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Feature: Back to the future

Click to play video Feature: Back to the future

Feature: Back to the future

Singapore’s Fort Canning centre has undergone the time traveller treatment. Richard Lawn goes back in time for an immersive futuristic experience

The five-act, multimedia extravaganza that is ‘From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience’ features a ‘reverse rainfall’ indoor shower during the last scene and a dazzling array of LEDs and laser projectors, all of which play a role in transporting visitors back in time. Pushing expectations to new levels, it has challenged show technical systems designers Ctrl Fre@k to create an attraction that is part theatrical and part themed.

The main highlight of the Bicentennial Experience is the one-hour immersive, multi-sensory journey that charts Singapore’s 500-year history prior to the British arrival in 1819 and onwards to the present day. As the appointed agency for the Singapore Bicentennial Office initiative, Kingsmen Exhibits started on the project in February 2018. Its work encompassed conceptualisation and design, conversion of the almost century-old space, event management and research into multimedia, automation and materials for the special effects.

CTRL Fre@k's Jeffrey Yue at the Fort Canning centre
CTRL Fre@k's Jeffrey Yue at the Fort Canning centre

For the creation of the immersive and unique experience, Kingsman collaborated with numerous design agencies and creative consultants, one of which assumed responsibility for creating the overall direction and concept of the show. Ctrl Fre@k was appointed as the technical consultant and systems designer for audio, video, lighting and multimedia technical aspects.

‘Ctrl Fre@k was effectively charged with translating the works created by the individual production houses into the resultant multimedia experience,’ explains co-founder/director, Jeffrey Yue. Somewhat less than 200 years old itself, the specialist company will be celebrating its 10th anniversary as the show wraps up in December. Having merited a fearsome reputation in the theatrical world well beyond Singaporean arts venues, Yue and his team are demonstrating their expertise in other areas. ‘The Fort Canning Centre is almost a century old and, as the conserved building could not be remodelled, we were restricted from installing any fixtures as they are ultimately temporary exhibits,’ he continues.

The five acts of the experience incorporate LED walls, revolving stages, rain shower rooms and actors on travellators, with visitors guided through in stages. ‘If one act is running behind schedule, the others behind are delayed, so we created triggers to guide the audiences through and ensure that no one gets left behind.’ The 60-minute attraction is split into five acts, with each one individually triggered by customised ETC Paradigm Inspire six-button control stations linked to an architectural control processor in the control room.

Act one is furnished with many d&b audiotechnik speakers
Act one is furnished with many d&b audiotechnik speakers

The 80 audio channels – including striped SMPTE timecodes – are transmitted from two OutBoard TiMax II SoundHub frames (32 and 48 channels of DSP, respectively) to individual d&b D20 amplifier racks using primary and secondary Dante networks and a DS10 audio bridge. Different Inspire control station key presses send MIDI triggers to the TiMax II frames via ETC Response MIDI gateways within the non-linear, multi-timeline playback environment within the SoundHubs. In addition to the playback, the TiMax SoundHub S-Version software caters to matrix DSP processing, timeline edits and PanSpace Cue programming with object-based spatial rendering.

The multichannel audio is mixed onsite using Avid Pro Tools Ultimate and fed into the TiMax domain, where it is programmed for multi-speaker system alignment including delay adjustments, output levels and EQ settings within the individual acts. ‘We normally apply TiMax in theatrical applications, as it allows us to manage multichannel sound effects, object panning and DSP processing,’ says Yue. ‘The S-Version allows us to trigger events to be programmed against individual cue timelines.’

A cue can contain single audio events or composites of multiple audio events, with overlapping multichannel playback, looping, object-based panning and mix automation. The show control events are visually displayed on their own timeline bar within each cue, where they can be independently time-slipped relative to other cue events, audio clips and show clocks. The pre-load event has been used to ensure multitrack music content plays perfectly in sync with the other lighting, visual and multimedia events.

Audio DSP settings within each act are controlled via Symetrix Radius ARC-SW4e wall panels
Audio DSP settings within each act are controlled via Symetrix Radius ARC-SW4e wall panels

Green Hippo Hippotizer media servers are employed as the backbone of the video playback system. Connected to racked Datapath Fx4 display controllers, the video content of each act is transmitted over the Cat-6 infrastructure via Extron DTP T HD2 4K 330 transmitters from the racked Hippotizer Boreal+ and Karst+ servers.

While the numerous CLT LED wall panels catch the attention of visitors and critics alike, the latest Epson ultra-short-throw laser projectors have surprised Yue. ‘Owing to the small sizes of the rooms, we would have struggled to create the ceiling-to-floor projection visuals for this exhibition several years ago. The availability of Epson EB-L1100U and EB-L1405U projectors really helped us as they take up so little space in which to output their images.’

Act four’s theatre within a gloomy, claustrophobic room is simply served by audio output on JBL Control 60 pendant speakers. The other remaining acts all rely on over 200 d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers consisting primarily of E-series E4, E5, E6, E8 and E12-D cabinets in addition to Y7 and Y10 models augmented in the lower frequencies by B4, E12 and E15 subwoofers. The temporary exhibit required a permanent installation perception, and that has been expertly applied by Electronics & Engineering, which worked tirelessly onsite for two months implementing the various aspects of the system designed by Ctrl Fre@k.

Act two
Act two

‘This venue wasn’t built for such an ambitious exhibit,’ continues Yue. ‘Therefore, the acoustics are very poor and we could not apply any treatments in these rooms. The distributed audio system serving each act has been sensitively adjusted so that audio pollution is minimised between the rooms. You can increase intelligibility and fidelity by deploying a distributed loudspeaker system that is composed of many smaller d&b cabinets. One of my favourite mottos is “excite the audience, but not the room”.’

The entire loudspeaker setup is powered and processed by d&b audiotechnik D20 amplifiers. In addition to providing ample headroom for the various loudspeaker configurations – including the power and control of the JBL Control 60 pendant speakers – the integrated R1 remote control software provides total control, processing and monitoring of the entire loudspeaker deployment. The audio remains within the digital domain throughout the experience, with the exception of the striped AMPTE audio that is distributed to all other departments via Glensound Signature Series ADA26 interfaces. Operating in the 2.4GHz band, ClearCom DX410 and MS-702 two-channel digital wireless intercoms are used in act one between the ushers and the stage managers.

The extensive Cat-6 digital network linking the control room with the entire Fort Canning Centre exhibits is crucial for all the programmed audio, lighting, automation and special FX (rain and water) distribution and synchronisation. ‘Ultimately, it’s more theatrical than theme park,’ assesses Yue. ‘A strictly theme park control system would not have been right for this application.’

Act four
Act four

Owing to popular demand, the experience has been extended from 3–6 months, ensuring that Ctrl Fre@k and the other contractors are firmly based onsite for the remainder of 2019. It’s a temporary exhibit that tricks visitors into believing it’s a permanent installation. Despite the acoustic challenges and space limitations, it’s certainly been a notable experience for Yue, his team of technicians and all the other contractors that were challenged to deliver this critically acclaimed attraction.

Designed to educate Singaporeans and overseas visitors with a historic walk through the Lion City, Ctrl Fre@k’s design also serves as a lesson in how to create a bespoke AV and lighting solution from the ground up. Having drawn upon his theatrical expertise, Yue has boldly added a unique assemblage of technology that ensures the acts run like clockwork for Sir James Raffles’ landing, the Japanese air raids and the persistent rain shower finale.

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