Author Archive | Dejiki

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Transformers: a look at the concept art

TRANSFORMERS is an upcoming attraction at Universal Studios Singapore. Scheduled to be open in the second half of 2011, the attraction is an indoor sit-down ride that uses vehicles similar to motion simulators, but can also travel along a track. The ride should be using improved technology from “The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman” rides in Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Japan with some new advancements, such as High-Definition 3D displays and of course – impressive looking robots. To add more excitement, the attraction will feature elevation changes and potentially: dual-level scenes!

Some concept art have been leaked recently on Theme Park Insider, giving us a first glimpse of how the queue area and show scenes might look like.



Preshow area


Queue area that revolves around the AllSpark


Loading area, looking somewhat familiar..


One of the ride’s scenes.

It certainly looks exciting! The concept art appears to be more believable as compared to the sketches for Battlestar Galactica (which had rather ambitious plans for large, elaborately themed queue areas such as vast hangars – in the end it looks more like a little shed for just one lonely Viper).

Information is scarce about this ride and there isn’t anything much to see from within USS itself, unlike the other recently opened (and RE-opened) attractions which are situated very close to park guests. From what I’ve heard, the company involved with its construction has announced that their project will be completed by June 2011. The very same company was also contracted to rework some parts of Madagascar: A Crate Adventure and according to them, their work was done in March 2011. Crate Adventure opened about 2 months later. Perhaps we might see Transformers open much sooner than we thought, but let’s not keep our hopes too high – the park only promised that it will be open before the year ends!

Photos: Robert Niles, Theme Park Insider

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Tanjong Pagar Railway Station – Photowalk

Slated to close on 1st July 2011, the 88-year-old Tanjong Pagar Railway station is a place lost in time, and space.

The entire compound felt rustic and rather laid-back; almost as if I’ve stepped into a portal to Malaysia. Even the food vendors speak Malay almost exclusively.. just that payment is in Singapore dollars!

Fence

Framing the Orient Express

E&O in a Circle

Changing roles

Beyond the station

The rope

Metal tool things

Jelly lights

Life on the line

STOP

There are two coffee shops in the station (or Stesen), a bookshop that sells anything but books and some kampung hut in the center of all the business. I felt one momentary breeze of cool air in the hot weather – it came from the VIP Lounge for the Eastern & Oriental Express.
After walking to the end of the platform, there is a path which leads to some abandoned buildings, an outdoor restaurant (of sorts) and the train depot which is rather empty and weathered. Many opportunities to take photos of yourself standing/planking on some railway tracks here! Of course, do not wander to the actual working tracks!

The LEICA SUMMICRON-C 40mm Short Review / Thoughts about the Leica lens
For this photo trip, I used a LEICA SUMMICRON-C 40mm f/2 made 38 years ago. Most close-up and shallow DoF shots are taken at f/2.

After months of using the Carl Zeiss Planar lenses on my NEX, I have chanced upon some articles about Leica’s most underrated offering. The price seemed affordable (Leica-wise) and reviews just kept praising this tiny German-made lens – which was often overshadowed by its SUMMICRON-M brothers but yet appears to offer almost similar optical performance for the lenses within the same era. This means of course, no comparison with Aspherical lenses please – just not sensible. I then spoke to Desmond, who is very knowledgeable in this field – but also a very dangerous person to speak to when it comes to photography and audio equipment! Then yes, the DECISIVE MOMENT arrived.

Fine lines

I am enjoying the film-like colours and look of the Leica. The Summicron is sharp wide open, yet produces a pleasantly soft effect at the same time. The colour signature (out of camera) is quite similar to what I have to process for the high-contrast, vibrant images from Carl Zeiss lenses. I guess I am not the type of person who loves vividly loud colours. I prefer smooth, subtle and subdued (Triple-S? ha!) tones and surprisingly, this 38-year wonder just does it for me. There is just something about this lens. It brings out the very fine subtleties in colour tone.

Of course, even though it’s a Leica, it is not miracle glass. Understandably, the lens was made decades ago, so it does not have the best lens coating to suppress flare. I am using it with a camera it was not designed to pair with. Being a Leica rangefinder lens, the minimum focus is at a shocking 0.8m (0.1m more than the Nokton lenses and 0.3m more than the Contax G Zeiss lenses!). It does bring a lot of challenges in real-world use and I am being brought back into the tedious (and rewarding) experience of using M lenses again. I will probably write an entry soon about all the lenses I have used so far with the NEX – Both to document the experience and also help fellow “Mirrorless Cameras” enthusiasts in making acquisition decisions.

NEX-5 right now

4

The Grand Opening of Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore - Grand Opening 2011 - Parade 17

28th May 2011 was not an ordinary day marking the start of the June school holidays in Singapore. It was the Grand Opening day of Universal Studios Singapore (USS), ending the Soft Opening phase for the park.

Being a pioneer Annual Passholder at USS, I am curious to know what is in store for the park’s future – especially when my Pass is near expiry now and essentially, I had a year’s access to a park that has been in “beta testing” for the longest time. You might recall a rather critical entry which I wrote on the park’s actual anniversary.


