Moment Factory: Cathedrals of Electrons

How Moment Factory uses futuristic technology and good old-fashioned teamwork to create dazzling immersive environments.

Over 58 million people pass through Singapore’s Changi Airport every year. As they do, they experience the usual travel stresses and strains: baggage checks, security, customs. Yet in the departure area of a renovated Terminal 2, completed in 2023 after three and a half years of construction, there are two installations designed to surprise, delight, and give frazzled travellers a moment of respite.

One, in the Departure Hall, pays homage to Singapore’s status as a garden city, a metropolis replete with lots of green space. A four-story screen towers up from a passageway and bows across a wall otherwise planted with lush hanging gardens. The curved surface ensures the imagery—a rushing waterfall cascading over bulging, digital boulders—is visible from all directions. Periodically, not to mention surreally, the water appears to defy gravity and reverse course as a soundtrack by composer and pianist Jean-Michel Blais plays calmly.

Wonderfall, a four-story digital waterfall in the Departure Hall.

Elsewhere in the terminal, a digital “sky” soars over massive pillars covered in creeping vines and other plant life. Through integration with the airport’s weather system, the sky—another massive screen—changes to reflect the meteorological conditions outside. As it does, a score of tropical sounds, including the croaks and cheeps of birds and insects, creates the vibe that passengers are resting in a peaceful natural environment, not battling through one of the world’s busiest air hubs.

Airside, an immersive garden that “sprouts from an elevated platform over a pond under a limitless digital sky.”

The installations were conceived by a Montréal-based multimedia studio called Moment Factory. Neatly summing up their work in a simple phrase can be a bit tricky, partly because their efforts often combine an unusually broad skill set. They advertise themselves as a firm creating “immersive environments” and their projects could easily incorporate live dancers and laser shows, custom soundscapes, and high-quality, custom video productions.

“The architecture is often a starting point,” explains Fady Atallah, creative director at Moment Factory who oversaw the Changi installations and many other international transit projects. “We try to take the original vision of the architecture and add an experience that reflects the things that visitors will see and experience in the surrounding city. Our projects are highly specific to their locations.”

Moment Factory was founded in 2001 and has its roots in parties and concerts. Nine Inch Nails, the American rock band, was an early collaborator. Along the way, they expanded into exhibition design with a touring retrospective for haute couture fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, one of Madonna’s favorites, before taking on more increasingly complex undertakings.

The company, which has completed over 500 projects around the world, is perhaps the best known among a spate of Montréal multimedia experts that specialize in such immersive environments. Lucion, Lumin-ART Productions, and Denys Lavigne, a creative who previously had a marketing career in digital signage, are others. As is Gentilhomme Studio, which, in 2022, unveiled a whimsical installation at Orlando Airport that combines computer-generated images, underwater films, and artificial intelligence to project uniquely Floridian scenes—swimming manatees, launching spaceships—on large screens.

Gentilhomme Studio was founded in 2014 by creative director Thibaut Duverneix, a former Moment Factory freelance collaborator. He credits Montréal’s boom in multimedia design firms to the city’s strong tech community, which was also a magnet for video game companies such as Ubisoft as well as various visual effects firms. A long history as a leader in arts and culture also helps. “We’re all children of Cirque du Soleil in Montréal,” he told the Sixteen:Nine Podcast last February.

Part of what sets Moment Factory apart is the size and talent of their staff. Whereas some of their smaller competitors might have a crew of one or two dozen, Moment Factory has a team of 400, spread between the Montréal head office and satellites in New York, Tokyo, Singapore, and Paris. The background of the group covers just about everything: business, theater production, user experience, events, lighting, and more.

At the Grand Magic Hotel, guests experience four worlds: The French Garden, The Forest Pavilion, The Water Palace, and The Sky Gallery. Each is a multimedia show that unfolds over four acts that include relaxing ambient sequences and entertaining show moments.

The deep talent pool enables Moment Factory to tackle projects such as the renovation of the Grand Magic Hotel at Disneyland Paris. Entering the front door is like stepping into an animated feature. Literally. Guests are greeted at reception by a fictional, mustachioed character named Mr. Maurice, winking from a digital portrait on the wall à la Harry Potter. Part of Mr. Maurice’s job is to guide guests to the hotel’s various spaces where over 120 Samsung HD LED screens and 300 million digital pixels on the walls display more than 40 terabytes of original content, among them the glittering constellations in an area called the Sky Gallery.

