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MLK speech brought to life by VR in 2020

Technology is amazing.

martin luther king jr in vr
Image: Flickr

We’re all familiar with Martin Luther King Jr and his famous I Have a Dream speech.  It’s something that’s been played and quoted, pantomimed and paraphrased for decades since Mr. King stood up on that stage in 1963 and told the world that he had a dream that we could change the world and make it a better place for everyone.

Unless you were alive in the 1960s, seeing them for yourself is something that’s eluded us and will continue to do so until we create a viable form of time travel that allows us to go backward in time to observe events as they occurred, and we’re not holding our breath for that.

Instead, virtual reality programmers are creating an immersive digital environment that allows users to see the events of that 1963 speech in virtual reality. What did it take to bring King’s speech to life and why are virtual environments like this so important in today’s world?

Digital recreation

We’ve seen digital recreation used in a number of different films, from Brad Pitt’s character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to de-aged actors in movies like Tron, Titanic and various entrants in the Marvel cinematic universe.

It’s even been used to recreate actors that have already passed away, such as with the inclusion of Peter Cushing’s likeness in the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The movie came out in 2016, 22 years after the actor’s death.

Digital Domain, a visual effects company that’s worked on many of the titles we’ve listed above, has created a digital recreation of King’s speech in such vivid detail that you might think you’re actually standing next to the man as he calls for the end of racism in the United States.

Cutting no corners

If you see a human character in a video game or virtual environment, it’s usually easy to tell that it’s not real. Even games like the Call of Duty franchise, which use motion capture technology and overlay their digital designs over real actors, look rubbery and fake at the best of times.

Digital Domain didn’t want that for MLK’s speech.  They spent three months on the model of Mr. King alone, working to perfect things like his mannerisms and likeness in the virtual world.

There is no uncanny valley here. The digital recreation of the I Have a Dream speech will put you right in the middle of the march that led up to MLK’s speech, something that wouldn’t have been possible unless you were alive during the Civil Rights era. In an effort to make the experience more realistic, the team also scanned and mapped more than 80 different actors as part of the crowd to make it feel more natural.

The importance of remembering

Why is Digital Domain’s creation so important? MLK’s speech marked a turning point in the country’s civil rights movement, and in today’s world — when racism is still such a dangerous problem — remembering is more important than ever. We can’t afford to forget how far we’ve come, and programs like this one give younger generations the opportunity to step into a slice of history, to see what it was like back then and what we need to do today.

Visitors to Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History can step into the virtual world and see what life was like during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom between now and November 2020, though with current events, make sure you’re checking with the museum’s schedule before you plan your trip.

Looking toward the future

They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As much as we would prefer not to admit it, racism is still a problem in today’s world. The virtual March gives us a chance to see what it took to change the world a little bit and hopefully, it will inspire current generations to take that leap and do the same.

What do you think? Do you think VR and other forms of digital recreation are the future? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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