Thibaut Duverneix Relates How Montreal’s Gentilhomme Creates Award-Winning Experiential Creative

February 13, 2024 by Dave Haynes

When Terminal C was opened at Orlando’s sprawling main airport, I was intrigued from a distance by the experiential digital features integrated into the new space.

They got my attention because they were genuinely interesting, but also because they were put together by a company completely unfamiliar to me – Gentilhomme, from Montreal.

In the time since that project went live, and won numerous awards, Gentilhomme (which is French for Gentleman) has also delivered experiential work for Nashville’s airport. And the team is in the middle of a job for Houston’s airport, and another airport on the US east coast that’s NDA’d for now.

I’ve been trying to organize a podcast chat with founder Thibaut Duverneix for a while now, and we finally got it together recently.

We spoke about signature projects, and the ideation and design process. But we also get into the background of the company, which has roots in things like rock band tours, and has some direct ties to a couple of very well-known Montreal companies that are also all about experience – Cirque du Soleil and Moment Factory.

NOTE – This interview was recorded before ISE, where the company picked up an armload of trophies at the global Digital Signage Awards.

Subscribe from wherever you pick up new podcasts.


Thibaut, thank you for joining me. You describe Gentilhomme as an Earth-based multimedia studio. What does that encompass? Because you guys are into a whole bunch of things. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Hey David, It’s a really good question. The idea is that the studio was built around my own practice as an artist and as a multimedia director at first, and I come from fine arts and computer science, so I like to do all things that are very different and, it’s been very hard to describe what the studio does because the studio was built using that philosophy, and most of the time people would ask you, don’t you want to specialize in anything, like video content and I was like, no, I don’t, we like to do a lot of different things and they go from interactive sculpture or inflatables to building placemaking for airports and content for rock shows. 

So I guess the best description was, around that, we want to create experiences, and the medium doesn’t really matter. 

So when people come into the office, they never quite know what they’re coming into, right? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Pretty much, but luckily, the casting at the studio is very broad, and everybody’s like a Swiss Army knife. 

How and why did it get started?

Thibaut Duverneix: This is my second studio. I had another one before, and we were doing a lot of the first experiential work on the web in Flash at the time. 

I had forgotten about Flash, for a good reason. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, exactly. But I was also doing music videos and rock shows, and eventually, I wanted to focus more on directing and doing things in real life with people. So I went my own way, and I built Gentilhomme more like my holding company in a way for what I was doing, and one-day Cirque du Soleil called me, and they had this show in France they wanted to do it for a theme park, which was a multimedia show while heavily relying on multimedia and I thought I was just going to direct it. but then they were like, no, we have five weeks, and we need turnkey. Can you also just make it happen? So I built a pop-up studio to do that, and then they said, Hey, do you want to do our next big top tour? And I said, yeah, and then I had a choice of do I keep doing my director work or do I build a studio with the people that I want, and do it the way I want it because it’s never a one-man show, you need a team to do that, and that’s what I did because I wanted to capitalize on my knowledge. 

And Cirque is in Montreal as you are. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Exactly. We’re all children of Cirque du Soleil in Montreal. 

Yeah. I was going to ask about that later, but we might as well get into it. What is it about Montreal, because, in my world, in multimedia digital signage world, there’s Jean Théon, there’s the big guy, Moment Factory, and there’s also Arsenal Media and so on, and there’s a real creative community in that city and it’s particularly strong when it comes to the digital signage place-based work. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, absolutely. I always say it comes from Cirque, I don’t know if I’m right. I think it’s one reason Cirque du Soleil was the first to push the boundaries of what can be done, and it created a lot of side studios, people that actually build highly complicated stages and animatronics and stage equipment, but also people like Moment Factory, who started doing parties for Guilherme Liberté and stuff, and then, they turned out to be who they are now, but, I believe like Cirque was a big part of it and also all of the tech, there was like, a big tech ball, it started with the web and engineering, and now it’s a lot of AI, and tax credits help with that a lot too, and there was a big VFX industry also. VFX is part of it.

There are a lot of gaming companies in Montreal, right? 

Thibaut Duverneix: VFX and gaming, yeah. Ubisoft is here, and all of the big VFX shops are here, too. 

So at one point, for a while there, you were working with a Moment Factory. How long were you there? 

Thibaut Duverneix: I was never there. I was always freelancing and part of the family. My first project with them was when I was the Interactive Multimedia Director for the Nine Inch Nails show when I was 28. I think that was the first time we started collaborating together., and I helped them with a lot of projects. 

So when did you start Gentilhomme? 

Thibaut Duverneix: 2014. 

And where are you now with it? Is it still a freelance collaborative, or is it like a full company with offices and full-time staff and all that stuff? 

