Expo 2020 Dubai puts AV on the world stage – AV Magazine

in Case Studies, MEA, News, Visitor attractions August 25, 2021 0
In an online-exclusive, extended report, Caroline Reid and Christian Sylt offer a comprehensive guide to the largest event ever held in the Middle East.
Expos are famous for their avant-garde architecture. Every five years countries all over the world gather together to showcase their most cutting-edge developments in pavilions shaped like everything from towers and turrets to giant golf balls. The upcoming Expo in Dubai will set new standards but this time, AV will be the star attraction.
The Expo has a lot to live up to. Originally due to open in October 2020, the event was delayed by a year due to the coronavirus outbreak and although the world is still in the grip of the pandemic, the Expo organisers are standing by their bold projections.
Set to be the largest event ever held in the Middle East, 25 million visitors are expected over the six months of the event with an estimated 70 per cent of them due to come from outside its home country of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The oil-rich nation has put its money where its mouth is and reportedly invested $8.1 billion in the infrastructure of the 4.4 square kilometre site which is more than twice the size of Monaco. It is more like a city than an events space.
The Expo site is home to apartment blocks for the 30,000 volunteers who will work there, a huge shopping mall, a 45,000 square metre conference centre, sprawling themed gardens and of course 191 country pavilions. According to accountancy giant EY, the visitors are forecast to spend $33.4 billion which is the equivalent of 1.5 per cent of the UAE’s Gross Domestic Product. It will take a lot to impress them.
Putting on a show
Dubai is famous for breaking records. The city’s sights include the world’s tallest building and the world’s widest fountain which is spread over 14,000 square feet and lit by more than 3,000 multi-coloured LEDs. Then there are the shopping malls.
Like theme parks, the main malls have unique attractions to tempt tourists. One is connected to an indoor ski slope (complete with live penguins) and a son et lumière spectacular plays on a lagoon outside another. The IMAGINE show at Dubai Festival City Mall features flamethrowers, lasers and swaying spotlights synchronised to inspiring scenes beamed on to a 900 square metre screen formed from fountains which fan out into a fine mist.
The system was developed by Australian AV specialist, Laservision and is powered by 72 high-definition video projectors generating more than 1.68 million lumens of light. They had a magic touch as Guinness has certified it as the world’s biggest mist screen. It doesn’t stop there though as the action continues on the walls of the neighbouring 36-storey InterContinental hotel thanks to another 60 projectors. At 1,800 square metres it is 4.5 times larger than the largest IMAX screen giving it the accolade of being the world’s largest permanent projection mapping.
Not even Disney’s parks can compete with that technology but in Dubai it is used in a show which plays outside a little-known shopping mall every night for free. That’s Dubai for you and it sets a high standard for the Expo to meet. It is rising to the challenge.
“An Expo is about celebration and selling – celebration of the country, selling of the country to the rest of the world. There is a theme, across the whole Expo but this is often loosely adhered to. Fundamentally it is about saying look at us,” says Graham Wickman, owner of 767 Consultants, an agency which acts as a client’s technical eyes and ears. It reviews technical designs, approves prototypes, guides AV integrators through the installation process and signs it off. This is the magic formula behind the Expo’s pièce de résistance – the Saudi Arabia Pavilion.
The leaning tower of Arabia
After the home nation’s pavilion, Saudi Arabia’s Expo outpost is by far the largest and the most imposing. It seems to defy gravity by being built at an unfeasibly steep angle, without anything visibly propping it up. The angular architecture isn’t just for show.
Seven rows of 16-millimetre pitch LEDs have been set into its sloping sides so that greetings can scroll down them during the day to act as a beacon for guests. Under the shadow of the angular wall are paving slabs dotted with 8,000 LED pixels which form a giant screen on the plaza floor so that guests can play games on it against each other. It breaks the ice between them before they set foot inside and the action is shown on mirrored LED panels above to draw other visitors in. “People will talk about what they see and what they are able to do,” says Wickham. That’s just the start.