2014 Remaster – Happy USS 3rd Anniversary!


In Celebration of Universal Studios Singapore’s 3rd Anniversary, this entry has received the Remaster Enhancement treatment. I have revisited the digital negatives and re-processed the photographs taken back in 2011. Apart from improved colour, clarity and consistency with my current visual aesthetic, there are also some photos that are published for the very first time. This is an opportunity to relive the magic of the Grand Opening Celebration. Enjoy!


Continue Reading →

2

RSAF Open House ’11


Entrance Gateway

Paya Lebar Airbase is open to public again this year as part of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Open House 2011. As I am currently part of MINDEF, I snapped on the chance to visit the open house on a preview day and show my support during office hours. It was also field trip day for students – the whole airbase was packed with chatty youngsters, many with DSLRs coupled with large zoom lenses in their hands. The organisers were not very strict at admissions though, there was no ID checks or anything – essentially it is “sort of” open to public.

If you like to know more about RSAF’s organisational structure, the people behind RSAF, its Air defense arsenal/capabilities or just love aircraft in general, then you should go to the RSAF Open House. It is also a good place to “sight-see” photography equipment, for obvious reasons!

And for those who goes to such events for freebies, the goodie bag I received has the following items: A cap, a fan, a bottle of water, a small carton of Milo, a tattoo sticker, two magnets, a fighter jet-shaped mobile phone charm thing and.. a yellow highlighter (which ironically, most random but will be very useful when term starts!)

Since it is a free event, why not just make a trip down? Details can be found here:
http://www.mindef.gov.sg/rsafopenhouse/


Some of the new aircraft “premiering” at this Open House include the F-15SG – one display was accompanied by a very neatly arranged chain of highly polished rounds:

F-15SG

20mm rounds

Some of the of pilots were around to give an in-depth tour of some aircraft’s controls. They even made the effort to explain all the complicated stuff to children:


Guided cockpit experience

Guided cockpit experience

There were also three Arming demonstrations, here is one of them (AH-64D):

AH-64D Arming Demo

AH-64D Arming Demo

AH-64D Arming Demo

In my opinion, this open house felt a little underwhelming, especially when compared to the Navy Open House, which had a lot more things to see and do. Due to the layout of the airbase, there are a lot more sparse walking areas than actual attractions (the aircraft and related equipment) which were all very closely packed and swamped by photographers (like myself, I’d admit). The most interesting attraction of the Navy Open House was the large variety of ship tours (non-moving), all guided by the actual ship crew, as well as the very fun and exciting ship rides! Okay – to be fair it is not exactly possible to do the same with aircraft.

The RSAF Open House is primarily an outdoor event, although it does also offers two exhibition halls with indoor displays, as well as a “Food Village” situated inside gloomy, air-conditioned hall. There is also a rock climbing wall (???) which I thought was rather irrelevant.

There were no “rides” available on the staff/school preview days. Probably because air fuel surcharge is on the rise lately. Haha.


RSAF

AS332M

Bridge

C-130 Hercules

0

The FinePix X100


While some camera manufacturers are flooding the market with competitively priced, simplified DSLRs and tiny compact cameras with many, sometimes gimmicky features, Fujifilm has boldly emerged in another direction – to build a high quality premium camera that not just have the good parts inside, but a stunning look to match. The FinePix X100 was first unveiled last year at Photokina and has attracted quite a large number of fans.


The Look
It is easy to tell why. The X100 looks delightfully vintage and minimalistic. The camera body is mostly covered with a black leather-textured material, with the top and bottom plates in a smooth grey finish. It resembles a classic rangefinder design, very much like Leica’s M system. The look is completed with a range of mechanical knobs, switches and rings.

Despite sporting a nostalgic design, the hardware within the X100 is of course, up to date. The designers have utilized various tricks to create the illusion that the camera has various “manual” controls (such as the aperture ring and shutter speed knob) when it is mostly electronic – and it is not just the looks, the ring “click” like old lenses.

The Specifications

Fujifilm FinePix X100
• 12.3 megapixels APS-C CMOS sensor
• Fujinon 23mm f/2 (35mm equivalent) custom-designed lens
• 9-bladed aperture diaphragm
• 10 cm Macro
• Built-in 3 stop ND filter
• ISO 200 ~ 6400 (can be extended to ISO 100 and ISO 12800)
• Hybrid Viewfinder (Optical and LCD display)
• 2.8″ LCD display
• SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards supported
• Maximum image resolution: 4288 x 2848
• Video resolution: 1280×720 Progressive

The Hardware
Image quality is obviously one of the top considerations for the Fujifilm engineers. They did not go for an APS-C sensor with high megapixel count. Choosing a 12.3 megapixel sensor would yield less “noisy” photos and of course, clearer images. The Fujinon lens is custom-designed for this camera and is very sharp in all apertures in most situations – and the aperture has 9 curved blades – This makes out of focus areas appear very smooth and pleasing.

church fence

The most talked about feature about the X100 is actually the Hybrid Viewfinder. It is two viewfinders in one – optical and electronic. Allow the diagram below from Fujifilm.com explain it better:


X100’s Viewfinder modes, Fujifilm.com

Essentially, the X100 has an optical viewfinder (0.5x magnification) that also overlays useful information on top of the optical image – such as framelines, exposure information, distance scale, histogram and even an electronic level. However, the optical mode does not see exactly what is going through the camera lens due to differences in field of view. Hence, there are some slight variances in the final image due to parallax and sometimes the camera is unable to “focus” because the images from both the optical viewfinder and image sensor are too different – leading to frustration because the camera would need to be switched to electronic mode for images at closer distances to be taken properly*.

