Bringing history to life in a cultural heritage site
While the famous Gothic palace in Avignon continues to fire people’s imaginations, the on-site sound and light show had seen better days. To update the visitors’ experience, a new digital guide was recently introduced along with a new show in the palace’s main cour d’honneur, ‘Vibrations’, using video mapping and 360° outdoor animations. As the building is a world heritage site, the video projectors etc. not only had to be installed but also concealed within the ancient walls.
Each August, the Festival d’Avignon hands back its flagship space, the cour d’honneur of the Palais des Papes, to tourists from all over the world who do not come for dance or drama but for the historical architecture. Then, when dusk starts to fall, a visual spectacle traditionally unfolds across the inner walls of the famous courtyard. This year, a new show was introduced – ‘Vibrations’ – using the latest video mapping technology, which enters into a surprisingly happy symbiosis with the historical surroundings.
The previous show focused on historical information and education. Now, visitors to the Palais des Papes find the facts playfully presented on tablet devices, the ‘HistoPads’ handed out at the entrance. 1500 Huawei tablets are available to visitors, equipped with an interactive programme which can be activated via QR codes and WLAN stations. By simply scanning the code and holding up the screen, the interior of the palace is revealed as it was in the 14th century, when the popes resided here. Thanks to this ‘augmented reality’, taking users back in time via the HistoPad, the venue no longer needs to project a video show in English twice a week, but can provide information every day in a whole range of languages. The device is included in the entrance fee and handed personally to each paying guest.
800 years of history and a few months this year
The introduction of HistoPads cleared the ground for another generation of projections and a new, purely visual show that visitors of all nationalities can understand as it uses no text. The commissioning body, Avignon Tourisme, explicitly wanted to join in the trend toward digital façade projections and had very clear ideas about how theirs should look, describing the commission as a visual tribute to the Provence region, its landscapes, cultural heritage, artists and atmosphere. The cour d’honneur was to become a visually commemorative courtyard.
The call for tenders was announced in February 2018. In May, a consortium made up of Blachere Events (the project directors) and Spectaculaires (the technicians), along with their graphics subsidiary Allumeurs d’Images, was awarded the bid. The premiere of the 30-minute show was to take place just 3 months later, in mid-August. It would have been a tall order even under ‘normal’ circumstances. And in the case of the Palais des Papes, there were various additional factors to be considered regarding the ancient architecture and its use as a tourist site and arts venue.
The Palais des Papes: beautiful but tricky
Within the palace, several peculiarities needed to be taken into consideration. For one, the cour d’honneur is very large and has no roof. So, the projectors had to be integrated into the mutually opposing facades, making them much further away from the projection surface than they would be inside an enclosed building. In addition, the Palais des Papes is a world heritage site and under the close watch of UNESCO, which demands that the palace’s daytime visitors find the cour d’honneur 100 percent in its original state. That means that modern equipment like video projectors must be concealed from the human eye.
A total of 16 graphic artists, a team which has cooperated with Blachere Events for some time, created the visual design. The result is a diverse show with a fascinating wealth of details, due to be further enhanced in the coming years by 3D elements, says Nicolas Baben. The organizers are also keen to integrate the façades’ original architecture into the animation. The show got off to a good start and was already extended to mid-October. After all, in Avignon it is warm enough to be outdoors in the autumn, too.