At intervals during the day stirring scenes play on the LED panels and custom designed electronic lifts reveal theatrical lighting rigs which are hidden in the sloping structure. It sets the scene for a show on the plaza which is one of 60 live daily performances across the Expo site. With all this going on outside it could be a challenge to get guests to go in the pavilion but once they step through the doors the AV casts such a powerful spell that they might not want to leave.
The first thing visitors see is a 22 metre-wide curved LED display showing crystal-clear 4K footage of Saudi Arabia. “The content and the story being told was created by Boris Micka Associates,” says Wickham. “Museum and exhibition designers are normally the people that take the brief from the client and come up with the ideas. Then if those ideas have technical elements they are interpreted by people such as myself, or in this case Kraftwerk, to produce an AV design. Kraftwerk is the AV system designer on this pavilion and the installer. Our job was to approve all of its work from design through to completion.”
After admiring the images on the screen at the entrance guests take an escalator up to another curved LED display which delves deeper into Saudi Arabia by showcasing its key historical sites. In front of this is one of the largest concave LED screens that has ever been produced and although the two displays tell different stories, they play special segments in tandem during the day. It immerses guests in the sight and sounds of Saudi Arabia as speakers are even hidden in the handrail around the screens.
Cleverly, the chain of hidden speakers continues in the handrail alongside the escalator that leads back down so that it subtly stops guests from lingering too long which is the last thing the designers want in the current Covid climate. As Wickham says, “the skill of the system designer is to interpret what the exhibit designer wants and then apply the technologies to achieve it. One of the unique things about Expo and especially the Saudia Arabia pavilion is the scale of the experiences.”
The downward escalator is no exception as it passes through a display created with 31 projectors, all positioned carefully to produce a continuous flowing image. Just when you think you’ve seen it all you’re met at the bottom with an image of a globe that seems to be tens of metres in diameter. It is actually one of the world’s largest kaleidoscopes and is formed from a five metre wide projected image which is beamed on to an inflatable screen set between two pairs of mirrors.
The finale comes in the basement where up to 40 guests gather around one of the world’s largest interactive projection tables. To pull this off, 20 high-resolution projectors fed by seven media servers are synchronised with each other and automatically aligned at the start of every day. This involves the system comparing an image of the perfect configuration to the one that it sees and adjusting any affected projectors accordingly.
“Everything has been done before to an extent,” says Wickham. “The kaleidoscope hasn’t been done for a while and this is one of the biggest. The most famous was at the Natural History Museum. That opened in 1990 in the Ecology Gallery but isn’t there any more. Interactive floors (have been done before) but for small groups. LED displays are everywhere, but not that many indoors are as big as this – screens of that size are normally outdoor displays. The interactive table, there have been many, but none that take up a whole room and have 30 odd locations you can interact from…The Plaza Floor and the Plaza Ceiling are unique.”
The real magic is in two main AV control rooms which store the majority of the hardware including the image servers and controllers. An overall control system allows maintenance engineers to control, restart and check the various areas on site via a tablet. Hidden behind the scenes of the pavilion are a total of 231 speakers, 78 projectors and 60 kilometres of cables.
Wickham says that the biggest challenge was integrating all this technology whilst the pavilion was being built because, surprisingly, it was one of the few which was ready in time for the Expo’s original opening date in October 2020. This was “impacted by Covid so I didn’t attend as often as planned and worked remotely but I was on site for nine weeks towards the end,” he says.
“There were many technical challenges, especially with the custom plaza ceiling displays, all of which have been fixed. The issue was trying to fix things with 2,000 other people on site still building the building.”
He adds that “we would regularly go and review progress at night as well as the day, it was often the best time. Expos have to open on time; what customers never see is how unfinished things actually are and how much work carries on at night to finish off so that things are working one hundred per cent. This Expo of course is different with the opening delayed for a year. It will definitely be the most ready Expo on opening date.”
Unlike previous Expos, which grouped the pavilions geographically, the Dubai event arranges them in areas based on three themes – mobility, opportunity and sustainability. Each area is shaped like a petal from overhead and the scale and details are overwhelming.
