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Expo DUBAI 2020: "Our challenge was to create a powerful experience that appealed to the whole world. A universal experience!"

The Walloon company Dogstudio, which specialises in the creation of virtual and/or real events and experiences, is the project manager for the virtual presentation site for the Dubai World Expo. This was a project very much in keeping with the expertise of the Namur-based company, which has already created the virtual worlds for Tomorrowland and other international festivals. Henry Daubrez, CEO of Dogstudio, shared their experience of this futuristic project that is decidedly universal, as it is aimed at the 195 countries that make up our global society.


Passing through one of the three main gateways to the Dubai World Expo 2020 is an experience in itself. Everything is intended to highlight know-how and human genius in architecture and technology. Once on the site, the hundred or so national pavilions take over in attracting international visitors and showing them the best of each country.

However, it is a safe bet that most of the millions of visitors who have already attended, the millions still expected (Expo 2020 Dubai began in October 2021 and will continue until 31 March 2022) and especially those who will not have the opportunity to visit in person, will have passed or will pass through the real gateway to this event, namely its virtual and interactive visitors' site. This virtual space, which is a worthy showcase of the event, represents and meets the most universal standards and expectations possible; it is vital in the strategy of the Universal Expo and like its virtual counterpart is divided into three aspects: AR, VR, and Web.

The web part of this first gateway to Expo 2020 in Dubai was designed by a Walloon company, Dogstudio. Enter without knocking.


But who is Dogstudio?

Dogstudio is a creative design and technology studio active both in Belgium and around the world. Founded in Namur, the studio has been in existence for almost 15 years and today employs around 40 people, mainly in Wallonia, Amsterdam, Chicago and Mexico City, with the rest divided between other parts of the world (Paris, London, Nantes, Malaga, Porto, Wichita, etc.). The company specialises in creating immersive experiences that are mostly virtual and digital, sometimes 'physical' or... both! Today, Dogstudio is in demand thanks to its expertise in user experience, its sense of immersion and its thorough research work, whether graphic, ergonomic or technical. Over the years, Dogstudio has collaborated and continues to collaborate with brands and organizations such as Tomorrowland, Supercell (Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, etc), Hulu, Microsoft, The New York Times, TIME Inc (Time for Kids), ZOOX (Amazon) and the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

Now, let's head to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), more precisely its economic capital, Dubai, and the World Expo currently taking place there. Tickets, a virtual tour, general information and more. For several months now, visitors from all over the world who pass through the World Expo 2020 virtual presentation site have been enjoying a world-class digital experience thanks to the work of... Dogstudio. This is an additional technological showcase for Wallonia, which is already represented in the UAE and the Middle East by audiovisual and entertainment companies such as EVS and Dirty Monitor.


From Tomorrowland to... Dubaiworld!

The answer to how Dogstudio became the main contractor for the World Expo website is thanks to its previous work on similar event projects, including the equally famous Tomorrowland. The rest was due to networking. "We were approached by Ben Grossmann, one of the current partners of the World Expo and co-founder of Magnopus, a digital special effects company based in Los Angeles (with which Ben Grossmann worked on The Lion King and Star Trek Into Darkness, and won an Oscar for his VFX work on Hugo)," explained Henry Daubrez, CEO & Creative Director at Dogstudio. Ben was in charge of creating an augmented and virtual reality experience for the World Expo. They had seen our work on the virtual version of the Tomorrowland festival and wanted to meet us to discuss open possibilities for one of their clients.


Creating an experience that is accessible... to the world

After this introduction by Ben Grossmann, the work only really started after the first kick-off meetings with the Expo Dubai teams, after digesting the dozens and dozens of pages of requirements listed by Expo Dubai... and above all after convincing them at the end of 2020 that Dogstudio was the perfect partner. "The rest was a logical continuation: Our team, the work, the enthusiasm and the approach convinced the top management in Dubai, with whom we have been in regular contact since then," said Henry Daubrez. We also had the opportunity to work directly with senior Expo officials, especially  Alaa Al-Shroogi, Vice President - Innovation and Future Technologies of Expo. It's an advantage to be faster and more efficient!"

Working on such an important project means the requirements are many and varied. "Having the opportunity to collaborate on an event of this magnitude, which is destined to be in the tradition of other world exhibitions, obviously puts a lot of pressure on us," added Mr Daubrez. We had to think and then create this 'universal' experience, one that would allow us to address the whole world, whether at the cultural level, the availability of information, security, technicality, the speed and fluidity of the experience, access from a mobile phone, etc. But in the end, the teams, both on the Expo side and on our side, were in sync and the collaboration went very well, without any additional pressures to those linked to the specifications!".


The Emirati requirement

As Arnaud Meulemeester, International Business Developer & Project Manager at Dirty Monitor, recently informed us, there is huge potential for collaboration with Middle Eastern countries and particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But the demands are also very high. "Focus on the quality of your products and services. Here, you have to offer the very best. Above all, don't think that because they are relatively new economies, or because they still have strong local traditions, these countries settle for little or are more easily satisfied", he recalled.  Always higher, always taller, always more beautiful (preferably than its neighbour).

The same is true for Dogstudio, where the level of requirement was extremely high, but was announced at the beginning of the project. At least it was clear. "We have always been obsessed with pushing the boundaries, offering experiences that create strong reactions, and above all with a need to constantly innovate on all levels (visual, technical, content, etc.)," added Henry Daubrez. Having an open, collaborative mindset, and above all offering a level of transparency about our progress, expectations, beliefs and concerns is the best way to succeed." This philosophy is essential for Emirati customers, who expect cutting-edge products and services that are often intended for millions of users with international backgrounds.

 "With this project, we at Dogstudio became well versed in the needs of brands and organisations of this size and in these sectors. The Expo website was also an excellent benchmark for evaluating our team's ability to move forward at full speed on a huge project, over a long period of time, and still stay together from start to finish." And Henry Daubrez concluded, "But... to be honest, nothing will ever really prepare you for a World Expo-sized project (laughs)."


To (re)read: Expo Dubai 2020: Dubai, the place to beat?


Interview managed by Jonathan Avau (Wallonia Export)

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