Celebrating 38 years of independence, Singapore's National Day Parade 2003 was held at the National Stadium on August 9th. While static military precision dominated the parade in the past, the event has in recent years been transformed into an entertainment extravaganza, complete with vibrant colors and exotic sound, reflecting the country's transformation from a struggling nation into an economic powerhouse with 4,000,000 inhabitants.

Despite what had been described as a difficult year so far for the country, with SARS, retrenchments, and threat of terror, the crowd, many of them dressed in the national red color, enjoyed the colorful spectacle that culminated in a massive fireworks display.

LD Steve Nield, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also lit the event in 2001 — the first independently hired designer to do so. Singapore-based company Showtec provided the lighting equipment and personnel. “In previous years, the army supplied their own equipment, consisting of about 5,000 PAR cans, a bunch of [Strong] Super Troupers and heaps of [Phillips] Arena Vision [floodlights],” said Nield.

A small stage made of frosted glass, shaped like Singapore, was erected in the center of the field while on the eastern side of the stadium there were three screens, which were the only staging elements. Nield was very keen to ensure that there were no ugly scaffolding towers and that the lighting equipment was not too prominent. “I tried to place everything high up, which meant I needed equipment that could throw light over a great distance,” he explains. “I opted for 44 Griven Kolorjet 4kW Xenon color changing fixtures to supply the basic wash light onto the field. I have to throw in excess of 490' and they wanted 500 vertical lux across the field, which we didn't quite get.”

The frosted stage was lit by eighteen Studio Due CityColors contained within the stage, while any action taking place on the stage was lit by the six Strong Xenon Gladiator followspots. Twenty-eight Coemar iSpot Flex moving head fixtures were used to project gobo images onto the field and Nield found he could project them up to 590'. “We also used them as substitute followspots,” he says. “In my opinion, no one else makes a light bright enough to put a gobo on a field at over 460'. Forget color, I'm just talking about brute force — getting as much light as possible out of a unit with a DHA metal gobo in it.

“We also had 24 Coemar iWash fixtures for beam effects across the fields,” he continues. “They were placed symmetrically around the outer edge of the running track. They were used to frame some of the [E\T\C Audiovisuel] Pigi images that were on the field, complementing the colors of the Pigi image. Originally I wanted to use twenty-four 3K Syncrolites, as they would have been perfect for the job but we could not get the quantity for that period of time. When I went to see the iSpot Flex in Italy back in April, the iWash was never on the list but once Fausto Orsatti (Coemar's tech manager) found a custom PC lens from the spares bin it was added to list immediately. With the custom lens the beam was so tight and intense even the local police came to see it!”

Fourteen Syncrolite 7K fixtures were placed along the upper rim of the stadium to support the action on the field by highlighting various areas: the audience, VIP area, choir, and centre stage. There were also the mandatory Syncrolite dancing beams during the firework display. Four Syncrolite 3K fixtures were place on top of the three screens while the remaining eight were situated on the field.

Despite this high-tech lighting equipment, one of the most visually arresting scenes happened when hundreds took to the field, each holding a battery-powered fluorescent tube over which they could place one of four different colored fabric socks. It was simple yet extremely effective.

As most of the participants in the show are volunteers, they can only rehearse on a Saturday, which means that the lighting equipment must be set up a month in advance, with most of it open to the elements. Living in Kuala Lumpur, Nield knew to keep as much of the gear as possible under covers so that the humidity did not interfere: “In this part of the world you can forget using scrollers for that length of time, which is another reason why I chose the Griven Kolorjets.”

Nield designed the show with the aid of Martin ShowDesigner, the first person to do so on a stadium show. “It was a great success for this event and saved us working a lot of unsociable hours,” he said. “It was certainly a very worthwhile tool and I was pleasantly surprised by it as it did more than I expected it to. Many thanks to the first class support provided by Steve Rawlins from Martin Singapore, and Paul Pelletier from Martin Canada.”

Peter Milne, of the Sydney-based company The Electric Canvas, was bought in to design the Pigi projection system that played a major part in the event. Eighteen scrolling projectors were used to provide images onto the field and onto three rear-projection screens each measuring 60' by 40'. Each screen was covered by two Pigis so that cross-fades and complex effects could be achieved. Video was projected into 40' × 30' masks that were introduced into the images as required.

The challenge was to create projector positions suitable to allow unified, undistorted images to be projected onto the field. The stadium has an open design, with only the western VIP grandstand under cover. Milne designed a low-mass structure to support and house the 440lb projectors on the 30-year-old grandstand roof, a first that required careful survey and documentation in order to obtain the necessary engineering approvals.

To mirror this set up on the eastern side, a structure was built at the back of the seating bowl, which necessarily had to be taller than the western projectors, with longer lenses used to compensate for the increased distance. With a bit of juggling Milne was able to coincide these positions with the top of the RP screens. The 12-projector field rig lined up perfectly as planned to create a single 246' × 230' image.

During the finale, the field projection took place on a giant cloth held above the heads of the massed participants. These images required a separate distortion solution and projector line-up afforded by moving the Pigis programmable rear foot. The only way to “line up” these cloth images was to move a 16' square scaffold “screen” around the field to adjust the merge between each of the 12 projectors for each of the images. The result was a spectacle big enough for a country as diverse as Singapore itself.