Zenon Dubai: Redefining dining with AI content and immersive AV

AI-generated content, staggering visuals and immersive audio have made sure Zenon does what few can achieve: stand out in the crowded hospitality landscape of Dubai. Anna Mitchell visits with design studio Vivid Studios.

In October 2023 a mythical character named Zenon was introduced to Dubai residents and visitors, taking over the Burj Khalifa in a striking and intriguing projection mapped show.

This grand introduction set the stage for a restaurant and nightlife opening that has redefined the dining experience and emerged as a beacon of technological and gastronomic innovation.

From the menu to interior design, Zenon restaurant at Kempinski Central Avenue Dubai was built around its namesake, delivering a journey into a world where Greek mythology, legend and global cuisine combine.

“AV technology, interactivity, cuisine and interior design are all tools we use to play with the guests’ senses,” explains Oktay Unlu, general manager at Zenon. “The immersive experience you get within Zenon stimulates every sense.”

This was only possible by curating a crack team of technical experts, visionary content creators and experts in hospitality. Having left Dubai to head up a prestigious restaurant opening in Bodrum, Turkey, Unlu was tempted back as soon as he saw the Zenon concept.

Meanwhile, Ouchhh studio, a specialist in AI-driven creative content; and Vivid Studios, a techno-creative design studio that specialises in multi-sensory experiences  also both brought on board. The team from Vivid Studios, under the guidance of its co-founder and CTO, Mohamad Haroun, was responsible for developing the most forward-thinking of design elements, continuing to conceive and deliver systems that is ensuring Zenon remains at the cutting-edge of technology application.

Before guests even step into Zenon, they are greeted at a welcome desk with a 4.5m x 4m LED backdrop, providing a glimpse of the carefully crafted digital content that awaits. This is quickly followed in a bar area where a hologram, created by two Hypervsn Holofan displays, introduces diners to Zenon, using the subtle display technology to seamlessly blend the character with elegant décor.

However, it is in the main dining area where the true wow factor unfolds. Five 2.5mm pixel pitch LED screens with curved tops tower over diners, displaying vibrant and dynamic content across more than 200 sq m of display space, enhancing the ambiance without overpowering it. An additional 25 sq m square screen with a 1.8mm pixel pitch was also installed.

The refresh rates and brightness of these displays are meticulously calibrated to ensure a harmonious dining environment. While striking in their size, they complement the dining experience, rather than distracting from it.

“LED wasn’t seen as a display to be added to a completed space at Zenon, it was built into the restaurant as an integral part of the interior design,” says Unlu.

“We have three different types of LED with pixel pitches ranging from 1.8mm to 2.4mm,” adds Moe Tarakomyi, chief creative officer at Vivid Studios. “The biggest screen alone is 30 million pixels.”

In the back restaurant and bar area, technology continues to be meshed with the experience. Here, two 4.4m x 10m LED screens and two Hypervsn Holofan holographic displays create an environment rich in visual stimulation.

Two sculptures with project-mapped changing content, created with two Digital Projection E-Vision Laser 11000 4K-UHD projectors, add to the visuals in this space. This element was installed the week of Inavate’s visit to the restaurant and that evening Vivid Studios was testing the first use of AI-generated content for the mapping, a clear demonstration of how the technology partner is constantly working with the team at Zenon to push the concept forward.

Lighting and audio in the venue was installed by Em-Tec. An advanced lighting rig, that would be at home in any top-tier entertainment venue, ensures that the space can transform seamlessly from a luxurious dining area to a vibrant nightlife destination. Lasers, lighting, mirrors and smoke machines come together to help create a party atmosphere.

Lighting fixtures include a mix of Ayrton Zonda 9 FX and 3 FX moving heads, Cobra laser source luminaires, Diablo moving heads and Prolights Pixie Beams.

A balcony overlooks the back restaurant area and includes an Avolites Sapphire Touch lighting console and VIP seating. A server and rack room can be found off the balcony. An additional private VIP area, located behind the balcony that overlooks the back restaurant, features a 3m x 9m LED ceiling that immerses guests in a sea of light and colour.

