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Inside the VR “I Have a Dream” Exhibit

The March opens at the DuSable Museum February 28.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The March, a much-ballyhooed traveling exhibit that employs virtual reality helmets to transport visitors to the 1963 March on Washington for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, makes its first stop at the DuSable Museum of African American History and will be here from February 28 to late November. Created by a division of Time magazine, it features narration from executive producer Viola Davis.

Re-creating MLK

To capture King’s essence, Time Studios outfitted the impersonator Stephon Ferguson, whose performance once passed a sniff test by the congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, with motion-capture sensors while he delivered the speech. MLK’s likeness was then dropped in by CGI artists. “If we put our build of Dr. King next to archival video,” says cocreator Mia Tramz, “every facial expression, every movement, should match exactly what you see in the archival video.”

Crowd Control

“No one has put a crowd this big into VR before,” Tramz says. That’s why Time Studios tapped multiple animation companies for its re-creation of the 250,000 demonstrators on the National Mall that day. Expect a “wow” factor. One of the collaborators, Digital Domain, was responsible for the visual effects in blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War and Ready Player One.

Serendipitous Casting

Approximately 80 actors played crowd members, and producers discovered that one of them, 8-year-old LaVell Thompson, has a great-grandfather who stood 50 feet from King during the speech. “Reverend Jeffrey Joseph was actually living about 20 minutes from our studio,” Tramz says, “so we were able to have him do the same [motion-capture] scan LaVell had done. The two of them will be walking down Constitution Avenue with you in the experience.”

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