The stadium is dark, save for the ring of neon-lit dancers. Slowly, to the beat of the music, a cluster of towers rises from the centre. As they reach the apex of their ascent, fully illuminated by multi-coloured lights, the crowd roars. They recognise the shapes – these are no mere structures, as the telltale shells of the Flower and Cloud Forest domes, and Esplanade come into view. This is Singapore and it’s floating several storeys above the ground. The music swells with the uplifting lyrics: “Rise to the rainbow, rise.”
Moments such as these are seared into memories. Children gasp. Those old enough to know compare the scene to the futuristic world of The Jetsons. Others in the audience are dazzled, seeing the scene as representing Singaporeans’ dream of their future city. Awe and pride culminate in one performance at the nation’s 51st National Day Parade.
The man who brought the Sky City to life has also conjured ocean waves from stadium grounds, serpent’s flames to do battle with puny humans, and mind-boggling phantasmagoria to transport today’s CGI-savvy audiences to surreal realms. His shows, specifically the Opening Ceremony of the 28th Southeast Asian Games, have broken international records. He’s the reason international audiences watching the Singapore Grand Prix on television can admire the beauty of our city’s signature buildings.
The secret is in the lighting. And Adrian Goh, chief of Singapore-based projection and multimedia company Hexogon Solution, is the digital wizard who has injected magic into some of the nation’s most spectacular events. His wand? Advanced projection mapping – a technology that can turn almost any surface into a dynamic animated display.
In person, the 41-year-old father of two is quiet and unassuming, preferring to manipulate the limelight than being in it. “In my life, I’ve been to a club six times, and four times it was for a job,” he says. “I’m the person who entertains, not the person to be entertained.”
Talk to him about projection mapping, however, and his eyes gleam with excitement. He shows us the wallpaper on his mobile: It’s a night scene of a blooming garden from iLight Marina Bay 2012, the company’s first projection mapping project on a national scale, one which paved the way for other large-scale national events.
Swipe / click left and right to see Goh’s light spectacles.
To be sure, Hexogon Solution has shot from a multimedia firm figuring its way around to being one of Singapore’s go-to names for spectacular projection-based entertainment. It has since scored a slew of national events aside from the aforementioned, including five National Day Parades and the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown.
With offices in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the company’s multi-million inventory includes one of the world’s leading highperformance digital projectors. Goh himself has his eye on the biggest prize of all – the Olympics.
HUSTLING FOR THE LOVE OF ART
He’s prepared to work for it. From an early age, Goh, the fourth child out of eight, learnt that he would have to make his own way. He didn’t pursue a career in music, despite having played the trumpet in school and in the military band during national service, as the course fees were too expensive. Instead, after secondary school, he gravitated towards “entertainment, stage and set design”, and ended up studying visual merchandising at the then Lasalle International Fashion School. Although his Chinese physician father agreed to pay for his studies, Goh did not want to burden him. “I’m from a very big family,” he says. “If my parents were to spend so much on me, the rest might suffer.”
Goh on leadership and hard work.
Despite his lack of funds, he finished his studies thanks to a lecturer who recommended him for a school technician job. But the work came at a price. Goh damaged his hands moving heavy panels – which could weigh up to 200kg – from soundproof rooms. It’s the reason he cannot lift a heavy book today.
In school, he set out to prove himself, offering his window-display service to brands for free, in order to build his portfolio. His talent didn’t go unnoticed. Samuel Benjamin from retail giant FJ Benjamin threw him Gucci, Fendi and Coach. Goh smiles at the memory. “Samuel was very focused on detail and taught me many lessons. After working with him, I spend 30 per cent more time on things that people don’t see.”
Goh would go on to start his company, Mozz Creation, in 1997 (the company was renamed Hexogon Solution in 2008), and eventually ventured into different aspects of the creative business – from window display, exhibition and boutique renovation, to light, sound and video projection.
In 2011, Goh saw on Youtube what projection mapping could achieve and was instantly intrigued. “The optical illusions were fascinating,” he says. Failing to find out how it was done from his projector suppliers in Singapore – they were hardware people who did not have the required technical expertise – he took matters into his own hands. Goh organised a projection mapping competition for students from local polytechnics, and hired two of the most promising contestants. The three of them bought small projectors to experiment with and the company soon integrated projection mapping into its projects.
He surmises that his early years of struggle taught him the value of being a self-starter. He reflects: “I always tell myself, go out there and create your opportunities. My whole life has been about showing people it can be done.”
And that music career he gave up? Today, music is integral to his work. Says Goh: “My background gives me an edge when I conceptualise storyboards, which includes music selection and editing.”