This entire space can be closed off from the rest of the restaurant to stand alone as function room with a full set up for visiting DJs that includes six Pioneer CDJ 3000s, two DJM A9 mixers and a DJM V10 mixer. Completing the system, and ensuring that various performers can be accommodated, is a Midas MR18 audio mixer, a Sennheiser in-ear monitor system, Shure SM81 instrument mic, drum mics and a KlarkTeknik Active DI box.

Head outside and you’ll find a terrace with air conditioning that keeps diners comfortable even in the hottest of Dubai weather. Towering over this space is a wall with a cascading waterfall and 31m x 30m projection-mapped visuals that provide a dynamic backdrop for diners and is also visible from the highway. Eighteen of Digital Projection’s E-Vision Laser 15000 WU projectors were selected for the task.

Content is served from a Carismi media server, custom made by Vivid Studios, while five Datapath FX4 display wall controllers manage the diverse selection of inputs for the incredible visual display.

“Mapping onto this wall was a huge challenge,” says Tarakomyi. “The projectors had to be integrated into the exterior wall of the restaurant, parts of which had to be dismantled. Once they were in, there was no way to remove or add projectors, there is just space for a person to enter for maintenance. So we actually have 20 projectors within this space; 18 to create the projection mapping and 2 for swap outs should we have any issues.

“The mapping itself was not straightforward. The wall we’re projecting onto slants; the top of the wall is farther away from the projectors than the bottom. The throw distance was also very short. Digital Projection’s wide range of lenses was a huge help with this tricky element. The projectors are also liquid cooled so they’re running well in the heat.”

Despite the challenges posed by the slanted projection surface and tight installation space, the result is a testament to the technical expertise involved.

With staggering display technology creating a huge impact in every space, guests naturally pull out their phones and start snapping. “One of the considerations when selecting and configuring display technology was the requirement for it to look good on camera,” says Unlu. “Refresh rates were carefully chosen ensuring they were as high as possible to look good. We also have dynamic brightness control so pictures are not under or over exposed. This was also vital for the ambience of the dining room.”

“Every time the content is changed this is tested,” adds Tarakomyi.

 

 Behind the scenes

Zenon’s technological marvels are not limited to this impressive hardware set up. Content production and delivery ties it all together and is arguably the star of the show.

Displays are fed with a huge and ever-changing range of feeds including AI-generated, real-time content. A dynamic and sometimes surprising range of data sources – such as local Google traffic reports or the latest Dubai real estate figures - ensure a constantly evolving and unique experience for every visit.

Vivid Studios developed its own Constant Content Generator (CCG) to deliver the generative AI content that continuously creates and displays new content.

Vivid Studios also deployed its own Vivid Harmonix Screen System (VHSS) that includes software that manages video frames, transitioning between videos and the real-time content seamlessly using the UDP protocol. When a video nears its end, the software can switch to real-time content before returning to a predefined loop.

The restaurant is also mapped with Azure Kinect sensors that can feed into the AI model so content that reacts and responds to guests’ movements within the space can also be shown, further adding to the interactive and immersive environment.

It’s a set up that is deliberately flexible and future ready. Vivid Studios is not just a technology supplier; it is a vital partner in delivering the ongoing Zenon experience, constantly striving to deliver fresh and surprising experiences.

“Futureproofing so we can continue to evolve was one of our biggest challenges,” says Tarakomyi. “We had to have a solid backbone of network infrastructure and a platform that is easy to plug into with new hardware or software.

“We had to create the backend system ourselves,” he continues. “It was the only way we could achieve this flexibility and ensure all the technology components communicate with each other. Every display is connected to multiple content servers so we had to have a rock-solid backend system. We use Carismi media servers that are our own brand and connect with multiple media sources including Unreal Engine and TouchDesigner for content delivery.”

This bespoke approach was also vital to take advantage of the fast-moving space of AI-generated content.  

Tarakomyi says: “I think we’re on the cusp of a new era for AV powered by AI. It’s exciting and when we were designing the system at Zenon it was like a playground for new technologies. Much of the R&D for the systems we delivered happened onsite and still is; we’re tasked with delivering a system that will constantly evolve. If we see new trends, new developments, we’ll make them live in Zenon.”

