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Themed to perfection – AV Magazine

in MEA, Systems, Visitor attractions January 20, 2022 0
It’s well known that appearances can be deceiving and the Australia pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is no exception. Caroline Reid and Christian Sylt report.
Tucked away at the back of the complex, the 3,500 square metre structure looks rustic from the outside with wood surrounding the entrance and aluminium posts sticking up haphazardly from its roof. However, after only a few minutes inside it feels like a whole new world.
The colourful Aboriginal artwork lining the walls of the entrance belies the high-tech heart of the pavilion. Guests get their first hint of this as they walk down a corridor which is carved out of a series of angular panels. Colour-changing LED lighting strips line the inside edges of the panels to highlight the walkway whilst a series of 65 inch LG OLED screens are set into the walls. As visitors walk past the screens, footage appears in them of people explaining what they like most about Australia. Then comes the big reveal.
Instead of culminating in something like an exhibition of indigenous art, there’s a full-size planetarium which takes visitors on a trip through the cosmos explaining how Aboriginal legends are rooted in the stars. An array of Panasonic PT-RCQ10 projectors delivers a resolution of 6,000 x 6,000 pixels which is so sharp that it’s common to see viewers swaying in their seats as the footage swoops through space, even though the planetarium doesn’t actually move at all.
It was developed by Australian production company, Accolade which also worked on the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony and the city’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration.
Accolade’s Artistic Director Andrew Walsh says that “at the Australian Pavilion, the story-telling is the key to impressing the visitors and conveying the messages about our rich heritage and our dynamic future. Keeping this in mind, the design brief was very much driven by the theatrical nature of the storytelling.”
He adds that “we are using the newest projection and screen technology but that is not what is driving the visitor experience. The theatre and content are doing that and audiovisual is supporting it in the best possible way.” Just as much importance is given to audio as video.
“Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet, manufactured by Australian company Audinate, has been used throughout the Australia pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. It is a multi-channel, low latency transport system for distributing digital audio over a standard network. It is completely scalable and easy to reconfigure for different applications.
“We have made minimal customisations to the system to suit the specific requirements of the Australia pavilion. As you can imagine, the requirements of the visitor experience are very different from those of the meeting rooms in the pavilion.”
Acoustics alone differ greatly between the planetarium and the next room which has an oblong shape. It is equally breathtaking.
A mirrored box suspended from the ceiling in the dimly-lit room initially creates geometric shapes on the walls and then spectacular vistas of Australia are beamed onto them in a continuous wraparound image. Thanks to clever overhead mounting of the Panasonic projectors in front of the mirrored structure, there are no shadows on the walls even when the room is packed with people.
The footage tells the story of a young girl’s expedition throughout Australia. It is pin-sharp with a resolution of 7,465 x 1,610 pixels on the long walls and 4,581 x 1,610 at the ends of the room. The images immerse viewers in the Great Barrier Reef before taking them on a flight over Sydney Harbour Bridge, and on the wings of a bee as Australian scientists put a microchip on its back to track its movements.
The film doesn’t just promote tourism it also showcases Australian innovations, including 3D printing of body parts and restoring reefs by inseminating them with coral polyps.
A tour of Australia wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the country’s famous barbecues and the last stop in the pavilion is an outdoor plaza with a music stage in the middle surrounded by local food stalls.
The entire experience is so slick that it is one of the few Expo pavilions which could be dropped into a Disney theme park without any changes. It is down to the developers’ ethos.
“At Expo 2020 Dubai, it’s all about the audience experience,” says Walsh. “It doesn’t matter how clever the audiovisual design is. If the audience doesn’t walk away moved by the experience, it’s all a waste of time and money.” It took more than the wave of a magic wand to pull it off.
“The biggest challenge we faced was in installing the AV system as we could not be on-site in the UAE during that period due to Covid 19 restrictions. We had to supervise the fabrication, installation, and commissioning remotely from Australia. Working with local UAE partners and being online with them via video was the way we did the entire installation.”
Walsh adds that “we were on video link throughout the installation and due to the time difference, we had to undertake lots of late-night call and video reviews. It was a first for us as we favour a hands-on approach, but through great partnership it worked well under the circumstances.” Like the exterior of the pavilion itself, that’s quite an understatement.
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