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Features / Set Design

15 years of doing it in public: Moment Factory’s “school of infinite amazement”

“We do it in public” is the proud mission statement of Moment Factory, a Montreal-based new media and entertainment studio that creates some of the most specialised multimedia environments in the world. From transforming Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcleona into a morphing, melting son et lumiere show to providing Arcade Fire, Jay-Z and the Nine Inch Nails with jaw dropping stage shows or permanent interactive artworks for LAX airport, the studio has established a global reputation for creating memorable experiences. Moment Factory’s 160-strong team of designers, directors, illustrators, architects, programmers, engineers and developers continually push the envelope of what is possible and what can be believed. “What we strive to do is create experiences that are relevant enough that people will be moved to go to and visit them,” says founder and creative director Sakchin Bessette. “It could be a rock show, a public space or a forest. It needs to be surprising. New technologies and new types of storytelling let us create new entertainments and experiences. We want to create goosebumps and memorable experiences.”

The crux of what Moment Factory does is, according to Sakchin, “bringing people together physically. It’s all about tangible experiences.” In 2001 Dominic Audet, Sakchin Bessette and Jason Rodi formed the studio, they had worked as VJs and have stayed true to the DIY spirit and commitment to entertainment that initially bought them together. Rodi subsequently left to become a director in 2006, and executive producer Eric Fournier was brought onto the team. “When we started moment factory this industry didn’t exist. Projectors were huge and LED screens and light sources were basic and expensive. Everything has changed.” says Sakchin. “Around the millennium there was a digital revolution. We used to shoot on film, and suddenly we could shoot on digital, create something in the afternoon and play it that night. You could do things in new ways, the context changed and we could explore abstract storytelling. Then we started working with Cirque du Soleil and rock shows. Soon the clients, technology and opportunities were different.”

The visibility of Moment Factory’s work has increased at the same rate as technology has empowered the studio. For the 2012 Super Bowl 114 million viewers tuned in for a half time show by Madonna. In collaboration with Cirque du Soleil’s Michel Laprise and Jean-François Bouchard, set designer Bruce Rodgers, Madonna creative director Jamie King, and TV director Hamish Hamilton the studio helped create a 12-minute, five song performance that delivered a spectacle to the fans in the stadium and the viewers at home. The show took over the entire stadium, including the pitch and the LED advertising boards, using an integrated system of 3D animation and editing programmes. It was a riot of colour and movement that sought to engage a global audience and deliver a message of world peace. Subsequently, Moment Factory went on to work with Madonna on her MDMA tour. More recently, the studio worked with Muse on the band’s Drones Worldwide tour. Developed in collaboration with designer Oli Metcalfe, the show was performed in the round and the rock operatics of the west country trio were complimented with a fleet of drones that performed an unsettling ballet over the head of the audience. Real time projection mapping and responsive technologies took the performance beyond the metaphorical fourth wall and placed the audience at the centre of a dystopian world imagined by the band and designers. “The video content we created in collaboration with the band drives the storytelling and the immersion of the audience into the spectacle,” says Sakchin. “The story was important for the band and we worked to provide purpose, meaning and variation to the ideas.”

Beyond ephemeral rock and pop extravaganzas, the studio creates permanent experiences that have a lasting effect on the places that they occupy. In 2014 the studio was approached by Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook in Quebec to create an illuminated night walk through a forest. Moment factory created an immersive adventure along a two kilometre trail where visitors would meet characters inspired by the area’s myths and legends. The entire experience was developed from scratch and combined set design, projection mapping, soundtracking and product design. Everything was created to create a sense of magic. The work was a resounding success and more than ten times the projected number of visitors came to the sleepy town the year Foresta Lumina opened.

At the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX Moment Factory produced the content for seven experiential media features placed throughout the building. The centrepiece was a monolithic clocktower wrapped in a LED screen that changes its appearance throughout the day – sometimes revealing steampunk mechanisms, at other times slowly pulsating with abstract shapes. Elsewhere interactive features responded to the movement of passengers passing through the terminal to get to the departure gates, creating a cacophony of sound and movement, or tracked the arrival and departure of flights, showing imagery that related to their destinations. It turns the human holding pen into a less sanitised, humourless place ruled by security protocols and re-injects some of the aspiration and glamour of the golden age of air travel.

Moment Factory has had to adapt as the scope of the operation has grown. The act of bringing people together is a political one, and the studio has had to adjust the way it works to take into account cultural subtleties in the execution of its ideas and its business practices. “If the project becomes a permanent complex structure, there are a lot of relationships and subtleties that you have to consider to execute and conceptualise properly,” explains Sakchin. “You have to think what the audience will react to, in some ways that is a little easier because in the languages that we use, as far as story telling and effects we use, they are international – they are human rather than cultural. It’s up to the director and creative director to do the right research, develop the right story, concept and structure to tell the story in a way relevant to the audience.”

The rate at which technology develops quickly makes new installations and media seem tired or useless with great speed. With permanent installations, I ask whether this has an effect on what the studio considers when designing each work. “I think if the story is good, then the impression will be lasting,” he replies with conviction. “The right story with the right structure can create a lasting impression anywhere from a museum to a rockshow. For me, tech is a tool. We are always driving innovation in the industry but also we like to participate in dialogue and collaboration.“

So what does the future hold for Moment Factory? When Sakchin reflects on the last 15 years his thoughts turn to the future. “I hope the studio has a 100 year lifespan. I like the idea of something extending beyond our lifetime. So we build something for future generations, a culture that is really self sustainable. We have established a functional, inspiring culture driven by amazement. Somehow we coined that thing, we called it it the ‘perpetual school of infinite amazement,’” he says. “’Perpetual school’ as we wanted it to be a school of thought, if we stop learning we may as well stop doing what we are doing. ‘Infinite amazement’ as we can’t imagine anything more fun. If its amazing to us and our audiences, then we are achieving our goal.”

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Moment Factory: Muse, Drones tour

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Moment Factory: Sagrada Familia

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Moment Factory: Madonna, MDNA tour

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Moment Factory: LAX