Starring three nine-metre-tall hyper-realistic sculptures at the heart of this experience, Alif: The Mobility Pavilion tells the story of human mobility throughout the ages.
World Expo brings millions of people from around the globe to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Expo 2020 Dubai was the first time the event had been hosted in the Middle East and it was an opportunity to showcase the history, stories and vision of the region.
A massive undertaking on all fronts, the challenge for one of the key pavilions, Alif: The Mobility Pavilion, was to tell the story of mobility that would also connect with visitors on an emotional level.
Alif: The Mobility Pavilion was designed by UK-based architects Foster + Partners, and project managed by Dubai-based property developer, EMAAR.
Wētā Workshop led the experience design, concept development, and built a collection of large-scale key elements which together tell the story of how people, goods and ideas have moved throughout history and continue to forge new frontiers.
Wētā Workshop worked alongside Los Angeles-based experience company, Magnopus and the Expo 2020 Dubai team to design and develop the visitor experience. Wētā Workshop also worked closely with MET Studio Design, developing and installing the experience to integrate seamlessly with the pavilion’s architecture.
Wētā Workshop’s brief was to tell the universal story of mobility, crafting a narrative spanning centuries, cultures, and technology. The challenge was to take a massive and complex subject like mobility and create something that would be memorable and evoke an emotional connection with guests.
To do this, Wētā Workshop brought their unique cinematic approach to designing spatial settings. The space uses both epic and intimate moments to draw audiences into the narrative and immerse them within the Mobility Pavilion’s experience.
Central to the creative process was meeting with the people of Dubai to understand their history, stories and vision. From the outset Wētā Workshop’s Location-based Experiences (LBE) team worked alongside the official team Expo 2020 Dubai team including, Marjan Faraidooni, the Chief Pavilions & Exhibitions Officer at Expo, Erik van der Schaft, Mobility Pavilion Director, and Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi.
The crew at Wētā Workshop are masters at developing cinematic visions, and this skill is at the forefront of the LBE team. This approach means we think big in scale and impact, while striving to create moments of intimacy. Wētā Workshop’s Andrew Thomas, Senior Creative Director, kept this forefront in his mind throughout the project; “We introduced the human element to the story of mobility by including historical and fictional characters, culturally connected to the region. The Bedouin Girl is one of these strong signature characters. Bookending the experience, visitors see her at the beginning and again at the end as she encounters her future self. It’s an emotional and visual scene expressing the ideas of antiquity and modernity. The overall experience is enhanced by a powerful soundtrack that accompanies visitors, it’s as though they’re walking through a film.”
Wētā Workshop crafted 11 magnificent installations throughout Alif: The Mobility Pavilion. Figures from moments in the golden age of Arab Civilisation, whose innovations helped navigate the world and paved the way for the technology we use today, through to the 21st century; from ancient navigator Ibn Majid, who was born in what is present-day The United Arab Emirates, to the space explorers pushing the new limits of mobility in the modern era.
“Some of the figures inside are eight times life-sized. That’s every pore, every hair follicle, everything scaled up big-time. That meant a new approach with new materials and new manufacturing methodologies. We had to reinvent our process, from the ground up.”
The giant’s costumes weigh 995kg in materials (around 330kg per giant) while the total structural form of the giants was comprised of 125 parts. The beards took two weeks to create by two artists and required around 15,000+ holes. Entire faces took four weeks for two to three artists to complete. The elements took one year to build, four months to ship and three months to assemble in Dubai.
Wētā Workshop had the pleasure of working with Marjan Faraidooni, the Chief Pavilions & Exhibitions Officer at Expo, and her team. Marjan’s team’s trust and commitment to creative excellence allowed our crew to push their creative capacity and techniques far beyond what they thought possible. Marjan’s enthusiasm for the vision challenged and supported Wētā Workshop to develop new tools and processes and ultimately achieve the impossible.
“Working with Wētā Workshop was an unforgettable journey for the Expo 2020 Dubai team. It was a true partnership based on trust and a shared vision that brought to life experience that was magical, timeless, and literally larger than life. Alongside being creative geniuses, the team at Wētā Workshop are remarkable human beings who are a gift to the world of Location-based experiences.”
Expo Dubai 2020 welcomed millions of international guests during its six-month run. The figures connect with visitors from all walks of life, bringing together generations and cultures over this epic and intimate exploration of human endeavour. The exhibition has proved to be so powerfully moving that it now remains as a permanent structure for more to enjoy.
Learn more about Wētā Workshop’s Location-based Experience division and their incredible work.