Props manager Safari Yatim makes creative ideas come to life. Some of the innovative work he has done includes plaster casts of replicas of world-renowned museum sculptures, the digital effects and backdrop for a talking Mona Lisa and constructing a garden from a perspective of a painting.

The 48-year-old is responsible for conceptualising prop designs at Downtown East.

Since starting the props department a decade ago, he has done many displays for the lifestyle and leisure hub — from large-scale Halloween sets to individualised thematic decor for corporate events.

Always on his toes

One of the challenges of his job is coming up with fresh ideas that would appeal to and impress visitors.“We need to be different all the time,” he says.

And he is constantly on his toes searching for innovative ideas, even when he is away on holiday.

Six years ago, he recalls, he was on vacation in Malacca when he saw a large cruise ship docked at its port.

It struck a chord in the former display artist, who was then searching for an idea that would make a splash at the opening of Wild Wild Wet — a water theme park at Downtown East.

He then suggested building a pirate ship from scratch for the special occasion.

Still, extensive research had to be conducted before the ship could be built.

“The idea still needs to be practical and feasible,” he explains.

He visited many miniature toy stores which sold model ships until he finally found a pirate ship that met his requirements.

He then launched a flurry of discussions with his team, which included prop makers and carpenters.

These talks included extrapolating the actual ship’s measurements and determining the materials needed to bring it to life.

 “To make it more exciting, we added special effects like thunder and lightning,” he says.

A moat with running water was also built around the ship.

He also had to work with the three-week deadline and the budget given to him.

His team’s hard work paid off. The final display had a height of about 5m and took up a space equivalent to three-quarters of the size of a basketball court, delighting many visitors.

“It’s fulfilling to know that one has done a good job within the deadlines,” he said.

A fine balance

Product knowledge is important for transforming an idea into reality.

One has to know which materials, say polyfoam or fibreglass (a reinforcing agent), are best for building a lasting prop, and how such materials can come together to give balance to the prop, he said.

And Mr Safari has his former school, the former Baharudin Vocational Institute, now known as the Temasek Design School, to thank for his extensive product knowledge.

There, he learnt the fine balance between functionality and art. In addition to mastering sketching and designing concepts, he was also trained to explore the physical properties of various materials, like metal and clay.

“We were made to examine products, like cups, and think why they were designed in such a manner,” he said, explaining that a good product typically married design and practicality.

These days, Mr Safari also reproduces the designs he conceptualises from paper to 3D animation so that he is able to convey his concepts better during presentations.

However, despite his love for the job, there are several moments when he faces unpleasant comments about his props.

“Design and creativity are very subjective. When you come up with something, people may have comments about the design,” he says.

Some visitors once commented that a helicopter prop he once designed looked tacky, he says.

In retrospect, he says: “The finishing of the prop could have been better. I take it as constructive criticism. It’s an ongoing path of learning.

“You have to take criticism positively, otherwise you cannot be in this line.”