How a Lighting Designer Brought a Taste of NYC Theater to Singapore

Photo Source: Steven Kemp

Dave Upton is a theatrical lighting designer with a pretty cool entry on his résumé: He was an assistant on the light effects design for the Revenge of the Mummy ride at Universal Studios in Singapore.

Are there any similarities between roller coasters and theater?
It’s all about storytelling. There’s an art director who has put together the storyline, and you have to support what they’re trying to tell. That’s the basis of every theater show, as well.

How did you get involved with the theme park?
I was the associate for Eric Haugen, who was the lighting designer on the Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios in Singapore. [Haugen] knew me from my work in Florida. It’s the craziest process, because you have to work around moving roller coasters and automation pieces. You have to think of how to light things in a less-than-ideal situation, then you have to plan on the attraction running 20 years or longer. You don’t want to put in a lot of equipment that will wear out in a short amount of time. It was really interesting to figure out your space and coordinate other disciplines. Once I was in Singapore it was crazy, because they had never built anything like that. The guys they hired were used to doing apartment buildings, so they couldn’t understand the specificity we needed. I had to walk around and locate where every light had to be so they could keep track of where the cables needed to go. The really cool part was when we got it to program, they got to see how it worked and were the most excited of anyone I’ve worked with. Some of these guys were living on the site and had never worked with animatronics, and they were wowed by it.

What did you learn from the experience that you brought back to New York?
You need to adapt quickly or you’ll lose time, and that’s not an option. You have to know your time intimately and be able to make the best modification. There are so many small theaters in New York that have limited resources and they tell you one thing, but that’s not really what they have. You still have to get the show up. You don’t want to give up your ideas. The stress level in Singapore was out of control. Anything else could happen in my design career and I’m, like, “Eh, whatever.”

Did you go on the ride?
So many times. You set up tables in each scene and you go through the programming, but that doesn’t do any of the timing, so once you start doing timing, you’re riding the ride. There were some days we were riding it 15 to 20 times. You get to experience things that the paying guests will never get to.

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