Light of Gelam, Singapore

Hurrairah bin Sohail investigates a projection mapping display on Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam that highlights the tradition and culture of the area and its people.

The pandemic might have put a downer on events, but this does not mean people have stopped celebrating occasions of significance. In Singapore, to mark the month of Ramadan for Muslims, Light of Gelam was staged for a month in the historic Kampong Glam area. The centrepiece of the activities was a projection mapping display on Sultan Mosque, a historically significant house of worship that is an instantly recognisable landmark of Kampong Glam.

The projection mapping was managed and delivered by VV. Studios, Omnigram and Epson Singapore. The project was led by Burhan Jumadi, creative director of VV Studios. It was a collaborative effort with Fortress Events for the client, One Kampong Gelam [OKG].

OKG is an association that explores ways to enhance Kampong Glam’s environment and promote the welfare of businesses. Its pitched proposal for projection mapping on Sultan Mosque was supported by Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] and Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura [MUIS].

VV.Studios is a modern operation looking to provide turnkey solutions for events ranging from projection mapping to AR, VR, XR and mixed reality applications. Jumadi’s drive is to infuse technology into the process of content creation, and he took the lead when it came to content creation for Light of Gelam.

Jumadi from VV.Studios says: “It was the job of VV.Studios to conceptualise and execute the whole projection mapping on Sultan Mosque which was daunting because it was the centrepiece of the event and wider range of activities. We had discovery sessions and conversations with STB around the direction of the content and received a brief as well. But we also had a lot of freedom to interpret the brief and expand on it.”

He continues: “The inspiration for the content came from Sultan Mosque and the surrounding Kampong Glam area itself. We actually walked around the area to research the elements that were being used and this actually directed us to use Turkish lamps in our content which are a very noticeable feature of Kampong Glam. Of course, Islamic motifs were at the heart of the content, and this meant we had elements that represented Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia and more. The Kampong Glam area used to be a port and we reference this in the content as well by including imagery of ships. There was a lot of subject matter for us to draw on for the content.”

There was also the matter of making sure that the content fit the canvas. John Nicholas Locson, VFX supervisor at VV. Studios, details: “We flew a drone around the mosque to capture footage of the structure and get the telemetry data. We then converted the video footage into images and then used these images to create a 3D model of the entire mosque. We used the ratio between the people in the images, objects such as bins and building structures to determine the size. In particular, the dome of the mosque is the central feature, and it is a very large structure so the 3D model really helped us create content that would suit it.”

He continues: “We made the 3D simulations using the software Blender and the simulations had to be done in 3D because the projection mapping involves real-world calculations, and we have to deal with real-world physics.”

With the creative aspects of the project handled, VV.Studios turned its attention to execution and Jumadi says: “There were a number of challenges for the project. From our reconnaissance of the area, we knew that finding a spot for the projectors was going to be difficult. And then because this is a heritage area and has high walking thoroughfare, we had to make sure that those proceedings were not disrupted. Plus, we had to make sure all the safety precautions and regulations were met so there was a lot of bureaucratic red tape that we had to navigate.”

For the technical execution of the Light of Gelam, VV.Studios partnered with Epson Singapore. Jumadi says: “This was a great project for vendors to get visibility with a number of parties and stakeholders that are integral to the events and visitor attraction sectors in Singapore. We’ve had the experience of working with Epson together on previous projects, and when we were proceeding with this unique projection mapping project, we decided to partner with them again. We have a strong relationship with Epson, and I must say that their customer service is great which is really essential to execute events.”

Epson Singapore’s pre-sales team and events production joined the fray for the installation and the execution of the project. Alex Chua, team lead at Epson Singapore, shares his take on the Light of Gelam projection mapping project: “From the start, we knew that brightness would be the key for this project. The projection distance was pretty far, it was about 70m from the scaffolding to the mosque because of the location where the projectors were set up. On top of that, the Kampong Glam area has high ambient light from streetlights, retail and hospitality outlets and lamp posts. We knew that the centre projection was the main, key component and it was supplemented with projection on the left and right. From how the content was created and how the mosque is structured it was clear that the centre projection was going to draw the attention of the audience so we really wanted to emphasise it. With this in mind, we knew that we needed to get the right balance of brightness for projection.”

The Light of Gelam projection mapping is delivered by two Epson 20,000 lumens projectors and two Epson 25,000 lumens projectors.

Selecting the right projector was just half the battle. Chua from Epson Singapore details some specific challenges faced: “The parties involved with the project had a discussion with the mosque about where the projectors could be set up and due to the cramped nature of the area and the fact that there are a lot of people walking through, it was decided that the scaffolding for the projectors would be constructed in a back alley near the mosque. This was to ensure that there would be no disruption or disturbance for the people and businesses in the area.”

The location chosen had knock-on effects and Chua adds: “Due to the location of the projectors, we were also projecting diagonally towards the mosque. There were trees and lampposts that were obstructing the area. If we could set up on the main street and project head-on things would have been much simpler. There was also the issue of high ambient light.”

Chua continues: “And the main structure we would be projecting on, the dome of Sultan Mosque, is gold in colour which was another challenge. The gold colour meant that we really had to up our game to make sure that the projected content looked good and made an impact. This is where Epson’s 3LCD technology came into play. 3LCD technology has the same light output across white light and colour and this allowed us to have content that is properly represented and properly blended on the dome. There is a myth or perception that DLP is better than 3LCD when it comes to colour reproduction but technically speaking, based on white papers and research and user experience, 3LCD is the better option in comparison with 1-chip DLP.”

In addition to the right projector models, Epson Singapore worked together with Omnigram to overcome these aforementioned challenges. Eddy Yanto, principal consultant at Omnigram, details his involvement: “The starting point for me was a conversation with Burhan and we went over the blueprints and the dimensions for the surface to be projected on and general specifications. From there, I took the data and started to extrapolate and build the dimensions to represent the façade of the mosque. You can come very close to the exact measurements by building this kind of framework from the geometric images and telemetry data. Things started to take shape on the content side and the technical side as well and then we proceeded with the execution.”

Yanto continues: “Through conversations with Epson and VV.Studios, we were all able to be on the same page. I think we all knew that we needed high brightness projectors that were able to go above 20,000 lumens. In terms of the projection mapping, we knew that we were projecting on the façade and the dome, but we were able to make sure these factors were accounted for. The real challenging part was getting the equipment ready, and the scaffolding set up and to make sure that the power system was in place. Once this was done, we had to wait for the sun to go down so we could do the masking and the mapping.”

On the execution and deployment side, Yanto played a critical role as he details: “Omnigram supplied a custom server that I built locally running Dataton WatchOut. The unique feature of this solution is that the video signal that comes out of it is HDBaseT which means that it can go straight to the HDBaseT input of the Epson projectors. With HDBaseT we didn’t need any transmitters or receivers or extenders to get the signal across which saved us a lot of hassle. And there are benefits to using HDBaseT in general, such as the option to lock down the EDID which greatly adds to the stability of the show.”

With the successful staging and conclusion of Light of Gelam, Chua provides final remarks: “This really is a unique project where we mix the traditional and conventional with the futuristic. When it comes to Sultan Mosque and the content, which is representing Islam, these elements are very rooted in tradition. But the way the content is being delivered, which is via projection mapping, is very futuristic. This is by design because we wanted the whole event to honour Sultan Mosque and the Kampong Glam area but also be engaging and appeal to younger audiences.”

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