The site itself is like the set of a sci-fi movie with angular avant-garde buildings in all directions. Some are shaped like cones and one is wrapped in a ball of super-sized wire. The Japanese Pavilion looks like origami, the Chinese Pavilion is shaped like a lantern and the UAE’s outpost resembles a falcon in flight. Its wings even move to generate most of the energy that the pavilion needs.
At the entrance to each petal are monolithic 21 metre-high gates which were designed by renowned architect Asif Khan and are woven from carbon fibre strands. Each area is also anchored by a flagship pavilion and Sustainability was the first to swing open its doors between January and April giving UAE residents a teaser of what the Expo will be like.
The circle of life
Resembling a huge futuristic funnel, the silver-coloured Sustainability Pavilion was designed by the renowned Grimshaw firm of Architects which also created Court Number One at Wimbledon and the environmentally-focused Eden Project in Cornwall. The Sustainability Pavilion has a similar theme as it immerses visitors in the sights, sounds (and even the smells) of the ocean and forest as they walk through indoor air-conditioned corridors which snake around the circular central hub.
The theming is up there with the top lands at Disney’s science-themed Epcot park in Orlando and AV is crucial to creating the immersive atmosphere.
A salty smell wafts through the air as the journey begins in the ocean corridor and the path cuts through a coral-like structure which covers the walls and ceiling.  Actual aquariums and ultra high-resolution LG screens are seemlessly integrated into the pits of the coral to show sea creatures swimming by. The imagery is all one continuous scene so if guests see a fish swim past one window it will keep up with them and appear in the next one as they walk by it.
There are even screens in the ceilings so at one point a whale appears to swim alongside the walkway then up and over it giving guests the impression that they are walking on the sea floor. That leads to a tunnel formed from arches which is meant to represent the whale’s diaphragm. When guests speak as they are walking through the arches, LED strips set into them light up one after another to simulate the sound travelling through it whilst well-hidden speakers create an artifical echo.
At the exit is a whale’s gaping mouth formed from rubbish found on beaches during the construction of the Expo. It is meant to represent man’s impact on the ocean so from there the pathway weaves through piles of plastic bottles and gives on to an area that looks like a rusty sunken submarine. A Victorian-style seaside puppet show starts with brightly coloured fish swimming by until the lights dim as man arrives on the scene to scoop them up in a net.
Next come edutainment games asking guests to take part in a fun environmental quiz. Exhibits show cutting-edge farming techniques, such as crops being grown in compact spaces, so that visitors can learn how to change the world for the better.
Tom Hennes, principal of Thinc Design, which created the attraction, says that AV “was integral to delivering the brief. We needed to create an enveloping reality to move people into an unfamiliar but recognisable space from which they could gain a different perspective on what sustainability is.
“Our thesis, validated by early research conducted during the Pavilion’s pre-Expo preview opening, was that by creating a fantastic version of the real world, with beauty, wonder, and hope – as well as absurdity and madness – we could engage people in a more playful, thoughtful engagement than we could by delivering facts and figures and a predictable reading of sustainability.” It works.
Surveys of more than 100,000 guests who visited the preview earlier in the year showed that 97 per cent of them would think differently about their daily choices in light of what they had seen. The forest-themed area follows a similar pattern.
Replicas of huge roots wind above and below the walkways next to displays of actual bonsais and screens which educate visitors about the importance of the forest. One explains how fungi break down dead organisms to feed plants and the AV illustrates this. Flickering LED lights in the artificial branches simulate fireflies and rats are projected on the floor from above.
At the finale, the walkway is surrounded by sweeping screens showing a forest rising up before getting chopped down around you. This time the message is embedded in visitors’ minds thanks to games which reveal the carbon footprint of household items and the amount of energy it takes to make them. Then it’s back out into Dubai’s blazing heat for some fairground games around the central funnel to teach kids about the environment and recycling.
Green power
The funnel in the middle isn’t just an architectural frill. It helps the pavilion practice what it preaches. The structure collects so much humidity that the pavilion won’t need to use any outside water by the end of the Expo. Taking it a step further, the surface of it is lined with photovoltaic cells and they also cover circular panels on soaring struts next to the pavilion which look like huge satellite dishes. They turn to face the sun which helps the pavilion to generate 100 per cent of its own power and makes it the world’s biggest carbon net zero visitable building. Given the amount of AV inside that is no mean feat.
