Army $45M VR/Simulation Inst. at USC

Rohit Khare (
Wed, 18 Aug 1999 17:48:35 -0700

Shouldn't it be called the Institute for Destructive Technology? ;-)

Seriously, the whole deal started making more sense after introducing
the dramatic, emotional aspects of simulation. This is by no means a
computing-only initiative, which is part of why it merits the big
bucks and organizational heft. Such centers seem to emerge either 1)
around existing 'celebrity' researchers or 2) in support of genuinely
multidisciplinary, multicultural research challenges.


August 18, 1999
Pentagon Looks for High-Tech Help from Film

LOS ANGELES -- Movies like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon" have
been acclaimed for portraying the experience of war in a gruesome,
realistic and emotional way. Now the Pentagon is preparing to tap
some of that Hollywood talent to make military training simulators
more realistic and engrossing.

The Army will announce on Wednesday that it is giving $45 million to
the University of Southern California over the next five years to
create a research center to develop advanced military simulations.
The research center will enlist film studios and video game designers
for the effort, with the promise that any technological advances can
also be applied to make more compelling video games and theme park

"We could never hope to get the expertise of a Steven Spielberg or
some of the other film industry people working just on Army
projects," said Louis Caldera, the Secretary of the Army, who will
announce the new project at a news conference here. But the new
institute, Caldera said, will be "a win-win for everyone."

The idea for the new center, to be called the Institute for Creative
Technologies, reflects the fact that although Hollywood and the
Pentagon may differ markedly in culture, they overlap in technology.
Moreover, military technology, which once trickled down to civilian
use, now often lags what is available in games, rides and movie
special effects.

For instance, the Army has simulators that allow hundreds of soldiers
in different locations to engage in a tank battle on the same virtual
battlefield. Some games played on the Internet, though, allow
thousands of personal computer users to interact in the same virtual

"We're doing it on million-dollar simulators, and they're doing it on
$400 PC's," said Michael R. Macedonia, chief scientist at the Army
Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command in Orlando, Fla.
Tapping commercial technology could save the Pentagon money and speed
its technology development, Macedonia said. Indeed, he said, the
military has already experimented with using some video games as
low-priced training tools.

Film and game companies that participate in the new research will be
expected to contribute financing to it, and it is not clear how many
of them will want to do so, since recruitment of them has only now
begun. Executives at the Walt Disney Company and Sony Pictures who
were mentioned by U.S.C. officials as being interested did not return
calls seeking comment, while Spielberg was said by his spokesman to
be out of the country on vacation. The industry will be represented
at the news conference on Wednesday by Jack Valenti, the president of
the Motion Picture Association of America.
Another obstacle could be the cultural differences between the
buttoned-down, procedure-oriented military and the open-shirted,
informal entertainment community; the Army hopes that U.S.C., which
already has ties to Hollywood through its film school and to the
military through research programs, will provide a comfortable
neutral ground.

Movie studios and game companies might also be reluctant to
participate in something involving weapons at a time when they are
facing public scrutiny over any role that violent programs or games
might have played in the high school shootings in Littleton, Colo.

But Richard D. Lindheim, executive vice president of the Paramount
Television Group, welcomed the effort, saying, "It's a pretty bold
step on the Army's part to come to Los Angeles and open the door."

Paramount has already been doing some simulation research for the
Defense Department, Lindheim said, and has "found that the focus was
very anti-violent, not violent -- to solve problems diplomatically
rather than with all guns blazing."

Indeed, officials involved in the new institute said its primary
focus would be not on shooting simulations, though some will be done,
but on more complex exercises that reflect the changing role of the
Army, which these days is sometimes dispatched on short notice to
places like Kosovo and Bosnia for peacekeeping operations that
involve little fighting.

Such operations require soldiers to be trained rapidly in local
customs and conditions and, once on the ground, to interact with
local citizens and navigate among different factions.
An Army training center in Germany already employs actors to play the
part of local people as a way of training soldiers for such duty. But
the Army hopes to develop computerized simulators to help soldiers
learn local culture, to practice negotiating with the mayor or with
an angry mob, or to move into a hostage situation and immediately
tell friend from foe.

At present, such simulations are beyond the state of the art.
"Defense simulations are not very good at modeling humans and
modeling human behaviors," said Michael Zyda, a professor at the
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "We can't do things
other than shoot-'em-ups."

That is where Hollywood comes in. The Army hopes the film makers will
make the characters in simulations more realistic and create story
lines that get the soldiers emotionally involved in the simulation,
because emotions can affect how decisions are made.
"The armed forces mission has a great deal of emotionality in it,"
said James H. Korris, a television writer and producer who directs an
entertainment technology research program at U.S.C. and will also be
the creative director of the new institute.

Korris said the goal would be to "inject elements of personality and
feeling into what is today dispassionate."

John Milius, a screenwriter whose work includes war movies like
"Apocalypse Now" and "Red Dawn," said the new institute would be
"another link between Hollywood and the military that seems to have
been broken over the years." Milius, who said he would be pleased to
work with the institute, noted that in World War II, Hollywood was
often called on to make training and propaganda films, as well as

The new institute springs from a report, issued by the National
Research Council two years ago, that called for the defense and
entertainment industries to cooperate on simulation technology.
Some cross-pollination has already occurred. With the shrinking of
the aerospace industry since the end of the cold war, some displaced
engineers have moved to designing rides or movie special effects.
Bran Ferren, a top research scientist at Disney, is on the Army's
scientific advisory board, and Disney and the Army are collaborating
in a limited way, said Macedonia, of the Army's simulation command.

Last week, in a ceremony at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense
William S. Cohen presented Spielberg the department's highest
civilian award for making "Saving Private Ryan," which Cohen said had
helped the American people appreciate the armed forces.
Macedonia views that movie as more than entertainment.
"It was a very realistic simulation," he said, "that made people sweat."