It’s arguable that Goh’s gumption has helped Hexogon achieve some amazing feats – including smashing records in the world of projection mapping. Or as one of his colleagues aptly describes: “Adrian is like a rocket. He just stomps all the way up. All you need to do is hold on tight, and you’ll go up with him.”
Case-in-point: At the 28th SEA Games, he stunned the committee by proposing a record 160 projectors – a number that would beat that of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the 2015 Nanjing Youth Olympics and the 2015 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
At the same event, Hexogon also set a Guinness World Record for The Greatest Light Output ever produced in a single event, delivering a staggering brightness of 3.2 million lumens. No mean feat, considering Goh’s team faced a major technical hurdle midway through rehearsals. “The stadium floor was covered with a flooring material which reflected and absorbed the light from our projectors like a privacy screen. It wasn’t ideal. We couldn’t align and blend the images properly. That became a very big problem,” he recalls.
Serendipitously, the issue was solved when Goh started noticing differences after performers had finished rehearsals. “Somehow, the dirt from their shoes and props moving in and out of the field cancelled the negative effect of the flooring material. After three to four weeks, day by day, we started seeing significant improvements in the brightness on the ground. That’s when I could sleep again,” he shares.
Tackling such technical challenges is perhaps what is required to take a projection mapping performance – often staged at a site-specific location – to the next level. Just last year, the organisers of Singapore’s 51st National Day Parade approached Goh with a daunting task: Can you create a real-time, tracking 3-D projection onto some of the largest objects in the world?
“The organisers came up with an idea which no one knew would work or not. Nobody in the world has done a tracking scale like this,” he says. He explains the technicalities involved. “The camera registers infra-red beacons installed on an object, and as it moves, the camera will detect the shift and instruct the projector to cast images on the new location. On a small scale, this is very easy to do, but on a cluster of 99, 3D objects totalling 20m tall and 60m in diameter like Sky City, we didn’t know if the tracking would work.”
“Go out there and create your opportunities. My whole life has been about showing people it can be done.”
– Adrian Goh
After sourcing the right tracking system and several technical trials, Hexogon would go on to make projection mapping history, pulling off the world’s largest 360-degree, real-time tracking projection onto two massive clusters of objects.
Goh’s achievements have come with some personal sacrifices. His second child was due on the day of a full-dress rehearsal for the 2013 National Day Parade. “I accompanied my wife into the operating theatre, heard my baby cry, and then I had to leave,” he says. In recent years, his business trips overseas have also become more frequent. “I video-chat with my three-year-old daughter a lot. She says, ‘Come out, come out!’ She wants me to come out of the screen. I’m not a very emotional person, but things like this make me want to hop on a plane and come home,” he says.
But there have also happier moments. Goh’s biggest fan is his six-year-old daughter. “My daughter is super involved. She must see every projection I’ve done,” he says. “She will share with everyone; even her teacher knows what I do.” But what truly inspires him is when his daughter does a sketch and passes it to Goh with a note: ‘”An idea for your next projection.”
Today, Goh is experiencing what happens when you show people a glimpse of the magic that’s possible. “Now, the most important question a client asks me, even if the concept is there, is, ‘Can you do anything more interesting?’ They pluck a concept from Youtube but they know we will go crazy and give something better,” he says.
“It was my best experience, ever,” he exclaims. The event drew almost 20,000 people daily, and featured a sparkling animation of a bear family travelling to space and around the world in search of a white Christmas. “I spent a lot of time walking among the people and looking at their faces. The fact that what I do makes people happy – in my life, this kind of joy is good enough for me.”
Goh is already working to expand Hexogon’s projection mapping performances in Japan and Taiwan. Though he’s hush-hush about the details, he’s chasing opportunities to maximise the use of the firm’s resources. “If I base my projects in Singapore now, with the scale we are and rapidly expanding, we will not survive.”
Next up is a new research lab where he’s looking to test “not what the customer wants”, but the possibilities in projection mapping. Referring to Lady Gaga’s recent 2017 Super Bowl half-time performance, where she had red, white and blue drones floating behind her, he asks: “Can we have a projection that tracks a drone? If each drone carries a panel, can we then project onto a panel as it spreads in the air?”
It’s a mind-boggling endeavour, but surely a stepping stone to reaching Goh’s ultimate goal, the Olympics. “If I’m given a show like the Olympics, it has to be something never done before,” he says. “The only thing you can do is accept that you need suggestions and comments to learn from. Don’t put on the mask that you are the best, that you are invincible.”
We ask Goh what keeps him pushing the boundaries. There’s a light in his eyes, as he says: “I really feel that I am entertaining people. How much more do I want to ask for?
“I get inspired by everything. That’s the beauty of it. How my daughter reacts, how my staff reacts, everything.”