When Ottawa 2017 executive director Guy Laflamme was seeking a partner to help pull off his unprecedented plan to build a multimedia exhibit in an unfinished LRT station, he knew the winning bid practically the moment he saw it.
“When we got to Moment Factory’s presentation, I had tears in my eyes,” the chief planner of the capital’s Canada 150 celebrations said. “I was so impressed with how they had managed to read my mind.”
With a budget of $4 million, the Kontinuum exhibition is the most expensive and elaborate of the multitude of events on Mr. Laflamme’s Canada 150 calendar. Set in the downtown Lyon LRT station, the underground sound and light show is being billed as the first exhibit of its kind in a metro station that’s still under construction.
It’s an unconventional idea to say the least. Mr. Laflamme conceded there have been more than a few times since he proposed the plan when he wondered if it would ever come to fruition.
“With this kind of ambitious, incredibly complex and challenging project, inevitably you have moments where you doubt. Quite often, I was going, ‘Oh my God, why did I get into this?’
“Now I realize why we are the only city in the world that has ever done this. It was such a mission impossible type of project that I understand why nobody else was crazy enough to undertake this kind of massive undertaking.”
Still, Mr. Laflamme said he never doubted he had the right partner in Moment Factory. Founded in 2001, the Montreal-based multimedia company has become renowned for making the near-impossible practically routine.
Twelve companies submitted bids in the first stage of the RFP process. When that number was whittled down to three finalists 18 months ago, Mr. Laflamme said Moment Factory was the clear choice.
“They have been beyond amazing people to work with,” he said.
Moment Factory’s work has been displayed around the world everywhere from airports to rock concerts to the facade of the Parliament Buildings. After working with musical acts such as Nine Inch Nails, the firm hit the big time in 2012, when Madonna chose it to provide 3D visual effects for her Super Bowl halftime show performance.
As it happens, the 250-employee enterprise also has a strong connection to the capital. The creative force behind the company is Ottawa native Sakchin Bessette, who launched Moment Factory with a couple of friends from Montreal’s rave scene when digital imaging technology was still in its infancy.
Born and raised in Gloucester, Mr. Bessette attended De La Salle high school in Lowertown before studying photography at Montreal’s Dawson College and “then just jumped into the hot soup and learned by doing stuff. There’s no school teaching what we do, really. Especially in the late ’90s and the beginning of the 2000s, this was kind of like a non-existent industry. Our industry’s grown and we’ve grown with it.”
The 42-year-old has kept close tabs on the Kontinuum project from Montreal and said he’s happy his firm has been able to play a defining role in one of his hometown’s signature Canada 150 events.
“We’ve been lucky and people have trusted us and believed in us enough to give us opportunities that have helped us kind of innovate and grow,” he said. “Obviously, I’m personally attached to this project and to the city. It’s quite an inspiring project.”
However, it’s also been fraught with a host of logistical and technical hurdles – everything from ensuring all the work met stringent fire and safety codes to installing complex lighting and sound equipment in what is still a dark, dusty transit station in progress.
“Creating magic in a construction site is quite challenging,” Mr. Bessette noted.
And it all took place in what Mr. Laflamme called “record time.” Ottawa 2017 and Moment Factory had only about two and a half weeks to put the elaborate Kontinuum production together once the Rideau Transit Group, which is overseeing construction of the Confederation Line’s 13 LRT stations, vacated the site in mid-June.
Mr. Laflamme himself was still helping put the finishing touches on the paint job just hours before Kontinuum opened for previews on July 15.
“The show must go on,” Mr. Bessette said. “We’re not in this business because it’s easy – we’re in this business because we want to push and discover new types of entertainment and touch people in new ways so that they feel different types of emotions and experiences that they haven’t experienced before. That doesn’t necessarily make our life easy, but it makes it exciting, that’s for sure.”
Kontinuum is free and runs every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. until Sept. 14. The site can accommodate up to 420 visitors at a time, and Mr. Laflamme said more than 85,000 people have already booked tickets. About 16,000 curious spectators filed through on Kontinuum’s first full weekend to witness its unique visual effects, even more than organizers had anticipated.
“It is beyond what we were expecting,” Mr. Laflamme said. “The public’s reaction is overwhelming.”
Mr. Bessette said his company’s most important goal is to create compelling multimedia exhibits that the public can experience together. Mr. Laflamme said in this case, it’s clearly “mission accomplished.”
“It’s hard to say no when someone like Guy Laflamme comes to you and says, ‘Hey, guys, you want to pitch on this project where we’re going to take an LRT tunnel and transform it into this completely new experience?’” Mr. Bessette added. “What we do is we create entertainment that brings people together.”