Chingay would not be Chingay without the floats. As the floats drive along the Parade route, they elicit gasps of admiration from an appreciative crowd. For this sense of amazement to take place year after year, the trick is to always have something new — nothing tired or rehashed.
Float-maker Mr Andrew Foo is well aware that no two floats should be similar and to achieve this, Mr Foo must be able to visualise each float and ensure there is no duplication. This normally requires much coordination during the production period.
He starts preparing for the Chingay almost 10 months in advance. By April each year, he receives the concept float designs from the Chingay creative team. He then has two months to develop the designs and make models of the floats. Actual construction begins in September with the whole production team comprising of at least 50 people.
Some of the float designs are so complex and complicated that they require Mr Foo, with over 20 years of mechanical engineering experience under his belt, to think out of the box.
Over a period of 5 years, Mr Foo has made more than 60 floats. Out of these, the two most outstanding concept designs that left Mr Foo and his colleague, Ms Stella Yew stumped were, “The Celestial Web” for Chingay 2008 and the “Draconkia” a year later.
Designed by multi-disciplinary artist Mr Tan Swie Hian, “The Celestial Web” for Chingay 2008 was a float measuring 22 metres long and 6 metres high. The initial intention was to use steel pipes to create the illusion of a spider web, but since steel is such a difficult medium to use, Mr Foo began experimenting with different materials.
After months of persevering, Mr Foo finally found a substitute material for the steel pipes. Using a three-layered plastic pipe material to combine the shininess of steel and the malleability of plastic, he was finally able to create the desired effect of a glistening spider web.
In 2009, a group of professors from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and School of Computer Engineering designed a float 18 metres long and 9 metres high, making it the biggest float for that year and another challenge for Mr Foo.
The "Draconika" float comprised of three robotic dragons' heads that could move and spew flames of fire while the dragon's tail released smoke. Dazzling lights illuminated moving water at the bottom of the float, adding a magical effect to the creation.
Mr Foo and his team spent three months working through the technical issues of designing the float. "The hardest part was to create a lifelike motion for the dragons' heads and to ensure the safety of the float by balancing its weight and size," he said.
"While it may be difficult to create other people's designs, we welcome such collaboration as they are opportunities for us to upgrade our skills," said Ms Yew. In collaborating with the NTU professors, the float design won the most popular float award that year.
"What is most satisfying is the tangible excitement and applause from the audience each time a new float passes by. It gives us a sense of pride and motivates us to present floats of different styles the following year. We want to surprise the audience and we wait eagerly for their response,” he said.
Adapted from: Tales of Chingay – Celebrating 40 Years of Chingay
Written by: Shen Yue
Translated by: Ong Hui Fang