“This is a remarkable first for media technology of all types,” says a source close to the project. “To achieve what is a world-class interactive visitor experience with projection, immersive interactive exhibits with soundscapes and much else besides required careful selection of every item of equipment to meet the lowest possible specification of power use and heat generation combined with the highest level of performance for a world-class exhibition experience.”
Hennes concurs and says that the biggest challenge was “creating a Sustainability pavilion that is really sustainable and intended to be net-zero for years post-Expo, including the AV and lighting systems that have traditionally been excluded from the power calculations. In other words, finding a way to walk the talk while delivering a fantastic, exuberant, and elaborate immersive experience.”
The source adds that it took more than the wave of a magic wand. “The biggest lesson is for the AV manufacturers – many of whom would not engage in the early energy tests and work – just providing data sheets and a green sales pitch which then turned out (when their equipment was measured for power consumption and heat generation) to be an inaccurate reflection of the ‘specification’.”
The AV wizardry behind the scenes includes 7th Sense Delta media servers and two QSC Core 500 sound control, amplification and management systems. They are all managed by Medialon show control software which goes above and beyond the usual call of duty.
“The Medialon Control system does not just have to pay attention to the show control, the equipment status and the live synchronisation of media, it also has to manage the AV, show equipment and other media technologies’ power and status in order to conserve every watt of energy consumed during a 24-hour cycle,” says the source.
In summary, the projectors and screens generate so much heat and require so much power (even when they are on standby) that the pavilion’s energy control system has to work in tandem with the Medialon AV software to manage the output.
As guests stroll through the corridors in groups (in order to maintain social distancing) they are blissfully unaware that they are being watched by sensors which tell the Medialon control unit to turn the screens and projectors off once they have passed through. Likewise, when these projectors are switched on, others in the pavilion are turned off in order to conserve power. They aren’t any old projectors but special low power versions of Digital Projection DLP projectors.
“The directive for the Sustainability pavilion was to achieve an overall maximum level of efficiency,” says Digital Projection’s Middle East general manager, Matt Horwood. “The environmental efficiency of the projectors was one of the key contributing elements and at Digital Projection we were delighted to be able to tick these boxes as well as offering the required display performance for this prestigious project.”
Inside the pavilion are 35 of its E-Vision Laser 8500 WUXGA Eco+ units which aren’t just more efficient than 3-Chip DLP projectors, they are more powerful too as they produce an impressive 9.7 lumens per Watt. In order to ensure that mercury isn’t being emitted into the environment, no mercury lamps are used. Horwood says that over 20,000 hours, laser lumen maintenance is typically 80 per cent whereas “mercury lamps would have to be replaced and disposed of at least 10 times in the same period.”
He adds that the filterless design and sealed optics ensure near-maintenance free operation and, crucially, “standby power consumption is as low as less than 0.5 Watts. The projector was designed with green credentials at its core and the E-Vision Laser 8500 Eco+ delivers the perfect balance of required performance and minimum power consumption, all with minimal impact on the environment.”
It does the trick as the source says that the Sustainability pavilion’s “AV technology only uses around twenty five per cent of the energy that a similar scale exhibition would use.”
Hennes cautions that despite the drive towards net zero, pavilion designers mustn’t forget to keep customers engaged. “Know what you’re trying to achieve, not with the systems, but with the public. Be open to possibilities you’ve not yet thought of. Keep going back to the design and asking what can be eliminated, until it feels to the whole team that you’ve got down to what is essential. Remember that the show is only as good as its ability to connect with people’s hearts and minds.”
He says that the secret to successful use of AV at an Expo is “knowing exactly what we are trying to achieve overall, how that means the exhibits need to perform, and choosing the digital and other AV applications within that context. And deleting anything that is unnecessary to achieve our larger ends.” In this case, they were as lofty as they come.
