DEMO48 LM TREMBLAY – La Fournaise

May 2024

The earth is burning beneath our feet.

While some people are still surprised by the climatic events, others are bogged down in an apathy that paralyzes action.

La Fournaise challenges the audience’s apathy with a strategy of storytelling, interactivity, and immersion. The experience turns away from the tragic-romantic discourse of an illusory future in order to give an electroshock powerful enough to crack apathy. The narrative environment is designed to confront the public with its own contradictions.

A first prototype of Laurent Michel Tremblay’s immersive installation was produced during a residency at Hexagram-UQAM in February 2023. The work is part of a research-creation master’s program in digital arts.


The work comprises three large screens and a surround-sound system that enables the viewer to become immersed in a furnace-like environment. An organic interface, which is coherent with the narrative, is installed in the centre. The autonomous work invites the audience to interact in order to develop the story.

The gameplay imposes a fast pace accompanied by a complexity that increases throughout the experience. The player discovers that he can momentarily extinguish the furnace to catch a glimpse of the remains of a burnt forest. The repeated actions of the participants allow the forest to regenerate, but only if they are willing to make a sustained commitment and collaborate with one another. The game’s mechanics present a challenge to the player’s willpower, as failure is a constant possibility.

The story is built according to the interactor’s commitment.

Different states of the story

The furnace.
Forest 1.
Forest 2.
Forest 3.
Forest 4.
Forest 5.
Forest 6.
Forest 7.
Forest 8.
Doomsday furnace in case of failure.


How to engage the audience in an immersive environment? What are the strategies for initiating a dialogue between the public and its environment in order to create meaning?

My research project questions the immersive installations presented in Montreal in recent years. These are one-off events in which an audiovisual device envelops the 4 walls and the floor with video projections. The themes addressed can vary enormously, from the artist’s body of work to documentaries and fictional narratives. What is the level of engagement of this type of installation, and what message is conveyed?


My theoretical framework corresponds to Tricia Austin’s research on narrative environments. The concept of a narrative environment results from the interaction between the human subject (audience), the environment, and the narrative discourse.

Rather than attempting to recreate a total physical immersion in an unreflective reality that neglects the narrative, or presenting an intense literary experience that ignores the environment, the design of narrative environments aims to achieve a critical engagement with the narrative as it is integrated through lived environments (Austin, 2020, p. 19).

The Storyline

According to Austin (2020), storytelling must have value in the eyes of the public to encourage engagement. The climate crisis is a good topic to explore the notion of engagement because the consequences of climate disruption are now being felt. As we see our inaction slowly leading us to catastrophe, the issue has quickly found its relevance.

The furnace is consuming our planet. Artifacts from an ancient forest offer us the chance to start a dialog. But the damage is done, and the fire leaves nothing but ruins. Having established the basic premise of the narrative, we hope that this dramatic stance will inspire the audience to engage with the world of possibilities.

An Interactive Story

The interactor is invited to enter the environment to touch a light that illuminates a log. Upon touching the log, a burned forest landscape appears. After 8 seconds, however, the fire returns in full force and a second light illuminates. If touched within the allotted time, the burnt forest landscape appears again, this time with a slight regeneration. A dialog between the interactor and the system begins.

Each new appearance of light on a log presents a challenge to the interactor. The scenario is deliberately designed to increase complexity, which will test the audience’s perseverance, especially as at some point they will need to request assistance from another individual to complete the task. Ultimately, the game mechanics require four individuals to complete the challenge.

Failure at each stage of complexity will trigger an apocalyptic end-of-the-world scene. It is evident that the narrative has been meticulously crafted to afford the player a limited number of opportunities.


Interaction encourages audience involvement. It allows the audience to become involved in the construction of the story and to influence it through their actions.

The initial interface chosen to connect the user to the system was a series of luminous buttons. These buttons were found to be highly active, but after a few tests, it became evident that an interface would have to be more consistent with the narrative. The log was chosen as the optimal interface, as it represents the tree, the forest, and evokes our first contact with nature.

An Immersive Environment

The space created is meticulously crafted to resonate with the audience. Rather than serving merely as a decorative element, it becomes a character in its own right, conveying a message.

The scenographic work employed to construct the space and support the interactive narrative draws upon a diverse array of techniques, including furniture and decor, lighting, sound, moving images, and interfaces. At the core of these techniques lies the audience, which is placed at the center of the narrative.


The audience’s action through the interface causes a change in the story. The audience then realizes their impact on the unfolding of the story. Successful experience requires engagement. The story invokes the real world. One over which the interactor also has power.

First Results

This prototype enabled us to observe how the construction of the interactive story invite exploration, but also how it communicates to the interactor the ideas intrinsic to the narrative environment. Will he be able to follow the story? Will they retain a key idea? Will this motivate them to take action in their own life?

Storytelling implies the realization of a scenario. The quality and accuracy of the user experience are essential to the success of the mission. I discovered the challenges of producing an interactive and engaging story, in parallel with the construction of the digital device, which also requires special attention.

The original interface embodied by the illuminated logs perplexed many people who didn’t know how to interact. The log’s weak agency, though in tune with the story, means that it needs to be better introduced at the beginning of the story to prevent the audience from passing by without intervening.

My residency at Hexagram-UQAM enabled me to explore the concepts of narrative environments and apply a theoretical framework based on the interaction between audience, narrative, and environment. I will continue this reflection and present a second iteration in the autumn of 2024.

Images courtesy of Laurent Michel Tremblay.

Austin, T. (2020). Narrative environments and experience design: Spaceas a medium of communication. Routledge.

I started thinking about narrative environments in the fall of 2022 as part of a master’s program in digital arts. I’m exploring the possibilities of conveying rich, meaningful ideas in environments where people and a narrative coexist. I’ve been creating museum sets for over 15 years and consider my work to be immersive and meaningful. Although projection is a component of my work, the construction of an architectural scenography of space, coupled with the human presence in these places, are essential guidelines in my approach.


I’d like to thank Louis-Philippe Rondeau, my master’s thesis advisor, who helped me with the programming. Thanks also to Léa Marcoux [student member, UQAC-NAD] for producing the video panoramas and to Marc Lalonde for the sound composition.

Thanks to Jason Pomrenski and the Hexagram-UQAM team for their invaluable help in setting up the installation.

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