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New Virtual Reality Film 'Ashe '68 VR Experience' To Have World Premiere At The US Open

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Fifty years ago, amid the turmoil of 1968, there was Arthur Ashe, an athlete who parlayed his fame as the first black man to win the US Open tennis championship into a lifetime devoted to fighting injustice. 

 

Ashe '68 VR Experience will be available to press(for advance previews) and to the public from Saturday, August 25 (Arthur Ashe Kids' Day) through Sunday, September 9, 2018.

Ashe '68 VR Experience is brought to the screen from Emmy & Peabody Award-Winning Director Rex Miller (Dir. Of Althea, DP of A Chef's Life and The Loving Story) & Emmy-Nominated VR Director Brad Lichtenstein.


Celebrity Interview - Director Kevin Macdonald, Executive Producer Pat Houston talk on Whitney


About the Exhibition Space
Ticket and badge holders are invited to experience the 7 minute Ashe ’68 Virtual Reality Experience on six VR headsets located in the Chase Center near the East Gate of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens. The space is produced and designed by Bill Sullivan and was created in partnership with the International Tennis Hall of Fame with support from Rolex and The Foundation for Global Sports Development.


Synopsis - Ashe ’68 Virtual Reality Experience
Fifty years ago, amid the turmoil of 1968, there was Arthur Ashe, an athlete who parlayed his fame as the first black man to win the US Open tennis championship into a lifetime devoted to fighting injustice. The Ashe ’68 Virtual Reality Experience brings viewers into the intimate moments right before Arthur Ashe’s historic 1968 US Open win.

The experience weaves together 360° video re-creations, archival material and evocative, never-before-seen 360° stop-motion sand animation to tell the story.




From the internal pressures he felt during the tumultuous cultural shift of '68 while walking down the halls of the West Side Tennis Club, to his historic pre-match press conference to his winning match point, the viewer is right there, immersed in Arthur’s historic day. You are right there with Arthur Ashe at the US Open where you witness his defining moment as an athlete and emergence as an activist on the world stage.

Documentary Director's Statement - Rex Miller
A few years ago, I received a call from a Linda Zimmerman, who said her father, John G. Zimmerman, had photographed Arthur Ashe for Life Magazine during and after his 1968 US Open win. The family had 43 rolls of never-before-seen film.

That kick-started conversations with Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Arthur’s widow, who had never previously agreed to participate in a documentary project about her late husband. After a year of research and discussions, she agreed that the time was right, that this would be the project the Ashe family would support.


In 1968, Lieutenant Arthur Ashe was stationed at West Point, where he was a data processor, while his brother was a Marine fighting in the Vietnam jungles. He was developing close, personal connections to both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and taking his first tentative steps as an agent of change. Yet, to many in the Civil Rights Movement, he was not “black enough“ and he repeatedly faced accusations of  ‘Uncle Tom’. “There were times,” Ashe said, “when I felt a burning sense of shame that I was not with blacks—and whites—standing up to the fire hoses and police dogs.”


Our project (all of the components) is not a ‘tennis project.” It is the origin story  of an athlete who used his position in the world to fight for change, set against the backdrop of a tumultuous year, 1968. It highlights the moment that Arthur Ashe broke racial barriers by winning the US open, which gave him a platform upon which he later fashioned a life of activism.

 

It goes beyond sports to examine how he created his own unique blueprint for social change, encouraging other athletes to use their positions to take a stand. His approach—long-term, intellectual, inclusive, full of empathy—is one to be re-examined, as the country is as divided as ever. We hope the project will be a conversation starter, as his moment resonates with our moment today.

VR Director's Statement - Brad Lichtenstein
Rex Miller and Beth Hubbard, the project producers, met my team on a sub-zero day in Milwaukee to discuss how the story of Arthur Ashe's coming of age in 1968 could work in VR. For me, this was a dream come true.

My life and career in documentary has been focused on civil rights and the struggle for justice. What I wanted to do for this piece was to immerse our audience both in Ashe's extraordinary victory and in his experience of rising to the fore in 1968 where the focus of the world was less on his athleticism and more on his being black. I wanted to help the audience understand that beneath his cool personality was an inner life that wrestled with the pressures of that time.



To do this, I combined live action with sand animation, a fluid other worldly style that's never been tried in VR. Together with his actual voice culled from hundreds of hours of footage and interviews, we created an experience that takes you inside a moment when Arthur Ashe the rising start became Arthur the champion both for tennis and human rights.

The live action takes you right there, on the court for his victory. The sand animation takes you into his Ashe's backstory and state of mind. We accomplished this by assembling a very talented team. At CRS my colleague, Maddy Power, produced a shoot with over 50 people on set at the actual location for the 1968 US Open, West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, NY.

My colleague, Jeff Fitzsimmons solved crazy problems like how to create an insanely large light table to animate in sand for VR. My long time music collaborator, Vernon Reid, brought 1968 to life with a psychedelic acid jazz  and sax forward soundtrack. Our sound designer created a world to go with our animation. I can't imagine this project without the ridiculously talented animation team of Masha Vasilkovsky and Ruah Edelstein who created over 4000 frames of "sand paintings" for this piece. And we were beyond fortunate to work with artist Matt Kemper and an incredible team at Legend 3D to create visual effects throughout the experience. We aimed to take full advantage of the 360 world for this story and hope the audience finds themselves immersed, learning not just about Arthur Ashe's moment in history, but what it was like to be a black man coming of political age at a time not so dissimilar from today.

Behind the Scenes - Shooting 360° Scenes
 Animation Team Statement - Masha Vasilkovsky & Ruah Edelstein, Lumen Animae
It was our honor to be approached with Arthur Ashe project, as we deeply appreciate the contribution this world champion athlete did for the human rights movement. Besides the subject itself, the use of sand animation technique for Virtual Reality is an exciting event in the world of Animation. Being fluid and malleable material, sand provides a strong graphic style and great morphing capabilities. Supported by a superb tech team, which set up our VR shooting station, we proceeded by studying historical references.  We worked closely with the project directors on developing the animated sequences and likeness of the characters featured.

Credits - Arthur Ashe Documentary Project
Conceived and Produced by Rex Miller
Beth Hubbard, Producer
VR Director: Brad Lichtenstein, Custom Reality Services
Documentary Film: Directed by Rex Miller and Woody Richman
VR Producer: Madeline Power, Custom Reality Services
Photographs by John G. Zimmerman
Exhibition Producer and Designer: Bill Sullivan
Educational Outreach Campaign partner The Raben Group


Celebrity Interview - Director Crystal Moselle Talks on Skate Kitchen, Making the Doc Switch, and Life



About the Ashe '68 Photo Exhibit
The Ashe ’68 Photo Exhibit, located along the alleé connecting the Grandstand and Court 17, features 16 free-standing Vibrachrome panels displaying a series of photographs documenting Ashe at the first US Open, as well as the first days after his historic win. The ways in which Ashe operated on and off court were uniquely captured by photographer John G. Zimmerman, who on September 9 and 10, 1968, had the exclusive opportunity to follow Ashe while on assignment for LIFE magazine. Apart from a handful of images, the photo essay remained unpublished until the 50th anniversary of Ashe’s victory, which has provided the ideal occasion to release these profound materials. Conceived and produced by Rex Miller.

 

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