Hennes says “we appear to be close to net zero in an exhibition that is also spectacular, entertaining, and, from what visitors have told us thus far, also very real, very emotionally alive, and very thought-provoking about something that is vital for our ongoing existence on this planet.” There is good reason for this success.
The landscape design and visitor experience of the Sustainability pavilion was co-curated by the Eden Project. “Dubai was my sixth world Expo having started working on them in Seville in 1992,” says Blair Parkin, director of experience development for Eden Project International. “The Sustainability pavilion presented an amazing challenge to engage the public in a better future by showcasing sustainability in an immersive, engaging, and pragmatic way. It is going to leave the most amazing learning legacy for us all.”
Leaving a legacy
The UAE has set a goal of diversifying its economy away from oil by 2030 and the Expo is core to this. According to EY it will boost the UAE’s economy by $33.4 billion and support a total of 905,200 job-years until 2031. Dubai was the first Expo operator to plan the event’s legacy before guests started streaming through the turnstiles. Once the event has finished, the entire Expo site will become an innovation district which is expected to have 140,000 residents and will be partly powered by the Sustainability pavilion.
All of the structures built by Expo meet the gold or diamond standards set by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a US body which monitors the design, construction and operation of green buildings. The Sustainability pavilion will become a science museum whilst India’s outpost will become the country’s new embassy. The UK pavilion will be used as a hospitality area and others will become training centres and innovation hubs.
At the heart of the complex is the Al Wasl Plaza, an eye-catching dome formed from circular panels which can be used as a projection screen. As the panels are transparent, the images can even be seen from the outside as well as the inside which helps to draw visitors to this central hub. “Al Wasl Plaza is certainly one of the most impressive uses of AV, not only at Expo 2020, or in the region, but across the world,” says Tareq Ghosheh, the Expo’s chief events and entertainment officer.
Like many of its counterparts in Dubai, this megastructure is also a record-breaker as it is the world’s largest 360-degree projection screen. However, that doesn’t begin to describe how cavernous it is. With a width of 130 metres and a height of 67.5 metres, it is so big that you could fit two Airbus A380 planes side-by-side inside.
It is more like a traditional event space in that it will host Cirque du Soleil-type shows, performances from A-List singers as well as projection displays twice daily with content tailored to the time of day.
“Projection technology from Christie (was) used as a primary tool in their creation,” says Ghosheh. The AV wizards supplied 252 RGB pure laser projectors which are smaller and lighter than others in their class. This is precisely what was needed to bring the dome’s vast surface area to life.
“The ability of our partners, namely Christie in this case, Expo 2020’s official projection and display partner, to provide high-quality solutions, specific to the individual needs of the project, including images of sufficient definition and high enough quality to be viewed at this enormous scale, was critical and served as a key consideration in our decision to work with them,” says Mohammed Alhashmi, the Expo’s chief technology officer.
“High-quality systems integrators, supplying, installing and testing this equipment on various Expo 2020 projects such Al Wasl are also critically important – ensuring the projection and display technologies are installed to the correct specification, ready to wow millions of visitors.”
The projectors were tested and prototyped offsite before they reached Expo where they were re-tested on delivery, installed at Al Wasl and then re-tested in situ.
Alhashmi adds that “we have specialised tools to pre-visualise the content in every stage of the creative process. We have also created a custom virtual reality space that gives us a possibility to view the content in an immersive virtual model of Al Wasl.”
However, not all the AV across the sprawling Expo site is as bespoke as the tech inside the Al Wasl Plaza. Off-the-shelf displays and speakers are scattered around the complex and synched up thanks to the Expo’s other technology partners which include local telecoms firm, Etisalat as well as Accenture, Siemens, SAP and Cisco.
“Cisco Vision, the end-to-end dynamic media management solution from Cisco, Expo 2020’s Digital Network Partner, is another core offering at Expo 2020 – affording the ability to display the same content across multiple displays at the same time,” says Alhashmi. “Back-end software establishes what the programming of the content is going to be, which then controls what is sent to each of the displays through a small piece of hardware attached to each of the displays.