The electronic mode gives a 100% view of what the camera actually sees – including the right depth of field, but is not as bright (in low-light situations) as the optical mode. Of course, it is also not as sharp or as fast as optical mode, but I found it sufficiently speedy. In electronic mode, a screen would be raised in the viewfinder window to block external light coming from the front, allowing the LCD display to appear vivid and bright.

The X100 manual suggests not sticking with just one viewfinder mode but rather switch them depending on shooting conditions. The optical viewfinder is excellent for landscapes, street photography and most portraits. When shooting closer subjects, the electronic mode is the only way to go. The camera is designed to switch between both modes quickly with a dedicated switch – convenient positioned for the tip of the index finger. The camera also switches between modes quickly after each shot, utilizing the electronic display for image review (which can also be disabled entirely, should the user chooses).

*The optical viewfinder is able to focus up to distances as close as 80cm. Activating electronic mode would allow the X100 to focus to 40cm. The camera is able to go closer in macro or manual focus mode, bringing the minimum focus down to 10cm.

Time for the short story
My family got the X100 a month ago, by sheer chance and luck. For the past few months, I was talking to my Dad about how he should probably buy a camera to document his travels – he travels to many places for business and it’s quite a pity how we only get photos from his Blackberry! He used to be (or so he claims, haha) to be very into photography when he was my age. He didn’t like my NEX because it was cumbersome to use – I only mount old Carl Zeiss lenses on it and those lenses are manually operated. The X100 was a strong option.

A month ago, there was a worldwide shortage of X100 cameras due to the disaster in Japan causing the factory to be closed and also delayed shipments out of Japan. In Singapore, wait-lists were already very long (even before the earthquake happened) and some people were asking for refunds for their reservation deposits as it was unclear if the camera would be able to arrive within a reasonable time-frame.

My family was just having our usual dinner on an ordinary Friday evening and we decided to just walk past a camera shop to see if we could see a display set. Nope, there was nothing captivating on display apart from the X100 poster. We then decided to ask a salesperson, who quickly just said “Yes, we have it.” and out of nowhere, took out a new set for us. Jaw-drop moment! No reservations or anything.

Well, for the past few weeks, I was fortunate enough to have the camera for myself as Dad decided not to bring it along with him for his recent long trip to the US.

untitled, d.2904

Real-world usage
The X100 is a joy to use. The small size meant that the camera would be carried anywhere and everywhere. The body is ergonomically designed (despite its blocky appearance) to hold and has a good bit of heft to it – it is not too light nor heavy. Most importantly, the viewfinder just allows me to focus on nothing but the picture. The prime lens, fixed at 35mm (equivalent) is a perfect focal length to work with – and after working with prime lenses with my NEX for the past 6 months, it just feels natural for me to “zoom” by actually moving about. The lens is fantastic with great overall sharpness, little distortion and great control over chromatic aberration. However, it could produce quite a bit of flare in some situations. Depending on the photograph, it could either look distracting, or rather spectacular.

The sensor used is able to produce cleaner images compared to my NEX as it has a lower megapixel count and seems to be using a very weak anti-aliasing filter – allowing more details to be captured in images. It has pretty good dynamic range too.


Live updating

Other features which I thought were great were: Built-in ND filter (for shooting wide-open outdoors in the sun), circular aperture (nice out of focus areas, always!), super silent shutter (huge difference from the NEX) and also the quick autofocus speed in most situations. While most users on the internet tend to praise Fujifilm’s signature colours that is inherent from X100’s out-of-camera JPEGs, I prefer developing my photos manually in Lightroom.

It is not a miracle machine however – the camera did take me a while to get used to and the first images from the camera seemed very underwhelming.. until I realized that I have not really “used it in the right way”. It could be anytime from days to weeks to become fluent with the X100’s true capabilities (and problems). So yes, there is a learning curve for this camera and it is a very critical phase that has split the userbase into 2 groups: People who love the camera to death and might actually want to die with it and.. People who find that this camera is just too different and utterly incongruous to how they think cameras should work. I think that the X100’s prime lens is probably one reason why these people could not appreciate the camera. And also that mystical photographer-camera synergy – if it’s not meant to be, it just isn’t.

The camera is not without flaws. The way Manual Focus is implemented in the X100 is absolutely hopeless and it utilizes a light-sensor to track the amount and speed of turns on the focusing ring. However, as it uses light, it becomes very indecisive and sluggish in dim conditions – situations where manual focus will be very useful. Instead, the lens focus mechanism would make a lot of “chutt-ing” noises as it struggles to figure out what is happening to the focus ring. Focusing could also become an irritating issue when it comes to video recording – there is no way to lock focus during recording; the lens would persistently try to focus.

