Alif. Mobility pavilion at Expo Dubai
It is one of the three thematic pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai. Designed by Norman Foster, Alif hosts an exhibition on mobility through outstanding achievements of humanity. In this colossal project, I was the Art Director of the audiovisuals (AV) commissioned from Mediapro as well as the leader of the 40 people team that produced them. On site, I had the opportunity to work for 2 years alongside the legendary studio Weta Workshops and create the visuals for the first mission to Mars of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA)🚀.
One of the largest immersive exhibitions in the world. It features a continuous exhibition track of 330 meters. Alif brings together high technology, creativity & cutting-edge architecture.
Avant-Garde visuals: videomappings of up to 12 meters wide or 16m in diameter, 360-degree concentric video projection, holographic rooms & interactive screens with reactive content.
It offers a cinematic and immersive experience that includes giants, horses made of stars, magic carpets, waterfalls, pearls that tell stories, interplanetary travel... We have made more than 60 audiovisual productions for this pavilion, from mappings of more than 16m wide to interactive 2m spheres, 3D Arabian horses formed from stars, holographic trips to Mars or interactive buildings made from magical particles of desert sand.
The exploration of Mobility has prompted us to delve into the study of pivotal figures in the history of Arab countries, consult cadastres and archival materials to meticulously reconstruct the 3D modernization journey of Dubai. Additionally, we have undertaken a detailed analysis of the distinct characteristics of the five breeds of Arabian horses (Al Khamsa), aiming to digitally recreate them and have them gallop across a breathtaking starlit sky. One of the standout features of the pavilion is the projection mapping that accompanies three colossal sculptures, each symbolizing central figures in the history and advancement of mobility in the Arab world: Ibn Majid, Al Bakri and Ibn Battuta. Recreated in detail by the Weta Workshop team, the torso of the hyper-realistic giants measures 9 meters high and they are seated around a large table 16m in diameter. On the table, a spectacular mapping narrates their adventures in a magical and surprising way.
Also noteworthy are the pieces dedicated to the mission to Mars that the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) began in 2020. For this area of the pavilion, numerous productions have been made that include, in addition to a 3D comparison between Mars and the Earth, a detailed recreation of the interstellar journey being carried out by the Mars Hope probe.
It is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, a metaphor for the place where everything begins. From our very first steps out of Africa to space travel to our interconnected digital world. The Mobility Pavilion tells the story of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, a city and a nation in constant motion, from the centuries spent traversing land and sea in service of trade to the recent journey to Mars in service of UAE scientific understanding of the incalculable mysteries of the universe. It is distributed in 3 acts: past, present and future. Covering a wide aspect of perspectives on mobility.
Universal exhibitions have been a tradition since the second half of the 19th century. Each time a new city is chosen as the headquarters to house them, giving rise to the construction of permanent buildings that forever modify the city. Dubai Expo 2020 is created under the motto: "connecting minds, creating the future." It has managed to reach 24.1M visits and bring together pavilions from 192 countries, currently being the largest budget universal exhibition in history.
It is organized with a plant structure reminiscent of a flower with a central square (Al Wasl) and 3 petals. Each road is a district: mobility, sustainability and opportunity. Each district hosts pavilions from the 192 nations that participate as well as some private ones or for educational purposes. At the end of each of the districts is the star pavilion that gives its name to the district. In our case, we work in the Mobility Pavilion, in the mobility district. One of the 3 most relevant pavilions for the expo and which were directly supervised by the UAE royal family.
Rising like a cresting wave, the building itself appears as if it is in motion. The Mobility Pavilion, designed by the award-winning Foster + Partners, features the world’s largest passenger lift, which can transport 160+ people at a time. The pavilion also stars a partly underground, partly open air 330m track for you to see cutting-edge mobility devices in action. The pavilion itself encompasses about 19,000m2 across seven floors with about 4,300m2 dedicated to the exhibition. Pavilion has been designed with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
Alif has been one of the greatest museum engineering achievements in recent years. Norman Foster was inspired by a spinner when envisioning it.
It has set a Guinness Record by having the largest passenger elevator in the world with a capacity for 160 people simultaneously.
I was involved in the project from the AV inception. This early involvement allowed me to collaborate with the MET team in London and Mediapro Exhibitions on AV Art Direction to very design them from scratch. We conducted numerous deliberative sessions during the conceptualization of the visual elements with key stakeholders including ALEC, Expo Dubai 2020, MET & Weta Workshop, in expansive gatherings. These sessions involved over 30 participants and aimed to collectively create an implementation strategy. Following months of exhaustive research, data organization, and in-depth analysis, we commenced the production phase, delving into different facets of Arab culture.