“Other on-site technology features include our intelligent queuing system, mirroring that of fast-pass schemes found at theme parks. It enables guests to reserve a specific time slot at any of our three thematic pavilions, and country pavilions that have opted to use the service. This optimises the guests’ visit to Expo 2020 by allowing them to visit each location at a time convenient to them without having to wait in potentially lengthy queues.”
The American adventure
The magic formula in the United States pavilion is more low-tech but equally effective at managing guest flow and keeping Covid under control. A flat travellator snakes through it at slower than walking speed “to give guests the experience we want them to see” according to Pete Ford, project creative director at Thinkwell Group which designed the pavilion. The speed of the travellator comes into its own almost immediately.
The Pavilion is themed to US innovations. Some, like the iPhone, are obvious but others are more abstract. The first is democracy and this is illustrated through a projection-mapped model of the torch from the Statue of Liberty. It starts out in its green copper colour and gradually starts to shine as the sun sets on the 360-degree screen which wraps around the rim above it.
Pulling this off requires 16 projectors and the effect is so spellbinding that if guests were walking at their own pace they would surely crowd around it which isn’t safe in the current climate. However, as the travellator moves at slower than walking speed it gives guests the impression that they have spent more time watching it than if they were actually walking. It’s the perfect illustration of how to use technology and creativity to solve a health problem.
“AV is key to presenting the narrative of the pavilion and taking our guests on a journey,” says Ford, an Expo veteran who had worked on six pavilions before Thinkwell hired him. The Los Angeles-based design firm specialises in theme parks and has been behind many of the industry’s most acclaimed attractions including the world’s biggest indoor theme park, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi.
Its impeccable experience shows throughout the US Pavilion starting outside with a full-size replica of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which draws guests in as it can be seen from afar. SpaceX gave Thinkwell access to the original rocket as well as the engineering blueprints and it shows. Every rivet is in the same place as the original and the rocket has even been artificially weathered. Ford says wrily that you would have to be a rocket scientist to tell the difference between them.
A 90-second show about how SpaceX services the International Space Station is projection mapped on to the side of the rocket every night and can be seen from the plaza outside. This fits the theme as the Middle East and nearby Africa have been amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the satellites that SpaceX has launched. “To create a unique experience requires the AV design and integration to be considered at the same time as the building design,” says Ford.
Although Thinkwell was responsible for the interior, San Francisco-based architecture firm Woods Bagot designed the exterior of the building which is dotted with steel stars backlit with LED nodes. A huge US Presidential Seal hangs over the entrance which leads to a video address from president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris. Guests then start their journey on the travellator past exhibits including a replica of Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone and Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran which is on loan from the US Library of Congress.
AV is used to move the story forward rather than being an attraction in itself. At one point the travellator passes a wall of moulded stars like the ones on the outside. Projections on them start out like a star field which then forms shapes of key technological developments like microchips and GPS. It links to the theme of the pavilion perfectly without the technology intruding on the experience.
Likewise, later on the journey guests watch video speeches from modern innovators such as Drone delivery company Zipline and Time Magazine’s 2020 kid of the year, Gitanjali Rao. They play on LED screens on the side of boxes which are stacked in a column and turn to face the guests as they pass by.
Ford says that Thinkwell has drawn on its decades of experience to integrate off-the-shelf products in a way which is so intuitive that guests don’t get distracted by the technology. Thinkwell has broken new ground through “the integration of a lot of disparate technologies to create a unique experience – particularly in the use of special fabrics and paints,” says Ford.
He adds that the secret to this success is to “consider the use of AV at the genesis of the project and integrate accordingly.” He says it is crucial to “find the right partner to make your design better. Ones that are willing to treat this as a partnership and keep working to create the best possible outcomes and add value to the creative. The US pavilion team at Creative Technology, led by Peter Herring, has been instrumental in the creation of this pavilion.”
It culminates in an AV extravaganza which is being kept under wraps as it has the theme of celebrating future developments from the US. From there, guests take a wooden staircase past photos of iconic American landscapes. It brings them back to earth before (almost literally) taking them to the moon again as the pavilion’s exit room showcases America’s fascination with space. Guests can see a Martian meteorite in a cabinet and touch a moon rock (before using the nearby hand sanitiser of course).