As I have said before, the X100 does resemble Leica’s digital M cameras and unfortunately even the slow processing speed was also replicated. I kid, but not on the speed! Perhaps I am too used to the blazing speeds offered by the NEX even with a normal SD card. The camera buffer seems to have problems pushing out images fast enough to the card, causing the camera to lock up until the transfer has been completed. This is a lot more drastic in burst-mode – the X100 could take 7-8 images in quick succession and become unusable for a few minutes. Perhaps a faster (or the fastest) memory card could ease this issue.

However, there are some very serious shortfalls could potentially ruin the experience for some users. I don’t know if the camera was rushed or Fujifilm is abusing a bunch of overworked programmers – there are numerous glitches and strange quirks littered everywhere in the camera’s firmware. DPreview has documented a long (but not exhaustive) list of bugs and issues with the current firmware. For me, I have just learnt to work around those issues, but they do get in the way from time to time.

Ancient Egypt

But..
I have talked to a several friends who own professional cameras and most of them told me the problem they have with the X100 is the price. Yes, at S$1699, it is rather steep (some retailers offer lower prices, do ask for discounts) but it is interesting how the price is quickly compared with other DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They did not deny that they still desire it, though. No matter what combination, it is not possible to get a camera with a good APS-C sized sensor, high quality 35mm (equiv) f/2 lens, a decent viewfinder and keep it within a compact body – good looks will just be bonus points. It is only with highly customized parts – and that’s what Fujifilm did. Therefore, I feel that the initial high investment will be quickly paid back with lots of fantastic pictures and without the hassle of experimenting with lenses and cameras.

I would think that the X100 should only be compared with the Leica X1, although both cameras have their own differences anyway. Both cameras belong in a niche market: Large sensor, fixed focal length, beautiful design, premium materials, “luxury” marketing strategy.

Still, depending on the photographer, the X100 is not a replacement for a full DSLR system. You cannot do high-speed shooting. You cannot zoom. You are stuck without interchangeable lenses. But what if you have no need for these things? Would this be the perfect camera? What do you think?

Perhaps it’s just me but – I want to be able to bring a good camera everywhere – like I’ve already said in the NEX entry. It should be able to fit in all my bags so I could bring it to school, overseas or any place interesting. It is just me, but I don’t understand the point of having a large camera to lug around in its special bag. If I am a professional photographer, then yes.

So I guess, it depends. Okay, I admit it’s rather pointless for me to comment anymore because I have access to the camera now (hahaha). Still, I must state that I have never felt so excited to take photographs and actually enjoy the process of doing so. I still love my NEX though and I am waiting for the E-mount 24mm f/1.7 lens to be released!

wind and water

vertigo

flower

Sunny

Lights, Camera, Action!

cumulus

More photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikolux/

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Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

Madagascar: A Crate Adventure (MCA) is an attraction based on the successful Madagascar film franchise. It is a gentle river boat ride designed for children. The official ride description explains: Join our four heroes – Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria – on a river boat adventure as you arrive at the shores of Madagascar. Defeat the foosas at the rim of the bubbly volcano cauldron with the aid of the technically-savvy but psychotic penguins.

While this ride is supposed to be one of the park’s “E-ticket”* attraction, this attraction can be best described as a C or D-ticket ride when compared to other attractions at an international level.

*Informal designation for a theme park’s potentially popular or “Grade-A” attraction.

The attraction was supposed to be operating a year ago but was met with unfortunate delays – rumoured to be caused by some accidents and design issues with certain technical aspects of the attraction. The attraction went through a major overhaul and some elements, such as a second level and a drop at the finale, were scrapped in the final version of the attraction.

A year later, The Crate Adventure is finally ready to be open.

Ride Testing

As an Annual Passholder, I was invited to the Passholders’ Preview event on 13th May 2011. The turn out for this event was tremendous – easily a few thousand passholders attended the event, spawning a need for a long line of excited guests queuing to enter the Madagascar zone, which will only be open from 8pm that night, in order to enter the MCA ride queue.

Queue zones at Night!

Crates!

The queue area of MCA has a large capacity: The stand-by line is a series of 5 zigzag, switch-back queue zones. Universal Express line is truly express (as compared to other ride queues in the park which follows most part of the normal queue but with many shortcuts), leading directly to the loading platform in seconds. There are no interactive or narrative elements in the queue, apart from some video screens giving some back story about the attraction. The queue however, is very lushly decorated with flora and fauna, draped with colourful flower lamps and crates scattered all over.

Loading queue zone

Fortunately, the ride has a very decent capacity**, so the queue moves briskly. The loading platform also has an efficient and clear system to direct guests to the boats clearly and with ease – only possible with the courteous and energetic MCA crew!

**Maximum of 20 guests per boat, each ride takes about 10 minutes with load/unload which means each boat can serve 120 guests, in ideal conditions. Now we need to figure out what’s the maximum number of boats the ride could use at any time, but I’ve seen at least 5 pairs of boats running (10 boats, so 1200 guests per hour in a best case scenario?)

