Experience: ArtBox, Singapore

With a focus on makers and creative entrepreneurs, ArtBox Singapore decided to augment the visitor experience with digital art. Hurrairah bin Sohail reports how a ‘lenticular’ projection mapping project was undertaken.

Street markets are a unique feature of Southeast Asian countries and a part of the culture. In recent years, the ‘street market’ experience has grown.

Lee Haoming, regional head, strategy at Invade, says: “The idea for bringing ArtBox to Singapore [a street market established in Bangkok] came by visiting Bangkok and visiting the markets there. When I came across ArtBox I realised that the market was different, with a different concept like using shipping containers for the market stalls. The whole idea of repurposing and up-cycling resonated with us. The idea of ArtBox is that you don’t find your usual products that you can search for online. The people at ArtBox are makers and creative entrepreneurs. There is also a strong drive to support artists and various forms of art be it graffiti, music or even digital art.”

As ArtBox has grown in Singapore it has had to evolve. Haoming says: “We are currently the largest lifestyle market of its kind in Singapore. The number of people visiting has been increasing from year to year and in our third year [2019] we got endorsed by the Singapore Tourism Board which makes ArtBox Singapore a national event. With this kind of endorsement, we knew we needed to up our game.”

The desire to engage with visitors in a meaningful way led ArtBox Singapore down the path of digital art. Haoming says: “We decided to bring in more art and in a different format. That is why we moved towards digital as well. We already have a different setup, with shipping containers being used to make the market stalls. What else can we do with them? How can we add to them to give the businesses exhibiting another way to engage with visitors and enhance the experience? We didn’t want the visitors to just come to ArtBox to eat and shop. We wanted them to experience something new.”

He continues: “Projection mapping isn’t something that is new. But we had the crazy idea of projecting onto the shipping containers while they were standing upright.”

He gives further details: “The containers have been placed vertically and they are offset, almost creating a repeating diamond shape when they are placed next to each other. We call this lenticular design. There is projection mapping on both sides. One side faces the train station and the trains experience two different sets of visuals based on the direction they are travelling. The other side showcases visuals for the visitors of ArtBox.”

The ‘crazy idea’ and ArtBox’s underlying ethos informed the search for a suitable partner to embark on the projection mapping project. Haoming details: “We spoke to a number of industry players but when it comes to projects like this, it is often the chemistry between the parties that matters. So, while Ionix might be new in the AV industry once we spoke to them, we saw the same drive and passion to create unforgettable experience. When we saw what they were capable of delivering it was an easy decision to partner up. The digital art installations are really driven by passion and people in the industry who want to use digital art as a medium to make a difference.”

Ionix was up to the challenge and Burhan Jumadi, director and founder of Ionix, says: “We provide full turnkey service for digital art installations all the way from content creation to projection mapping. The opportunity to work with ArtBox was massive for us as it gave us a chance to showcase our work to a large audience for a platform that is unique to Singapore.”

Jumadi knew that this was not a straightforward projection mapping project: “At the early stage, we were presented with this crazy idea of lenticular design and while we knew we could deliver, there were a number of challenges. On the projection side, it was almost like we were dealing with multiple depths and planes. And then we also had to make sure that the content was suited to the unique canvas that we were working with. There was a lot of back and forth.”

He continues: “But, we knew how important the lenticular design was as a differentiating factor and as an element that was part of ArtBox’s unique style. So, on our end we had to make sure that our digital art delivered.”

Jumadi says: “Because the parameters of the projection mapping were known, there was a lot of time to prepare to solve the challenges. We knew that the container was going to be rectangular. We also knew that the shape would be unique. That meant that we could map the canvas and then from there begin to model it and come up with a solution that would be appropriate.”

Ionix also employed every design tool available to ensure that the projection mapping would be perfect. Jumadi details: “We did a small prototype with polycarbonate in the office. Embarking on this proof of concept activity was very beneficial. From here we could see our projection mapping models in action and refine them to be better. We also tried to get as close to the material we would be projecting on at ArtBox as well.”

The content has been designed in Unity and projection mapping software was employed to ensure that the it was mapped properly onto the screen. A queue system ensures that the projection mapping events go as scheduled. Show control was not needed as the projection mapping content is on a simple time schedule. The entire projection mapping project was accomplished with a single Epson EB-L25000UNL projector and no blending was required.

Through the course of the projection mapping schedule, the Epson projector showcases its suitability for digital art. Jumadi explains: “The show starts at 7pm and it is still quite bright at that time. We start with the projector at high brightness and as the evening progresses and it gets darker and ambient light reduces, we adjust the brightness of the projector accordingly.”

A short throw lens is used in conjunction with the projector to overcome challenges presented by the location. Jumadi details: “The distance of the projector from the canvas was fixed at 14m. We worked backwards from this with regards to the lens selection. The real challenge was the trees that were in the way. We couldn’t cut them down so we had to trim them to make sure they didn’t block the projection and we were doing this till the last day before ArtBox opened to the public.”

Regarding further challenges, Haoming says: “Lenticular design itself is hard. But to do it on a fixed structure that was going to be in a carpark that was then going to be converted into the ArtBox market just complicated things. The surface on which the structure was placed was uneven and sloping. It took a lot of time to level it. Any tilt or unevenness would adversely affect the projection mapping.”

In the end, all parties worked together to ensure the best possible outcome. Jumadi says: “We had a lot of help from Epson. They furnished us with the projector and two options for lenses as well as providing technical training so that we could get the best out of the equipment. Epson even came down to the site during the runup to ensure that everything was proceeding without problems.”

To conclude, Haoming says: “The projection mapping was executed just like we had envisioned it and the response from the visitors was great. But, for an event like ArtBox, we are almost obligated to one-up ourselves and we’ll see what we can do for next year.”

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