Photo credit: Moment Factory

It might sound frenetic, but each space isn’t just calibrated for sugar-jacked tykes who can’t focus on anything for longer than a moment. Over 50 people at Moment Factory worked on the project over a two-year period, considering just about every aspect of the design, including how the screens could work mid-day by a sun-filled window, and how to integrate adequate task lighting for staff who need to see what they’re doing as the multimedia show goes on. “We also had to take care of the parents and the grandparents that might be tired after a day at Disneyland,” says Julie Boniche, Moment Factory’s multimedia director who oversaw the project. “Many of the screens show ambient content, creating a relaxing mood, with intermittent bursts of activity that only last for a short while.”

Leading such projects and maintaining creative integrity can be challenging. Moment Factory’s structure works a bit like the film industry. Projects are typically led by a Creative Director, such as Fady Atallah at Changi Airport, and a Producer, who takes care of the business end of things, including contracts and budgeting. They also develop the overall brief of each project with the client (in the case of the Grand Magic, that was global investment manager Schroders). The Creative Director then takes the brief and develops the artistic vision, collaborating with Multimedia Directors like Boniche who see to all the technical aspects of the work. “The projects require the stamina of a marathoner,” says Atallah, who is himself a half-marathon runner. “And collaboration is everything.”

“Sometimes a project is just too big for one person,” says Jean-Baptiste Hardoin, a creative and show director who helped oversee one of Moment Factory’s most monumental projects, an installation that will be on display until 2033 at Les Invalides in Paris. Called AURA and patterned after a similar venture at Montréal’s Notre Dame Basilica, the project recounts notable moments in French history using sound, light, and video projections within the walls of the iconic Baroque landmark. Because of the immensity of the project, Hardoin shared his leadership duties with another director, Bruno Ribeiro. “It was very humbling, maybe even a bit frightening to contemplate working in a space as historic as Les Invalides,” says Hardoin. “It helped to have someone to bounce ideas around with.”

Emulating the AURA experience at Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, AURA Invalides is a 50-minute immersive experience combining video mapping, lighting, special effects, orchestral music, and sound design to celebrate the architectural and historical heritage of one of Paris’s most iconic monuments: Dôme des Invalides.

Being humbled by Les Invalides is understandable. The 107-m.-tall, gold-domed church was commissioned in 1670 by King Louis XIV, the so-called Sun King who also turned Versailles from a hunting lodge into a city-sized castle. Still one of the most recognizable features in the Paris skyline, it is perhaps most famous for being the resting place of Emperor Napoleon, who lies in a giant stone sarcophagus.

AURA, which lasts for about an hour every evening, features dazzling imagery. In one moment, the Eiffel Tower appears to float within the dome over the heads of the audience. Yet all the technology, such as the laser projectors necessary to make that happen, is discreetly hidden out of view, unobtrusively within the existing architecture, on cornices and the like. Hardoin and the team built many mock-ups and models and coordinated with conservation experts and local governments to nail the details. “The installation has to last for years,” he explains. “So we didn’t want it to appear in any way to be a temporary installation. Everything had to be seamless.”

The complexity was such that Hardoin wasn’t the only one who shared leadership duties over the two years that AURA was in production. “We did the same for the musical composition, with two musical composers for the score,” he says. “A lot of people think creativity needs a single vision. I think of it like flying a plane. Every pilot needs a co-pilot to make sure things land.”

Moment Factory worked with Phish (their seventh collaboration) to create multimedia content generated from a fusion of real-time and pre-rendered visuals for the rock band’s four-night concert series in April at the Sphere in Las Vegas, where they were just the second band to perform, after U2 helped open the venue earlier this year. (Photo: Rich Fury – Sphere Entertainment)

The studio’s work included staging, video design and production, and lighting design (together with the band’s longtime lighting designer, Chris Kuroda) for the world’s highest resolution LED screen, and combined elements of scenography, live 360° capture, and technologies such as Unreal and Notch (photo: Alive Coverage).