Loading Gates

Adorable crate-like boats are used in this attraction. Each boat has 5 rows of seats, with a maximum capacity of four adults per row, with soft bamboo-shaped lap bars for each row. Unlike usual gentle river rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World, MCA does not use any track or guide rail system, there is nothing in the water – giving the ride a slightly different “afloat in the water” feel. The boat is moved entirely by the currents, with hidden wheel bumpers beneath each boat to allow itself to maneuver along the ride’s water channel.

The Ride
While I do not wish to spoil the ride for readers, the story of MCA is heavily adapted from the first Madagascar film. The ride starts from the scene where the Madagascar animals wake up to find themselves trapped in crates on a ship. Almost immediately, the penguins take over the ship and after a brief chaotic scene with crates falling overboard, the animals find themselves stranded on an island, settling down comfortably soon after. Or not it wasn’t so comfortable, once they discover the natives!


Inside the Ride

Inside the Ride

Inside the Ride

Inside the Ride

Inside the Ride

My thoughts on the ride
Visually, the attraction looks impressive and I can see that there is certainly a great deal of hard work and effort behind it. The ride is very well decorated with a wealth of detailed props and thematic lighting.

In terms of music, the main themes and yes, the famous “I Like to Move It” song are used throughout the ride. It is all very fitting to the ride scenes, although the sync between scenes could be better – the music does not loop or flow smoothly at some scenes. Also lacking is new arrangement of music in the queue area – it gets tiring hearing the “Whacked Out Conspiracy” theme over and over! (Actually this is a problem with the park in general, there is barely any original music in the park, but recycled tunes from the films.)

Now, onto the animatronics: There is a lack of consistency among the animated robotic characters/props. There are some figures with a great degree of movement and some that really just “moves up and down”. As they are all placed in the same scene and at the same distance from guests, it does feel like they were actually supposed to animated and was probably not working properly. Possibly to mask the lack of (or limitations) of the animatronics’ animation, spotlights are turned on only when the characters are about to move/speak and then switched off when they are done. This may cause some parts of the scenes to be missed entirely. It also gave me the impression that the park made a lot of compromises due to budget constraints, as they had to rebuild many segments of the ride.

The MCA storyline is chopped into bite-sized pieces and simplified, which I feel was to better suit the main target audience of the attraction, children. To keep the ride family friendly, there aren’t any exciting ride elements, such as dramatic directional change, lifts and drops. The boat just gentle floats along the river for 7.5 minutes. Therefore it is very common to see bored adults streaming out from the ride’s finale. There isn’t exactly an energetic “YAY!” moment at the unloading platform when the crew member tried to stir up a round of applause (a common practice performed at all rides in the park)

The theme park-techy aspect here: I am a little concerned about the loading/unloading platform. There is only one of such platforms and if something is were to happen there, it would disrupt the flow of the entire ride and choke up the loading/unloading process, causing guests to be stuck. Given how there is no track or any sort of barrier gate system in the river, there is no way to stop the ride other than stopping the water current. I saw a situation where the conveyor belt used to hold (and release) the boats safely at the platform has malfunctioned and caused all the boats behind to stall. Since there’s no way to stop the river from flowing (quickly enough) the boats would just pile up together, as seen below – unfortunately just when the crew members were adding extra boats to cope with the long lines. Hopefully the ride engineers can resolve this issue in time for the ride’s grand opening on the 16th.

Madagascar Bumper Boats

So in general, how good is this ride? What can it be compared against? Putting things into perspective (children’s ride, family orientated attraction) and that I have downplayed my expectations when it comes to what the park offers… I would say that MCA is better than the Winnie the Pooh and It’s a Small World attractions in Hong Kong Disneyland. Some have said to me that overall, MCA can be compared to the Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! at Disney California Adventure. The mentioned rides opened many years ago, however. This is 2011. I would expect something similar, or better than Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage from Tokyo DisneySea (which was opened in 2001 and had a narrative revamp in 2006).

The debate is moot however, when I heard and saw families laughing throughout the ride and thoroughly enjoying themselves. They hurriedly got off at unload and queued for the ride again. The ride has found success with its actual target audience. And also importantly, this is something that grandparents and their grandchildren can finally enjoy in the park together. So as long as it can amuse and entertain the right target audiences, Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, can still be a star attraction in Universal Studios Singapore.

My thoughts on the event
Compared to the Annual Passholders’ event for Battlestar Galactica, the MCA event was a lot better. Ticketing booths were used as opposed to makeshift tables. The Madagascar area was thoroughly cleared and remained exclusive for Annual Passholders for the night.

There was also a little fanfare when the ride opened – drinks were served to all guests (not just Superstar Annual Passholders!) and the staff handed out colourful plastic garlands as they welcomed guests into the attraction queue. I believe there was also a Meet-and-Greet with Madagascar characters. Everyone went home with a little gift bag: a Lanyard card and a memo pad. It’s a nice gesture. In contrast, the Battlestar Galactica event was what theme park enthusiasts call “ERT”. Exclusive Ride Time. It was really bare-bones and there was nothing special going on except the roller-coasters operating at night. They have really turned around this time and got a lot more staff to help out with the event, be it interacting with guests or other small but important duties.

