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Trompe l’oeil flash behind Madonna

Music for Screens: Fall 2012

If you were one of the millions who tuned in to watch Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show in February, you’ll remember not just the huge cast of faux ancient Roman and Egyptian legions, acrobats and cheerleaders, but also the dazzling multimedia effects – eye candy that elevated the event from standard Madonna theater into hi-tech performance art.

Steering the magic carpet ride was Montreal-based multimedia effects company Moment Factory.

The Montreal-based outfit announced it was creating video environments for Madonna’s MDNA tour shortly after the Super Bowl show aired, embarking on a four-month project to develop concepts, designs and multimedia content for 12 songs, each of them requiring full 2D and 3D animation productions.

For the tour’s opening sequence, Moment Factory created an illusory cathedral, its doors opening for “monks” shortly before the entire structure collapsed before the audience’s eyes. Of course there was no church, it was a visual, as were all the “sets” used throughout the show – moving images projected onto plain cubes creating state-of-the-art trompe l’oeil.

As Variety noted of her show at L.A.’s Staples Center in October, “when the staging concepts worked, they worked brilliantly, and overall production values were impeccable.”

“It really looked like there was a real church on stage in 3D,” says Sakchin Bessette, creative director of Moment Factory, which he co-founded in 2001. “It was a great example of how you can integrate the physical world and the narrative content of a show using lighting and video and sets and dancers. Our technology was the key, but mainly it’s a means to achieving the creative vision which comes straight from the artist’s imagination.”

For a Bollywood-esque sequence in which dancers appear to be on top of moving trains, Moment Factory traveled to India to shoot raw footage of the trains before projecting the images onto three video cubes.

Moment Factory’s 100-plus creative team includes multimedia directors, artistic directors, designers, animators, editors, cameramen and d.p’s. Between them they have created more than 300 events, shows and installations across the world for such clients as Cirque du Soleil, Disney, Nine Inch Nails, Celine Dion and Microsoft.

In addition to the Madonna collaborations, they created “participatory content” in June for an Usher concert at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, allowing audience members to interact with the star in real time by posting messages on-stage via Twitter and creating avatars that danced with Usher for a song.

In September, Moment Factory lit up architect Antoni Gaudi’s renowned Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, creating a moving fresco on the basilica’s Nativity facade, warping and swirling the concrete surface so that it resembled a psychedelic 3D Salvador Dali painting.

The company’s trademarked software, named X-Agora, is the secret behind many of its real-time special effects. At the heart of the X-Agora process is “video-mapping” – “the process of distorting video to make it merge seamlessly with the surrounding architecture,” Bessette says. “It’s about creating a 3D model of the building or set, integrating that into the 3D software and telling the story with this new medium of spectacle or grand-scale video.”

Bessette believes his large, interactive extravaganzas are a way to get people off their social network pages and out into the real world. “Everyone is on their personal devices, on Facebook, on Twitter, and they have great big TVs which mean they don’t even need to leave their living room to feel connected and entertained. That’s why our motto is ‘doing it in public’; bring them out of the safety of being super connected yet super alone. We are trying to create the physical environments that are as exciting as the personal – and that’s what the artists we work with want and need, too.” ?

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