Thibaut Duverneix: It’s a full-on operation now. We are about 25 people full-time, and we expand depending on the projects. So obviously, when we do airports and things like this, we could be 80 on the project, but I like to keep it small and do only a few projects at a time. Everybody is very senior here. So that was my idea of the studio being small with highly competent people and doing only a few projects at a time.

Yeah, it was, I went to Moment Factory’s offices about, I’m thinking six years now, pre-COVID and I met with the folks there, and one really interesting comment that they made was they were so busy that they couldn’t even deal with all the inbound opportunities that they had. So they were quite happy to pass along work for jobs that they either just didn’t have the bandwidth to do, or weren’t really in their wheelhouse or whatever.

I’m curious if your company collaborates at all with your former contractor at Moment Factory. 

Thibaut Duverneix: It’s been a while, but we’re always happy to collaborate. Montreal is a very small community. 

Let’s talk about some of the work that you do. We could talk about music videos and Cirque du Soleil and all those sorts of things, but given this is a digital signage podcast, we should probably talk about that.

The projects that come to mind for me that I’m most familiar with would be Orlando Airport and then Nashville Airport. Can you describe both of them or describe one of them? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, absolutely. It was a game-changer for us. We entered the pandemic, we were finishing a stadium tour for Fall Out Boy, Weezer, and Green Day, and obviously, that got shelved in March, at the same time we won the RSP for the Orlando Airport Terminal C which was very big for us. For anybody, it would have been big, but especially for us, and yeah, we went full-on with it. We created more than five hours of content that’s across all styles of content, there is a lot of live-action content, a lot of computer-generated content, and a lot of interactive content. 

So, we designed and created all of the multimedia content across those three giant media features. I think ultimately they only built two, but there is one that’s called the Movement Vault, which is a double-sided circular media feature. Each panel is about 4k inside of it, and outside, it’s 4millimeters so I think they are about two gauges, and so outside it’s only video, and we wanted to create that sense of place and oasis, something very calm and the trompe of a wall that would transform into a garden to invite you to get inside of it, and inside of it, we created a full 360 degree, interactive scenery in Unreal, that’s using AI body tracking, so basically the people would use their movements to interact with the scenes, and we also created a lot of underwater 360 degrees, live-action footage of manatees and landmarks, from central Florida.

On the second media feature, it’s three giant flat LED screens that look like windows in the corridor, and here the idea was to create something that looks like a window with a lot of live action. So we created those trompe l’oeil effects where you really feel like you’re looking through a window, and again, we wanted to showcase more the unknown of Orlando than the known. So we didn’t really focus much on amusement parks and entertainment, and we really focused on nature and things that people don’t necessarily expect from Central Florida. 

Was there a brief of any kind or, like, how did you arrive at what was done there?

Thibaut Duverneix: Oh yeah, for sure. So they had a multimedia architect, Marcella Sardi, and she was in charge of the vision, and the RFP came after. So she designed the media features, and she had a vision for what the content should be. As an architect, basically, the brief was the known and the unknown of Orlando, right? And so we went with that, and we collaborated with her very closely, and it turned out pretty good, I think. 

It’s challenging working in airports, is it not? 

I’m assuming the lead times involved, but also some of the nuts and bolts stuff like getting access into post-security areas and so on.

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, it is, but it depends on how organized you are and how good of a relationship you have with the stakeholders. For Orlando, we did this through the pandemic. So that was already a challenge, and we went pretty far with it because we actually had our own servers hooked up to the airport’s whole system.

So we could work only using laptops and small workstations over our own WiFi. So we could work directly on the media feature in real-time. So getting all of that access was pretty intense because you need to get into the firewalls, the server rooms, and the badging. But it’s all about organization and relationships and getting clearance. But yeah, it’s a challenge, and you follow construction. So that’s the hardest part because we work very fast and construction doesn’t work fast so you have to align. 

It sounds like the work that you and your team do is obviously driven by creative thinking and execution, but you couldn’t just be multimedia producers. You need quite a bit of technical acumen, right? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, engineering is a big part of it because we do a lot of interactivity and so we have C++ programmers and now we work a lot in Unreal, but still we build our own pipelines and plug-ins. 

You’ve had to do that because you’re inventing experiences. When you go into these things and this is not functionality you can just buy off the shelf from existing software? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Well, sometimes you do, but like we have our own tracking solution. For that reason specifically, not that we didn’t want to buy it to build it. It just didn’t really exist at the level we wanted it. So when it doesn’t exist, you have to build it, but yeah, we’re not necessarily a tech company, but we do develop tech out of necessity. 

One of your, I don’t want to call them competitors, but fellow companies that are doing that kind of work. Flopper actually came up with their own media servers because they had to design this stuff. Have you found the same thing where there’s a technology that you’ve developed, or you could think, well, maybe we could remarket this?