The Globe

It seems like a good sign that RWS has heard, or is starting hear what their guests have to say. The park appears to have rebounded from the “soft opening slump” and is finally looking more refined. The globe has been repaired and there are a lot of minor improvements everywhere. Plus, the park is finally going to celebrate its grand opening on 28th May 2011. Keep up the good work!

Bonus Section
Here you will find links to various media related to MCA:

– Flickr Photo album, with full collection of photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikolux/sets/72157626587155531/

– Full ride-through video (Spoiler Warning!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRpAdZa15fo

0

The ArtScience Museum

ARTSCIENCE museum

float

After finishing two examination papers, I could finally catch a breather and go on an adventure. This time: The ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands!

At time of visit, there were three exhibitions happening:
– Van Gogh Alive: The Exhibition
– Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds
– ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity (Permanent Exhibition)

It is very important to know what is being shown at the Museum before planning a visit. Read the next section!

Tickets
Admission for ArtScience Museum is a simple: You just pay a standard fee to enter ($30 for adults, $27 for seniors, $17 for children) and you can view all the exhibits in the museum. This means that it is best to visit when there are a lot of traveling (or new) exhibitions and just “swoop” them all up in one go. The ticket price is not very encouraging for frequent revisits and there is no “annual museum pass”.


Museum Gateway

The ArtScience Museum Lobby is a very open glass house which is located at the base of the lotus-shaped Museum. There is nothing much here apart from ticketing counters, entrance gantries and also the glass lifts that travel to all the gallery floors. According to the brochure, the Museum has 21 gallery spaces which totals up to 50,000 square feet of exhibition space!

Like any other good Museums in the world, there are of course etiquette guidelines. The same things basically: No flash photography, eating, drinking, loud noises and rowdy behaviour in galleries!


ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity

interactivity

Leonardo's Flying Machine


The Permanent Exhibition is located at the highest (guest accessible) level and it is a “light” exhibition, with just about three small galleries. Each gallery has a theme to bring guests through a “journey inside the creative process”: Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression.

The galleries three
The first gallery, Curiosity is rather focused on the design of the ArtScience Museum. Here guests will be able to see the sketches, mock-ups and engineering research that were part of the process to create the Museum’s unique building.

The Inspiration gallery is an interactive space that allows guests to view some important inventions and discoveries in the history of mankind. There are many interactive screens and also places where guests can create their own postcards to share the experience.

Lastly, Expression gallery is actually a small sit-down theatre showcasing various major art and science periods. The video has high production values and the theatre itself is very uniquely designed – with many objects (relevant to the video) and panels layering around the main screen.

All in all, this is like an appetizer to the actual traveling exhibitions. It is probably relevant if you are interested in the story behind the Museum. Takes about 20-30 minutes.


Van Gogh Alive: The Exhibition

frame Van Vogh

A Thousand Pictures Tell A Single Story
Although the famous Dutch genius artist has only sold one artwork during his life, his work is celebrated by millions after his death, with landmark pieces such as Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers and Starry Night becoming legendary Post-Impressionist works and also hot auction items. In Van Gogh Alive, more than 3000 images have been transformed into a multi-sensory experience in the form of immersive large-scale projections spanning many galleries.

No photographs are allowed in this gallery so I have nothing to show. Essentially there are many expansive galleries linked together showing the same projections, synced with soothing classical music. There is a small gallery at the side which shows and describes some of Van Gogh’s famous pieces as well as some details about his (troubled) life.

You may either walk around or find a good place to view the projections and drown yourself into Van Gogh’s magical world. The projections last around 25 minutes and restarts immediately after a cycle. The benches in the galleries are strategically placed for viewing – take note though, there aren’t a lot of them!


Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds


Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds

Thousands of salvaged treasures from the maritime silk road are presented in this traveling exhibition. It is designed to provide a sequential narrative for guests, starting with the story of ocean trade and the importance for trade in the region.

The later sections describe the conservation processes for the artefacts and finally, large galleries showcasing hundreds of preserved artefacts. While there is definitely volume in terms of what is being displayed, it does get a little repetitive after a while – especially a room that focuses on different ceramic plates and being plates, most of them share similar designs.

Apart from videos and displays, there are two small interactive sections in the galleries: A simple boardgame and a “pattern press” for guests to collect free souvenirs. It takes about 30-45 minutes to walk about, watch the videos and enjoy the exhibits in the galleries.

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds


the diagrid

Is the ArtScience Museum worth visiting? Well.. the admission fee is rather steep and there are no discounts, apart from a group ticketing option but you will need a lot of people. You may probably want to wait for the Dali exhibition to be open to get more value from your ticket too.

Also included in the ticket is access to the open-air area of the Museum directly beneath the “Lotus”. There is nothing much here apart from water pools (and dying lotuses) but it is a nice windy place, with some tables and chairs, to relax and enjoy the views.

