When monsters take over the Quartier des Spectacles

April 14, 2023

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What if we told you there was a parallel universe inhabited by strange monsters right here, and that you could see it for yourself? That’s what’s in store for you with The Secret Life of Monsters, an immersive event taking place at the Saint-Laurent Metro Station exit. Halfway between a video game and mixed reality, this unique, free and family-friendly production is an amazing experience! Jean-Philippe Desjardins, the director and co-founder of Wallrus Creative Technologies, the company behind the project, tells us more.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Originally, when we founded Wallrus, my partners Émile, Jasmine and I wanted to make movies. Instead, we turned our attention to the Web, and over the last ten years, we’ve carved out a place for ourselves in the industry. But we never lost the desire to return to creation. The Secret Life of Monsters was an opportunity for us to reconnect with our artistic side and become creators again. What interests us about technology is the ability to tell stories.

Why did you choose monsters as your theme, and what was your inspiration?

Monsters are an object of fascination and the very embodiment of fantasy. A lot of our inspiration comes from the films of Hayao Miyasaki, like Princess Mononoke: they’re full of all sorts of wonderful creatures. Aesthetically, the artist Odilon Redon, who painted spiders with human or smiling faces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, also influenced us. And for us, the world of monsters has always had a little steampunk appeal. So when we realized that technology could enable people to interact with creatures from another world, we thought we had a starting point for a project that would appeal to the whole family

What was the creation process like?

It took about four years from conception to completion. You could say that it was a long-term project as well as a learning process for us, since it was our first production for the public space. All in all, about 50 people worked on the project.

What technologies did you use?

The Secret Life of Monsters combines elements of video games, video mapping and mixed reality. To deliver a project like this, we have to use a variety of software and technologies, starting with 5G, which lets spectators use their mobile device as a window into the world of monsters. For this experience, we started with a geomatic scan of the Saint-Laurent Metro surroundings, and we developed the monsters’ universe using the Unreal Engine video game engine. “Edge computing” tells us in real time where people are pointing their mobile devices. Finally, to bring the Kyfo to life, we used a machine learning algorithm, a specific type of artificial intelligence.

What kind of experience can the public expect?

This experience was really designed as a family event, so that children can take part and parents can share in their wonder. It is divided into two parts. First, there’s the discovery of the parallel universe populated by strange monsters that you can see with your phone. Second, there’s the Monstroscope, a structure that allows you to communicate with the Kyfo, a mysterious being who operates an aerial train station and whose image is projected onto the façade adjacent to Saint-Laurent Metro Station. The Kyfo is friendly by nature, but speaks a pretty incomprehensible language. Depending on what people say to him, he can experience different emotions and reproduce sounds.

What lessons did you learn from this creative experience?

As a creator, you realize that in 2023, you’re competing with screens all the time. At home, between the television, computer, smartphone and tablet, it’s extremely difficult to capture and hold people's attention, and that’s what gave us the idea of creating something designed especially for the public space and the general public. There will also be costumed mediators near Saint-Laurent Metro Station to assist people on-site. Of course, we are very excited to see how people react to this art project, the first in Canada to harness the potential of 5G technology. For us, it’s a first foray into the field, but we’re not ruling out the possibility of bringing works like these to museums in the future.

The Secret Life of Monsters
April 17 to 30, 2023
Daily, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Video projection begins at dusk, 8 p.m.