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, it’s always been a discussion. We talk about this a lot actually with Alex and they went into the Real Motion thing very early in the game, and now it’s like they can’t really go back, they’re already pushing this, but we are not into the product business. We’re a creative company.

Basically, we have two products, if you want to call them that. We have a show in Montreal for interactive installation, and we have a tracking system, but we are trying not to sell that as a product. We would license this for projects and we would give it to friends or other artists that need it because It’s boring to build that, but we don’t want to be in that business because it’s a very different business.

Yeah. You’re going to very different kinds of trade shows and things, if you’re going at all. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Exactly. 

Can you talk a little bit about the Nashville airport? Because that’s also very experiential, but quite a bit different from what you did at Orlando. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, absolutely. So the Nashville airport, they actually built that huge screen, on top of security, TSA, and they didn’t really know what to do with it. Once they built it, they knew they were going to use it for signage and for feeds and stuff and advertising, but then they were wondering, should we do something experiential? And they reached out, and we started thinking about what we could do, and we actually did this very quickly because they were very far in the process and they never really thought about the strategy about content. So I think we did that in 11 months, probably from strategy to delivery, and so we have them doing all of the strategies about placemaking and identity and what would make something compelling for Nashville. 

But also, you don’t want to create a bottleneck because it’s TSA. So we wanted to create some form of engagement and identity but not break the flow of TSA. 

So you didn’t want people stopping and watching for 10 minutes. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Exactly. Also, we had to incorporate all of the signage stuff, such as the feeds, the widgets, and also the advertising. So we designed grids, systems, and branding guidelines. So they would have everything that they need to do all of that, right?

So it’s not like you just do a full takeover, and then they have the other stuff we wanted to make it. It’s integrated as an ecosystem, so we also had them design their media system because they didn’t really have something strong in place. So we worked with the engineers to recommend some solutions for them.

It’s interesting. I’ve heard this story many times through the years, and it’s still a little bit surprising that you have organizations that will make a very ambitious and expensive capital investment in a big video wall, and they’re well along the way with it, and then they start thinking, okay, what are we going to put on this thing?

Thibaut Duverneix: It depends, right? Now we’re working with the Houston airport, and they bought it pretty early in the process. I think people are getting better at it because they see what other people are doing, and they’re like, we should not wait until the last minute because these things take time, and people get educated about it. So that’s good, but yeah, for sure, sometimes they go on with the program because the program follows construction. 

They just go step by step. They know they need a video wall. They work with the architects, they work with the engineers, they build it, they design it. It’s state of the art, it’s beautiful. It’s Nanolumens, two millimeters, whatnot, but then yeah, they would think about the content strategy at the end.

Because you’ve now done a couple of airports and you’re working in Houston, have you found that the simple fact that you’ve done these leads to other opportunities to do other airports?

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, absolutely, and also, we want to do those because I think we got pretty good at it because we understand the problems on the technical side, but also on the user experience side. So it’s something very interesting for us, and we really like to be immersed in different cultures, and that’s what I love about Apple because that’s the first thing you know when you enter a city, and that’s the last memory you get, and if we get a chance to create something unique for every airport, I think it’s very interesting, and you get to work with local people and to understand their community and who they are and what the city is about and I think it’s very exciting.

I assume airports are also a good kind of client to have just simply because they have billion-dollar budgets for terminal expansions, and they can work your component into those kinds of budgets in a way that maybe a retailer or a commercial property owner who also putting up a big video wall, they might look at the process and the overall cost of doing what you guys do and turn white, like, there’s not that many end-user clients who can do what Nashville and what Orlando did, right? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, it’s also very different because the problem is volume because, if you’re doing airports, you need to create a lot of content, enough content so it doesn’t feel repetitive because people stay there a lot, and there’s a lot of dwelling time and we like to do high-end content. We don’t want to do shit content. So the challenge is how to maintain production value across the board because the budget might seem big, but it’s not because you have to do so much at such a high resolution because the screens are becoming crazy like you get 1.8 millimeters across the whole corridor so it’s like a lot of pixels to push. 

So the challenge is maintaining quality and quantity, whereas when you do retail, you might spend the same amount of money for a couple of minutes, right? So it’s just a very different approach. 

What’s the process, and as you said, the approach, when you get engaged in a big project like this? Where do you start, or what are the first questions you’re asking besides, “Do you have the budget for this?” 

Thibaut Duverneix: Well, usually, they do have a budget most of the time, and you retrofit it within their budget. But not always, no, we’re trying to find the identity, what are you about, and what do you want to communicate? Then, we can start building a strategy around placemaking and identity.

So that’s the main focus, and that’s something you do very closely with the clients, and they, usually, they have never done this before, or maybe they’ve done it, but on the marketing side, so it starts from marketing most of the time, and we try to understand better the mission and build from that.

