Army enlists Hollywood for some training help

Army enlists Hollywood for some training help


ORLANDO, Fla.'The Army is reaching out for Hollywood's high-tech movie expertise to make interactive simulated training more realistic.

An assembly of high-profile movie industry experts, including 'Grease' director Randal Kleiser, explained how they are achieving new virtual-reality combat training programs at the recent Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference.

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The Army has awarded a five-year, $45 million contract to the new Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California for development of computer-based virtual-reality programs.

ICT simulations place soldiers in combat situations with a variety of solutions, but the company wants to go a step further.

Interactive characters

The center hopes to develop artificial intelligence to create digital character simulations for interactive mission scenarios and to launch systems that engage sound, sight, taste and smell. The ICT plans to produce a PC-based, Internet-connected game with teaching goals and a simulated mission-rehearsal exercise.

'The entertainment industry can help us tell a story, weaving the elements into a scenario that produces emotional involvement, participation and learning,' said Jim Blake, program manager at ICT.

'We are working with the military to do out-of-the-box thinking,' said Michael Murguia, a computer game developer at New Pencil Inc. of Sausalito, Calif. 'The ultimate goal is to create a new prototype game in real-time 3-D. The strategy relies on a higher level of command and control issues. This will allow the player to work with different components of the systems. We will focus and accurately simulate how vehicles will behave, for example.'

Most special effects are computer generated and then overlaid on film, officials said.

'The key is that they increase the immersive impact of the presentation,' Blake said. 'The military would like to see a training experience achieve the highest possible level of fidelity.'

Andre Bormanis, chief science adviser to the 'Star Trek' films and TV series; James Korris, ICT creative director, who worked on 'Magnum P.I.,' and Ron Cobb, a film director and industrial designer of futuristic vehicles for 'Star Wars,' explained how lighting, sound and special effects play key roles in the final production.

Actors will record several lines so characters in simulations can respond in different ways.

During the conference, a Defense Department official said financial support for high-tech war game training is low.

'At the highest levels of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, we like to talk about training the way we fight,' said Thomas Longstreth, deputy undersecretary of Defense for readiness. 'But we really haven't done all we can in bringing leading-edge training systems to our forces.

'I am concerned about the erosion in our investment in training,' Longstreth said. 'Not only has it eroded, but in some ways, it has taken a step backwards.'

Speaking during a panel discussion on the Pentagon's plans, Longstreth said the military wants to do simulated war game exercises involving all military branches, connected to a single computer network, but that technology is not available.

'There are still gaps out there, and we face serious challenges ahead,' Longstreth said. 'In many places, we have a lack of advanced training platforms and a lack of adequate instrumentation. We have relatively small additional investment available to pay for new systems.'

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