammond
Lighting Technician: Glen Beilenberg
Production Assistant: Bianca Hill
Showtec Manager: Choony Yip ‘Weng’
Showtec Lighting Technician: Boyd Yeo Thong
Showtec Lighting Technician:  Toh Say Kiat
Showtec Lighting Technician:  Bernard Lee

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