A wall-mounted lenticular formed from triangular strips shows the first photo taken on Mars in 1965 on one side and a recent photo from the planet on the other. The highlight is Cornell University’s model of the Mars Opportunity Rover in the centre of the room sitting on a model of a Martian landscape complete with artificial tyre tracks in the sand.
Thinkwell has left no stone unturned and live NASA feed from Mars even plays on screens set into the sides of the display case giving it the feel of Mission Control. It is designed to keep guests lingering in the room as the walls are lined with stands from US economic investment bodies eager to get contact details from the wealthy visitors.
Ford says the pavilion looks exactly as Thinkwell intended and it took a surprisingly short time to develop. A team of 35 designers had just two weeks to create the pavilion using CGI previsualisation techniques whilst the finale scene was made in miniature form before being installed. Thinkwell originally had just ten months to build the pavilion but Covid extended that timeframe. Despite this, Ford says that “it has been a real challenge to meet deadlines during the pandemic.” It should be well worth it.
“There will be a lot of publicity for the companies involved,” says Wickham. “They will be using the Expo to push the company profile, and will get projects based on what people have seen and what they have done.” That really is a happy ending.
Viewed from above, the Mobility Pavilion looks like a giant fidget spinner. It celebrates transport of all kinds, right down to the movement of data. There is a powerful AV engine under the bonnet as Paul Kent, senior entertainment consultant at Electrosonic explains.
Electrosonic was the primary AV integrator in The Mobility Pavilion which is packed full of innovative experiential technologies that take visitors on a guided tour through time and space where they come face-to-face with history’s giants of exploration and discover the future of human progress.
The journey begins on board the world’s largest elevating platform, designed as an experiential ‘dark ride’ where surround-sound audio immerses visitors in the evolution of mobility.
Projection-mapped images of horses guide visitors to the ‘House of Wisdom’ where special lighting effects create a stunning night sky with a model cityscape in the background. ‘Wise men’ relate the discoveries in astronomy and mathematics that led to the first great wave of mobility.
Visitors then move to Act One, the ‘Physical World’, where giants explain the revolutionary changes triggering mobility of information and cultures. Images projection-mapped on a table between the giants illustrate their travels and discoveries. Here, audio and projection synch as a giant writes on a scroll. Nearby is a waterfall created by projection where a pearl diver continues the giants’ tales.
Next, visitors encounter the story of mobility in Dubai, a cross-cultural trading hub. A sphere shaped like a pearl provides continuity and shows projected images of old Dubai. City leaders present a multimedia experience explaining how their vision transformed Dubai through trade while visitors can learn more in an interactive space over an LED floor display.
Act Two introduces the ‘Digital World’ where information and goods are exchanged at even faster speeds. Here, complex dome projection and LED displays create stunning images representing the Internet of Things. Within Act Two there is a massive hemisphere, 12 metres in diameter, featuring complex back projection and other show elements internally. On the inside of the dome there are 149 separately controlled video monitors which work together with a circular Holonet front projection to tell the story of the Internet of Things.
At the exit to the dome is a larger-than-life astronaut with a small monitor mounted inside his helmet. The astronaut’s monitor is an integral part of an interactive system that captures images of visitors. This space theme continues in an exhibit about the UAE’s involvement in the exploration of Mars. Audio visual installations recreate the environment of Mars mission control and there is a Martian Diorama featuring transparent OLED displays.
The final space is Act Three, the ‘Unified World’, which is designed to show the power of thought. It’s a complex space with complex projection requirements and features a 35 metre cityscape with realistic faux walkways, mirrored projection exhibits and two Holonet exhibits requiring special projection techniques.
One is in a massive cylinder which is four metres in diameter, 14 metres high and extends into the mirrored ceiling. Images projected on different levels of the cylinder dissipate into the hanging scenic rain within the space. The integrated Holonet ‘show sequence’ involved extensive mockups and testing to create effects that have truly never been seen before.
