See the "Hydro-Interactive" Tennis Experience American Express Built

To celebrate the 2015 U.S. Open, the financial services company hosted a "hydro-interactive" experience that let fans play virtual games projected onto a giant wall of water.

By Ian Zelaya September 10, 2015, 7:00 AM EDT

American Express partnered with several agencies to present a hydro-interactive experience at its pre-U.S. Open tennis event, "Rally on the River," on August 26 at New York's Pier 97.

Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images

American Express has sponsored the U.S. Open for more than 20 years, bringing tennis fans and card members a variety of experiences that celebrate the love of tennis—and its players—and the championship event itself. Many of the experiences in recent years have been technology-focused, and this year was no different.

To celebrate the start of the tennis event, which runs through September 13 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the company threw “Rally on the River” at Hudson River Park's Pier 97 on August 26. American Express developed the concept of a hydro-interactive experience with advertising agency Momentum Worldwide, which partnered with various creative and production design companies for the project. While many water-based shows tend to be passive, the program was focused on participation. “Our team dynamic was designed to bring the fans and card members into the experience, through an interactive, fan-powered innovation that used water as a canvas,” said Hallie Johnston, vice president of business leadership at Momentum. “Ultimately, even the fans get to shape the outcome when we do the job right.”

Four Barco projectors offering 20,000 lumens of light output were used to project the animations on a 40- by 60-foot water curtain that was reflected on the Hudson River—from which water was pulled, filtered, and returned. Venom Design worked with visual effects and projection design studio VolvoxLabs, creative design studio Invisible Light Network, and Bionic League to create the water wall's custom content. After a tennis homage that featured holograms of past and present tennis greats, the wall of water turned into a giant video game as audience members and the tennis stars were invited to play quick matches on the pop-up tennis court. The gamification content, designed by VolvoxLabs, involved interactive drawing engines that correlated to responsive rackets and tennis balls, translating swings, lobs, and smashes into 3-D graphics, animations, and sounds.

“This program was exceptional in how many creative and technological talents and elements went into an experience that turned out to be a totally interactive feast for the senses,” Johnston said. “The process is all intricacy and collaboration, with technology as a core part of the idea. We not only delivered a responsive hard tennis court that reacted to game play with laser designs, but this massive water wall was responding with both retro Pong style and modern digital art.”

The experience allowed audience members and celebrity guests including tennis players Maria Sharapova, Monica Puig, John Isner, and actor and comedian Kevin James to participate, while Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo provided background music. Although the rally was a one-night-only event, American Express has another technology-focused activation on site at the U.S. Open, which allows guests to play tennis against Sharapova in a virtual reality setting.

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