By Sarah MaxwellJuly 22, 2011
TRAINING is integral to the nation’s fighting force, and the Army Research Laboratory is reaching out to moviemakers and storytellers to ensure that Soldiers get the most realistic and relevant training available.
Marrying Hollywood industries, cross-disciplinary scientists and military knowledge, the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California is taking training and simulation products to a whole new level, said John Hart, ICT program manager for ARL’s Simulation and Training Technology Center.
“The ICT brings together the best of both worlds,” said Hart, who manages funding to the program as part of a university-affiliated research center, or UARC.
“About 10 years ago, the Army asked, ‘What would happen if we combine the leaders in immersion technologies, graphics and storytelling?’”
The result has been multiple breakthroughs in virtual reality and emotionally engaging training simulations, movies and games focused on helping servicemembers, said ICT Executive Director Dr. Randall Hill Jr., a computer scientist and former Army officer. From treating post-traumatic stress disorder, instilling battlefield ethics and teaching improvised explosive device recognition, to addressing myriad other issues for the military, the ICT is making its mark in advancing the Army’s capabilities.
Graphics researchers from the institute are the top in their fields and have contributed to many acclaimed and groundbreaking movies such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Avatar.”
Aside from the technical aspects that it brings to the table, the ICT’s involvement with the movie industry has brought a level of drama never before introduced into Army simulation training, said Hart.
“They can reach out to the entire storytelling community, and no one is better at that than Hollywood,” he said. “Stories are how information is passed along, and they’ve brought that into training.”
Tapping into that talent is ICT’s creative director Kim LeMasters, a 40-year entertainment industry veteran and former president of CBS entertainment.
“What Hollywood is all about is engaging people,” said LeMasters.
Among his contributions to the Army, is realistic ethics training for young troops born from requests of chaplains at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Working directly with Soldiers and other subject matter experts to capture emotional stresses and hard decisions they encounter in combat, LeMasters made “Fallen Eagle,” a series of realistic short movies told from different Stryker brigade team members’ perspectives. Each of the mini-movies gave a sequence of events that drove the characters and story in ambiguous directions. They presented tough choices for the characters and no answers. Chaplains and leaders could then use the scenarios to engage Soldiers in discussions and help better prepare them before they face combat directly.
“The arousal level has to be up. We make sure the story itself holds you. That’s a film technique,” said LeMasters. “These videos are dynamic and follow a story. I ask, ‘What’s the hook? How am I bringing them in?’”
Another project the ICT is working on takes the “hook” of that storytelling to the virtual world with, VOLT, or virtual officer leadership training. The program introduces the most advanced virtual human graphics and artificial intelligence technologies to junior officers to give them evidence-based educational techniques. The virtual human to real human interaction gives young leaders practice resolving authentic, complex problems.
“A lot of leadership is having interpersonal communication skills,” said LeMasters, who is working with scientists and Army experts to make sure the program’s scenarios are relevant. “We asked, ‘How do you make it where people can sit down and practice them?’”
The ICT team designed the system to first help the Navy and now is working to adapt it to the Army’s specific requirements, he said.
The VOLT and other training tools were introduced after members of the ICT saw a military need and then developed technologies based on sound scientific principles using the “top notch” technical team, said Hill. But, he said, he doesn’t think many in the Army know that they can come to them and directly ask for solutions.
“The unique thing about the ICT’s UARC is that we can be given task orders by the Army,” said Hill, who added that it’s simple to use the institute’s abilities and he hopes more leaders will.
“We’re sitting in an interesting place in history,” he said. “We can give Soldiers the ability to prepare in ways that weren’t even possible before.”