I assembled and led an international team of more than 40 professionals, spearheading production in key locations such as Madrid, Barcelona, Dubai, London and Edinburgh. While some team members worked remotely, a dedicated core operated from Mediapro Madrid utilizing a purpose-built custom NAS & renderfarm. This central coordination featured a meticulous approval system to manage stakeholders within a demanding schedule where diverse perspectives on the progression of our audiovisual creations were advocated and defended.
Collaborating closely with various participating entities, we meticulously integrated our audiovisual components into the diverse architectural and construction settings. The project presented distinctive challenges for each piece, demanding inventive solutions aligned with the design specifications. The complexities of this large-scale project were further intensified by construction activities, posing a continuous technical challenge. The process fostered numerous opportunities for collaboration and learning, contributing significantly to my professional journey.
The renowned French publishing house Assouline has produced a book exclusively dedicated to Alif, the Mobility Pavilion at Expo Dubai. This book offers detailed insights into various artistic proposals within the expo and provides information about the origins of the concepts. Additionally, it includes several pages dedicated to various audiovisual pieces created by us at Mediapro.
Once the expo tenders had been thoroughly analyzed, the first thing I did was create a complete production pipeline, designing the hardware, software, render farm and server. The audiovisual work involved a high level of detail in the CGI and very different approaches depending on the pieces. Therefore, I developed a system of advanced categories with a naming convention inspired by those of the film industry. We made quadrupeds with skeleton systems and muscles, simulations with millions of particles, motion graphics with complex animations, precise historical recreations, large-scale connected scenes, film shootings (both in Dubai and Madrid)... in short, a 2-year project full of technological and organizational challenges which expanded the team's ideas into new high-tech horizons.
Interactive video. touch screens and motion tracking systems // Videomapping. projections on models and different formats // 360 video. purpose-built sphere construction with concentric projection // Large scale projection. 12m wide with a high degree of detail // Holography. through 4K holographic screens // Large media servers. managing dozens of videos with 7senses and brightsign.
CGI & motion. Cinema 4D, blender // Organic modeling. zBrush // Texturing. Substance painter // Animation. Maya // Advanced simulations. Houdini // Cloth simulation. Marvelous designer // Render engines. Redshift, Cycle, Octane, V-Ray // Comp. Nuke, After Effects.
Client. Expo Dubai 2020 // Development Manager. Emaar // Project manager. TIME, Turner International Middle East // Main contractor. ALEC // Exhibition designer. MET Studio // Creative vision, design & manufacture. WETA Workshops // AV direction. Mediapro exhibitions // AV Art direction & production. Mediapro // 360 sphere. pufferfishdisplays // Exhibition contractor. ALEC fitout // Exhibition consultant. Icaria Atelier // AV local partner. Mediapro Middle East // Pavilion electronic. Electrosonic
Business chief. Sergi Sagàs // Direction. Andrea Ferrando // Project management. Henriette Martinez // Content. Gerard Farré-Escofet // Production. Alicia Nabáis // Scripts. Cecilia Gómez & Mediapro Exhibition team // Tech support. Alex Manzano
Business opportunity. Juanjo García, Ignacio Menendez, María José Martín // Art director & unit leader. Aníbal Santaella // Art direction assistants. Alejandro Olmedo, Ángela Manfredi // AV Production. Natalia Mariño del Castillo, Isabel Cano, Deneb Sabater, Laura de Manuel Pérez, Rosana Escribano // AV Production assistant. Marco Sacido, María Fernández // 3D & motion artists. Adrián López, Alejandro Treviño, Alessio Chinni, Alfredo Borrás, André Luiz Carneiro, Carlos Nogueras, Cedric Fangeat, Daniel Barrionuevo, Daniel Campillo, Daniel Luján, Diego Conte, Diego Soto, Faris Hindi, Fernando Tendero, Javier Arenas, Joan Molins, Luis Núñez, Matias Rubio, Oriol Dòmenech, Rolando Barry, Sandra Jimenez, Tania Depares, Tomás Gómez // Concept artists. Carles Marsal // AV shooting production. Gloria Campillo // Cinematographer. Adrián Del Val // Junior graphic design. Gonzalo López
2 years AV Art director for one of the biggest exhibitions projects