I’ve seen some of the airport projects when there’s PR issued about it, there’s talk about how this is highly experiential and gives people the sense of joy that they’re flying and so on. It all gets very ethereal at times, and I wonder how you define experiential, what it means, and what you’re trying to deliver in these kinds of environments in terms of a feeling.

Thibaut Duverneix: It really depends on where the media feature would be because, again, if you are TSA, you want to make sure that you get things flowing through, and you want to try to create this sense of place and identity, but not go too far on entertainment and engagement but if you are post-security waiting for your flight, then you’re trying to get a lot of engagement, especially if it’s around retail. So you get people excited and feel good about waiting for their flight, and if you do that, they are more likely to go into the retail store. So, to me, that’s the KPI.

It’s like if we can calm people and make them feel good about being there because it’s very hostile, the environment, and if you do that, you help the airports greatly. 

Yeah, I’ve certainly heard a number of times people talking about the dynamic of gate huggers and people who get through security and then they go immediately to their gate, and they don’t want to leave the gate because they irrationally think if I leave, the plane’s going to board and leave without me.

And that doesn’t happen, and the airports want them to go shopping if they’ve got 75 minutes, go get something to eat, or go experience the Moment Vault if they’re in Orlando. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Exactly, and that’s our own KPI for the Moment Vault, I want people to miss their flight. That’s what I wanted. I wanted people to forget what time it was. I don’t know if it happened yet. I should check. 

You want to be careful about that, they’ll sue people about anything in the United States. 

Thibaut Duverneix: No, but the idea was we wanted to create good engagement so people forget about time and have fun with it. But we were very careful about how we designed it. Even with the engagements, we made sure that all of the interactive stuff wasn’t always playing. So you don’t have that problem, actually, of missing the flight.

Do you have a sense at all of what works and what doesn’t in terms of creativity on a big screen? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah. When speed scales, colors, and blinking stuff, like it’s to me, when you design for spaces, it’s the opposite of doing a rock show, actually, it’s the complete opposite job. So you want to make sure that everything that you create feels architectural, at least we do.

So we work very closely with the architects and we want to make sure that all of the lighting that is physical would match what’s virtual. So we don’t want to think about those screens as screens. We want to think about it as a part of the architecture. So whatever we create, we’re trying to be very careful about that, which makes it the opposite of doing a movie. So, you’re most likely, if you’re shooting live action, your camera is not going to move. You want to make sure that your perspective feels accurate in terms of scales; you want to do things slowly enough so it’s not distracting. So yeah, we’re trying to really focus on those techniques to make it compelling within the space.

Yeah, that’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought in those terms, but I guess if you’re coming off of doing all the backdrops and everything for Fall Out Boy, and there are all kinds of things happening behind the band, you can’t do that in an airport or an office tower lobby. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Well, no, that would be crazy because that’s the thing when you do a rock show. You would use your surfaces as lights most of it is a canvas for set extension, but it’s also a light. So you can play with it in that way. But when you’re in space for a permanent installation, you need to think like an architect. So it’s very different. 

Yeah, I’ve written a lot about how LED technology is maturing to a level that it can now be an architectural design decision, like this can be the full bulkhead of an airport area over the TSA screening area, that sort of thing and I’m curious if you watch how that’s evolving and you’re intrigued by things like LED embedded in glass and so on. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Oh, yeah. We went to all those trade shows, and we came to work a lot with those elements on the past projects and on the future projects, and that product is evolving so quickly. And that’s how they think. They think about any LED as part of the architecture, and I think their product is becoming very stunning, it doesn’t look like a picture anymore. It really feels cinematic, and it’s not aggressive. The light is very diffused, and it feels really soft and nice. 

I know you reference how you’re now working on some aspects of the airport in Houston. Are there other jobs that you’re working on that you can talk about? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah, there is another one on the East Coast, but I can’t talk about it yet.

Another airport? 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah. 

Interesting. So the same kind of idea as the other ones.

Thibaut Duverneix: This one is a bit different, but they’re all different. But yeah, high-end content, placemaking, but different types of media features. 

All right. If people want to know more about your company, how do they find you? 

Thibaut Duverneix: I’ve not been very good at that.

You’ve managed somehow anyway. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Yeah. We are trying, but we’re small and not really good at marketing. Hopefully, we will get more known, and we want to get more engaged. So yeah, our website is a good place to start, and we are doing more and more Trade shows and events, and we’re going to be present in Spain also next week, and we’re trying to be at all of the events and make sure that people start to know us more. 

Right, and they can find you at I will put the link in the blog post so people who can’t spell Getilhomme for the life of them will be able to find it that way. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Thank you. I appreciate it.

I appreciate your time. That was terrific. Congratulations on the work you’ve done to date. It’s turned a lot of heads. 

Thibaut Duverneix: Thank you so much. That’s what we want to do. 

All right. Take care. 

Thibaut Duverneix: You too. Bye bye.

Leave a comment