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Singapore Biennale 2011

Featuring 60 artists from 30 countries, Singapore Biennale 2011: “OPEN HOUSE” promises to intrigue and invoke the imagination of its visitors. This year the Biennale venues are a bit more unique, going to places such as the Old Kallang Airport, SAM @ 8Q and even at the Merlion (Singapore River/Marina Bay version). I find that this year’s exhibition is a lot more thematic and has many contextual pieces. The strongest works are, like back in 2006, very closely linked with the venue where it is being shown. The Old Kallang Airport venue has some of the most interesting – especially the interactive – pieces I have seen so far!

While the 2006 Biennale has a special place in my heart, 2011 has somewhat redeemed the Biennale for me. I’m sorry, but SB2008 was felt rather incongruous as a whole and had a very (inherently) vague theme, “Wonder”.

Enjoy the photos.


OPEN HOUSE at Old Kallang Airport

[Robert MacPherson]

[Rubén Ramos Balsa]

[Gosia Wlodarczak]

[Martin Creed]

[Michael Lin]

[Michael Lee]

[Rafael Lozano-Hemmer]

[Tiffany Chung]

[Charles Sandison]

SAM

[Shao Yinong & Muchen]

[Stuart Ringholt]

[Sopheap Pich]

Complete photo set can be found here: Flickr: Biennale 2011

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Universal Studios Singapore: One Year Later

18th March 2011 was the first anniversary of Universal Studios Singapore’s public opening. A year ago, the park was perfect as there was theme park magic – courteous crew members, proactive and sincere guest relations, exciting new ride equipment and a park that looked so new and clean, it actually sparkled.

Probably no one remembered that the park is a year old. I only realized it when I was at the park and took one of the park programme leaflets. It is disappointing that the park chose not to commemorate this major milestone – Almost every major park has done up something, from just a simple show at night to a full-blown campaign (just look at Tokyo DisneySea’s First Anniversary) that not just made the park visually different, but also pampered their guests with clever new programmes as the park celebrated the special moment – as we all know (or at least Disney Parks does), theme parks are all about special moments.

Yes, it can be argued that the park has not had its grand opening, so it is still “Day Zero”. However, it is embarrassing to acknowledge that the park has actually operated under the guise of a “soft opening” phase without a sound plan to move on. Maintenance is a worrying matter – Some attractions are in desperate need of rehab to fix broken props and damaged queue zones. Breakdowns are still occurring (although less often) at the problematic rides.

One Year Later
Park Programme, 19th March 2010 and 18th March 2011.

So what has been changed from March last year?

Mel's Dinette Show

Hollywood Street stage (Next to Mel’s Diner)
– ‘Kowabunga Kove’ show replaced by ‘Daddy-O’s’ and ‘Mel’s Dinettes’

New show at Sci-Fi City

Sci-Fi City stage
– ‘On Location with Sci-Fly’ show trial-tested and scrapped
– ‘Dance with Captain Starbucks’ show trial-tested but unsure what happened.

Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure
– Outdoor Queue area removed
– Indoor queue area remodeled, new vending machine (selling Ponchos) zone
– ‘Dinosaur Proximity Alarm’ flashing beacon located at the centre of boats completely removed – it never seemed to be reliable.
– Ride is more reliable than last year; at least it doesn’t go offline for an entire day now.

Revenge of The Mummy
– Queue switches broken
– Still missing elements at Treasure Hall scene
– More effects at “Gravity Zone/The Arena”
– The Book of The Living prop no longer functions properly, replaced with flashing pedestal effect

Shrek 4D Adventure
– Pre-show changes
– New projection effect in queue area added in late 2010

Enchanted Airways
– Ride restraints modified from the “netting” sort to more robust design.

Lights Camera Action!

Lights, Camera, Action!
– Queue Decor added to the otherwise “concrete and steel” queue area
– Falling ceiling truss effect, broken in April 2010, was finally repaired in late 2010
– Flashy signboard at entrance

Pantages Hollywood Theatre : Monster Rock!
– Some costume and script changes

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica
– Extended sheltered areas at entrances
– Huge warning signs added at entrances
– Pre-show video changes (sadly, breaks the fourth wall)
– Fog pit operating sporadically

Events
– Movie Nights programme: Short season mid last year, discontinued.
– Special events for Superstar Annual Passholders, somewhat discontinued.
– Halloween Horror Nights (replaced with two nights of “Netherworld” event)
– RWS Fans Day Out – A nice gesture by RWS where large group of fans (including myself) interacted with the energetic and hopeful New Media team. Sadly, it seems like this effort somewhat died after the new year.
– New Year Eve’s Party (that Annual Passholders weren’t even invited)
– Battlestar Galactica Annual Passholders Nights

Other Park Changes
– Park Operation Hours (9am-6pm to 10am-7pm. Park hours extended during holiday season – till 9pm)
– Park maximum attendance increased from 3,000 to 12,000 guests. Will be increased to 18,000 guests eventually.
– Universal Globe no longer spinning as of October 2010
– Hollywood After Hours becoming regular event, then scrapped, then brought back again
– Sheltered walkways added at some essential areas
– Reflooring of some walking areas
– Information signs, showing attraction wait-times and show timings added at Hollywood, Sci-Fi City and Far Far Away
– Special announcement for extended park hours (very Disney, but it’s a nice touch)

What SHOULD have changed:

– Removal of “Coming Soon” attractions from park map, especially when there is no definite timeline apart from vague “by Mid-2011” sort of statements -which, I should probably remind you here, had been constantly delayed when they failed to meet deadlines. Attractions like Madagascar – The Crate Adventure and Stage 28 have been “Coming Soon” since a year ago. The shocking thing is, Stage 28 is NOT even stated as “Coming Soon”, neither is this reflected on the status boards at the park gate.