At the exit, a display highlights the Heroes of Mobility on a video wall where visitors can pose for photographs. The exit area also features images of visitors captured earlier by the camera in the astronaut’s helmet.
The Medialon pavilion control system is linked to a QSC unit and 7th sense video servers all running to the story timeline. It features all the techniques and technologies of themed entertainment but has a serious purpose – to make visitors think about mobility and its impact on culture, transport, trade, exploration and the digital future.
As part of the integration process, Electrosonic carried out extensive testing using mock-ups to test the viability and performance of the more complex exhibits. To enable the site operations team to simplify control of this complex multi-display and multimedia environment, Electrosonic developed an intuitive control system with local user interfaces and paging.
The Opportunity Pavilion resembles the front of iconic Star Wars space ship the Millennium Falcon with two soaring steel and glass platforms sticking out high in the air. It is an apt comparison given the pavilion’s remit.
It is also known as Mission Possible, and, as the primary AV integrator, it was Electrosonic’s job to succeed. Paul Kent, Electrosonic’s senior entertainment consultant, reveals how he got to the finish line.
The Pavilion is structured as a series of guided stages or ‘chapters’ on a mission designed to make visitors feel like they are part of a collective effort, making a real contribution.
At ‘Mission Sign Up’, guests select one of three preferred routes – water, energy or food. Here, they get preliminary information on each of the routes displayed on a series of 18 double-sided totems. They display bold large-format messages about threats and challenges on LCD panels which are visible from a distance to attract attention. The reverse of each totem features graphics with statements and questions to increase expectation.
‘Mission Briefing’ provides visitors with more detail on their role. Mentors communicate via a large screen, displaying multimedia images that convey the UN’s targets for food, water and energy. ‘Clouds’ of messages float above the visitors, communicating a series of actions they can take to meet the challenges set out on the totems. They then enter ‘Mission Activated’ on their chosen route.
In the Water Zone, visitors discover how Peruvians in mountainous regions are tackling water shortages. Directed by a holographic image of the mentor and surrounded by a soundscape of village life, they take part in interactive joystick games to catch fog in nets and condense it into water. They then head to a model representing the mountains. Above the table, projected images of the mentor and local villagers invite visitors to place their hands on interactive palm prints on the table. This triggers a projection of motion graphics and filmed images onto the table telling the story of improvements to local life through access to water.
In the Energy Zone, visitors take part in an interactive game to generate energy in a Zanzibar village. Twelve screens simulate open windows with solar panels; visitors target their panels at the sun to generate energy. They then move to an interactive table representing the same village scene. This time the palm prints trigger projected images of the mentor and local villagers explaining how their economic conditions and quality of life has improved through access to solar energy.
The Food Zone encourages visitors to increase food production on a farm near Dubai by playing an interactive game. By balancing sun, water and compost in the best combination, visitors increase crop yields which is represented through projections showing a lush garden sprouting up. At the interactive table, visitors’ palm prints trigger an explanation from the mentor and villagers about how different techniques improve agriculture.
All three groups then move to the ‘Mission Shared’ space where the mentors summarise the achievements of previous experiences on overhead screens. On lower walls, graphic panels depict the ‘Agents of Change’ who are making a difference and in the centre is a large scenographic representing the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals with an image of planet earth projected above.
In the final space, ‘Mission Accomplished’, visitors enter an upside-down world where they walk through interactive cloud tables in the ‘Garden of Pledges’. At the tables, visitors can select or add their own pledges on touchscreens. As they complete their pledges, they are projected on to a floral ceiling. Keeping it all running smoothly is a Crestron system which controls AV Stumpfl video servers and a QSC audio system.
The interactive elements in the pavilion engage the audience and show them how small actions can make a major difference. The games simulate simple achievable tasks such as recovering water, creating solar energy or increasing crop yields to demonstrate how visitors can make a personal contribution to the UN’s sustainability targets. Likewise, the stories at the interactive tables only begin when visitors interact with their palm print which reflects their personal commitment to action. This is followed by the interactive clouds which incorporate touchscreens to encourage visitors to make personal pledges. They are then projected in the sky above the visitors so that they are visible to everyone.
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