Beta All That You Can Be

A new, $45 million research center at USC, funded by the U.S. Army, is designed to provide realistic military training simulations – and better Hollywood special effects.

"A marriage made in heaven” – that’s what one Defense Department official called the idea, proposed a few years ago, that Hollywood and the Pentagon hook up to develop core technologies critical to both.
When the union was solemnized Aug. 18, USC served as officiating minister. The newlyweds promptly took up residence at the University Park Campus: their new home, the Institute for Creative Technologies.
On that day, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera signed a $45 million contract with USC to establish an institute to explore state-of-the-art modeling and simulation tools for military and entertainment purposes.
Organizers say ICT will serve as a meeting ground for the best in new media from the Army and from the entertainment, computer, video game and software industries, as well as a number of USC’s research enterprises. For the Army, the yield will be a highly efficient means to train the soldiers of tomorrow.
According to a front-page article in the Los Angeles Times, USC was “the clear choice to host the center because of its close ties with Hollywood and because of its strength in electrical engineering and computer science.”
The goal of the collaboration, officials say, is to develop technologies for synthetic experiences so compelling that people will react as though they were real. “This will revolutionize the way the Army trains its soldiers and how it rehearses for missions,” Caldera said at the official ceremony.
“The key word is ‘verisimilitude’ – the quality or state of appearing to be true,” explained USC President Steven B. Sample.

The new ICT brings together researchers from the USC School of Cinema-Television, the USC School of Engineering and the USC Annenberg School for Communication in collaboration with creative entertainment professionals, in the hope of combining sophisticated concepts of story and character development with a fast-growing array of virtual reality immersion technologies.
The Army will employ these improved ICT-developed simulation technologies to rehearse for missions, for strategic planning through interactive battle scenarios, and for combat training, recruitment and equipment acquisition.
“We would like to make our training much more realistic,” Brig. Gen. William Bond told the Times. “We want the ability to create a state where the soldier feels this is so real that he actually perspires, his heart rate goes up, and he reacts in a manner that is consistent with what he would do in a real environment.” Bond is commander of the Army’s Simulation Training Instrumentation Command (STRICOM) in Orlando, Fla. – the unit that administers the ICT contract.
The entertainment industry, in turn, will come away with new technologies to reduce production costs – for example, better virtual sets, better special effects and more realistic digital stuntmen, says cinema-television dean Elizabeth Daley. Video game manufacturers, she adds, could put these technologies to work in making more realistic villains, higher-quality animation and interactivity that accommodates thousands of players simultaneously.

The center will pursue a mix of basic and applied research, according to former Paramount Television Group executive vice president Richard D. Lindheim, who was appointed ICT executive director in early October. Some target technologies include:
• Artificial intelligence to produce digital characters that respond like real people.
• Computer networks to run simulations for thousands of participants around the world.
• Devices to create better immersive environments, such as head-mounted displays, surround-sound audio and force-feedback.
“In these advanced synthetic environments that we will create, partici-pants will be fully immersed – physically, intellectually and emotionally – in engrossing stories stocked with engaging characters who may either be simulated or manned,” says USC vice provost for research Cornelius Sullivan, who will oversee the program in conjunction with the Army’s STRICOM.

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In a double-pen ceremony, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera (seated, left) and USC President Steven B. Sample sign the $45 million contract establishing the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. Handing the pen to Caldera is Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti, joined by well-wishers (from left) Silicon Graphics Chairman Rick Belluzzo, L.A. Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo and California Trade and Commerce Secretary Lon S. Hatamiya.
Illustration by Michael Klein

Army Contract Photo by Alex Berliner

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