– A more robust and standardized wait-time system. Some attractions use the LED boards, some use laminated pieces of paper stuck over the LED boards (???) with Blu-Tack. Why the discrepancy? The information boards scattered around the park display the incorrect timings based on the LED boards.

– The park’s style of public and guest relations. I am not expecting Disney-level standard, but please do take a leaf out of their book from time to time. They have rides coming out this Summer, but instead of hiding behind the curtain, Disney has regularly released updates to keep their guests informed of what to expect. Lately there has been a lot of “behind the scenes” features to further engage their guests. Actually, before the resort opened, RWS did quite a nice bit of work with this aspect, drumming up quite a large amount of hype, I’m puzzled as to why the good effort fell apart after the park opened.

– Some foresight when it comes to park events. Nobody plans their holidays a week (or 2 days) in advance. Almost every major park out there has released their schedule for 2011.

– Revision for the prices of annual passes. $1098 is a lot to pay for all-year access, although the unlimited “Universal Express” perk makes up for it. Personally, I feel that there should be more price tiers, and overall the passes should priced similar to those in Hong Kong Disneyland.

CYLON entrance

It is unfair to say that the park hasn’t improved after operating for a year – because there are several positive improvements. The crew members are now very experienced and I have seen them handle problematic situations (guests attempting to abuse/cheat Single Rider lines or displaying dangerous/rude behaviour etc) professionally. The staff in the park are very courteous and welcoming. The newly constructed sheltered areas are really useful for tired families to rest under, in this sunny and hot park, especially during crowded days. There is now a greater variety of merchandise available (although their tie-up with the attractions are not exactly strong). And yes, the attractions are breaking down less often (it still happens, but it’s completely expected at any other major park).

But… how long more would this soft opening phase last? I mean, how much more can the park change?

There were hints last year that soft opening was not meant to drag on for months. Look at the website and you will notice how soft opening is mentioned as “weeks” (not months, or years). Here’s a snippet of the ticketing information released last year before the park opened:

For Guests who purchase their Fun Pass during the soft opening period (18 March till 1 April), they will be given the opportunity to visit the park ONE (1) time prior to 5 April, at which time their annual membership will begin.

I am staying at one of the hotels at Resorts World, how do I purchase Universal Studios tickets?
Same day tickets are available for sale during the soft opening weeks.

In their FAQs, they did mention that there is no definite end to this phase.

How long will this soft opening period last?
The soft opening period allows our team members to make technical and creative adjustments in the park to improve the customer (“Guest”) experience. The park soft opening phase will end when we are satisfied that the park is ready.

What does it mean by “the park is ready”? When all the attractions are ready? Look at the American parks: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion for Universal’s Islands of Adventure park soft-opened for handful of weeks (it’s an expansion after all) but Islands of Adventure itself soft-opened for just 2 months back in 1999.

Is this a cause for concern? Yes. There seems to be a lack of long-term plans – the park is enjoying its success on a large number of “theme park virgins”. The park operators don’t even seem excited enough to organise seasonal events, apart from extending park hours and adding a night pyrotechnics show – in short, the park has become VERY passive/reactive. Take the Chinese New Year season for example. The park was open till 9pm during weekdays, but it was empty. Why? Apart from the same pyrotechnics show and taking the rides at night, there isn’t anything special to rationalise staying back late.

Once the “theme park virgins” have visited the park, it’s ‘been there done that’ and they have no reason to return unless there is something new – which has created a rumour on the internet that the park is intentionally slowing down construction and delaying rides in order to have new offerings (that were supposed to be available from the beginning) to keep its visitors returning. I love the park but not so much on the management and overall effort for maintenance. I do want it to bounce back to its early (March 2010) days.

How do the park’s fans (regulars, annual passholders) feel? Just take a look at Greg’s blog:

http://sentosathemepark.blogspot.com/2011/03/you-would-never-know-universal-studios.html

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Valentino Retrospective

“This exhibition pays tribute to a man who has been placed in the history of haute couture as an undeniable ambassador of elegance. His work combines romanticism, modernity and classicism; his silhouettes combine sovereign grace with timeless allure. His style is determined by a graphic line which is sober and sophisticated at once. His designs accentuate the silhouette, giving it fluidity, femininity and sensuality. Forms are clear, fabrics are sumptuous and all collections always possess a large scale of colours enhanced by rich embroideries.”
– Ms Pamela Golbin, curator-in-chief for the Fashion and Textiles collection of Les Arts Décoratifs

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