Moment Factory Goes Phishing

Moment Factory, the Montreal-based multimedia entertainment studio, played a central role in the co-creative direction of four different shows for the Phish residency at Sphere Las Vegas in April 2024. They collaborated closely with show director Abigail Rosen Holmes, playing a role in the scenic design, video design, and production, as well as contributing to lighting concepts in collaboration with the band's longtime lighting designer, Chris Kuroda.

Live Design gets the inside story from Moment Factory's leads on the Phish shows — co-creative director Jean-Baptiste Hardoin, producer Daniel Jean, and creative screen producer, Justin Restaino. 

Photo by Alive Coverage

Live Design: How did you collaborate with Abigail Rosen Holmes on the overall look of the show?

Moment Factory: The creative collaboration was very organic and intuitive. We launched the process in fall with a work session where we gathered ideas from everyone around the four themes that inspired the band’s lead, Trey Anastasio. Since the objective was to create four completely different shows, it was a great thing to put in common a lot of ideas from different creative minds. We agreed on great statements such as: blurring the lines of perception of the audience, keeping a dark mood of a show, and not overexposing the space with the brightness of the screen, bringing fun moments, bringing illusions, and immersing the audience in different places every night… all of this with the main objective of keeping all these scenes performed live alongside of the band who are famous for their endless jam sessions!

LD: What was the artistic intent and brief from the band about the visuals?

MF: It was very much a “carte blanche” for the visual direction, keeping in mind the parameters that we agreed on all together (see above). They wanted a subtle alchemy of very aesthetic and refined moments, but also some goofy and fun moments to contrast and bring a good dynamic for each night. The use of live cameras was also very important for all of us: we wanted to connect the audience to the human performance, considering the scale of the venue, without putting too much emphasis on their own image… in a very impressionist way.

Photo by Alive Coverage

LD: What drove the decision to have four different sets of visuals for the four nights at Sphere?

MF: It is related to the identity of Phish, the band always presents unique performances from a musical standpoint. It was very clear for all of us that the visual performance had to embrace the same uniqueness. I think it was also a crazy challenge that we all wanted to accept: if we are to do a residency at Sphere for four nights, let’s offer the fans four different experiences. 

LD: Content creation - software - team - amount of time?

MF:  Eight months to produce; four months creating the visuals; more than 80 people from Moment Factory.

Rising to this creative and technical challenge, the team worked closely with a trusted network of collaborators, including Disguise, whose innovative platform powered Moment Factory's extensive hours of pre-rendered and real-time visual content on a sprawling 16K x 16K resolution canvas. Fuse Technical Group served as the technical integrator for the video system, managing the incorporation of Moment Factory's content onto servers and providing supplementary servers for real-time content delivery. Moment Factory also enlisted Fly Studio, Myreze, and Sila Sveta for screen content production; Troublemakers for audio design during Phish's stage entrance; and Picnic Dinner Studios and Totem Studio for 2D animations during the intermission.

Photo by Alive Coverage

LD: Integration of the video images with the lighting?

MF: We had to reinvent ourselves in the relationship between lighting, music and visuals for this residency, because a typical Phish performance is led by the lighting design of Chris Kuroda. In that case it had been developed as a dance between video and light. Sometimes in harmony, sometimes in contrast… everything was about finding the right moments to bring the lighting forefront or supporting the visuals. And always in live, like a dialogue between the two. 

LD: The interior LED surface at Sphere is massive and immersive — how did you confront the challenges of that?

MF: This was by far the most challenging aspect creatively for the project. It is easy to dream and brainstorm ideas for a surface as large and immersive as Sphere’s, but it is a whole different task to execute on it. There were numerous times where we would create a piece of content, throw it up on the screen, and quickly realize we needed to adapt the scale, colors, visual effect, etc. We developed our own test environment locally in Montreal with a “mock sphere,” but nothing is as accurate as the true thing.

LD: Other challenges along the way? What is the biggest challenge of working in that space?

MF: Another challenge of working in that space outside of creatively adapting, is the technical hurdles needing to be overcome. Because the canvas is 16k x 16k resolution, the sheer file sizes themselves are nothing to scoff at. We were working with artists all around the world, generating over 300+ pieces of content all over 100+ gb, some even reaching into the 1tb sizes. Rendering and transferring that content in a timely manner required a full room of experts to make happen.

LD: What was the video playback system?

MF: We operated all of the content live via a grandMA2 board in tandem with Sockpuppet to control a custom-built Disguise playback system. This version of Disguise allowed us to seamlessly integrate and move between 32 render nodes of Unreal Engine at 16k, Notch at 16k, and over 300+ pieces of pre-rendered content. 

Photo by Alive Coverage

LD: What was most successful about this project for you?

The most successful aspect of this project was our ability to collaborate with Phish, explore and understand their immense and passionate fanbase, and bring something truly unique and special to their fans. This 4 night run was a culmination of a decades long partnership that truly showcases the mutual love of music and art from everyone involved. Being at the forefront of innovation, taking realtime software such as Unreal Engine and Notch and pushing them further than has ever been done on the largest scale ever attempted to not only control and follow along with the band live, but also visually tell the stories and allow them to be interpreted the same way their music has for 20+ years has been a monumental achievement.

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