One notable innovation included the use of EEG headsets to monitor brainwaves of a couple dining in Zenon on Valentine's Day. Using TouchDesigner, the signals fed into the content platform, generating visuals that that started from each side of the restaurant displays and joined as a beating heart in the middle.

 

Sound completes the concept

Designed and installed by Em-Tec, Zenon’s Funktion-One sound system is a powerhouse, providing crystal-clear audio for dining and a punchy setup for DJs in the back restaurant area. Unlu says the audio system “completes the concept” at Zenon, enhancing the multi-sensory experience.

The most powerful set up can be found in the lounge where four Funktion-One Evo X loudspeakers in a hanging system are joined by four F218 and F118 subs. The system is supported with four 10-in and two 8-in speakers with a further two 12-in units used as monitors for the DJ.

The Funktion-One set up continues through all spaces with a total of 59 loudspeakers and 9 subwoofers packed into all areas of Zenon. On the terrace, eight F81.2 compact loudspeakers and four SB10 subs create a sonic backdrop for outdoor diners. Heading inside to the main restaurant ten F81.2s and four SB10s are supported with two QSC K10 loudspeakers.

The set up was deliberately chosen to create a versatile space, capable of hosting luxury dining experiences and multimedia shows alike. Music, content, lighting and projection mapping can all come together to deliver astonishing results.

Flexible routing, mixing, and processing to manage the audio across all zones is managed with a Xilixa DSP and NST Audio matrix processors paired with an NST VR1 controller. The speakers are powered by a mix of QSC and Full Fat Audio amplifiers.

Plans are underway to further link the audio and visual systems, integrating sound with projection mapping and holograms.

The restaurant can also be privately hired. People renting the space can run their own content on the system or work with Vivid Studios to create bespoke content that maximises the full power of the available systems.

At Zenon, the technology and creative team is as integral to the experience as the chefs and service staff and underlines how technology is one of the pillars that hold up this awesome space. Of the 152 staff employed at Zenon two are dedicated to the technology, a rare stat for a restaurant. Vivid Studios has included a touch user interface in VHSS to support comprehensive control over playback. The company also has remote control capabilities and is continually on hand to support Zenon.

Collaboration between the technology team and the restaurant ensures that the Zenon remains at the forefront of innovation, constantly delivering fresh and exciting experiences. This synergy between technology and hospitality sets Zenon apart, offering diners, partygoers, VIPs, and private clients an unparalleled multi-sensory journey.

In conclusion, Zenon in Dubai is not just a restaurant; it is a transformative experience where cutting-edge technology and exquisite cuisine converge. From the visually stunning interiors to the innovative use of AI and real-time data, Zenon is redefining dining and hospitality, offering a glimpse into the future of gastronomic experiences.

Tech Spec

Audio
Full Fat Audio FFA-5004, FFA-8004 and FFA-2004 amplifiers
Funktion-One Evolution X, F81.2, 12-in, 10-in, 8-in and 5-in loudspeakers; SB10 and SB8 bass speakers; and F218, F118 and MB210LP subs
KlarkTeknik Active DI box
Midas MR18 audio mixer
NST Audio VMX88 and VMX16 matrix processors and VR1 controller
Pioneer CDJ 3000s; and DJM A9 and DJM V10 mixers
QSC RMX850a amplifiers and K10 loudspeakers
Sennheiser in-ear monitor system
Shure SM81 instrument mic
Xilica DSP

 

Lighting
Akai APC40 MK2 USB Ableton controller
Avolites Sapphire Touch console
Ayrton Zonda 9 FX and 3 FX moving heads, Cobra laser source luminaires, Diablo moving heads
Kvant laser splitter
Madrix Luna 16 network node
Prolights Pixie Beams
ViewSonic touchscreen

 

Video
Datapath FX4 videowall controllers
Derivative TouchDesigner platform
Digital Projection E-Vision Laser 11000 4K-UHD and 15000 WU projectors
Hypervsn Holofan displays
Microsoft Azure Kinect tracking sensor
Unreal Engine game engine
Vivid Studios Vivid Harmonix Screen System, Constant Content Generator and Carismi media servers

 


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