Defense News Bringing Hollywood to the DoD
The philosophy behind RL Leaders is the nexus of the right and left brain, or in this case, creative and technical expertise. The Los Angeles-based company is working to bring the most sophisticated technology in Hollywood to the DoD’s doorstep.
Although RL Leaders has been involved in immersive military training for some time, the company recently delivered its first major simulator as a prime contractor. In December, Army National Guard Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa was the first to train on the new IED simulator at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind., as part of the team’s preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.
RL Leaders CEO John Rogers said the number of messages individuals are bombarded with each day requires a higher level of fidelity when it comes to training. In particular, he said it’s important to provide enough intensity and adrenaline to adequately train soldiers who have already experienced war.
“You have to create a compelling experience that stands out and evokes an emotional response,” Rogers said.
RL Leaders was contracted by the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to build a virtual reality combat simulator using a real Humvee and digital video to teach soldiers not only how to identify IEDs, but also what an IED explosion feels like and how to react quickly in the aftermath of one.
“The effect of being caught in an IED is disorientating,” said RL Leaders Founding Partner Richard Lindheim. “You may survive the IED, but what about the after-effect?”
Lindheim has more than 40 years of experience in the entertainment industry, including executive positions at Universal Studios and Paramount Television Group. He cites digital video as the real differentiator to the RL Leaders IED simulator.
“In order to allow soldiers to recognize the telltale signs of an IED, a higher level of acuity is needed,” Rogers said.
He marveled at how public demand has fueled a wave of technical innovation in the entertainment industry throughout the past decade.
“The effect is that it’s cheaper and faster to create immersive, effective environments,” Lindheim said.
Lindheim emphasized that RL Leaders is not a research and development company, but a careful selector and integrator of what the company considers to be the best of Hollywood technology for use in military applications. Disney, Sony, Fox, Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures are among some of the Hollywood giants with whom RL Leaders partners.
The IED simulator at Atterbury is built on a portable trailer. Inside, the Humvee sits on a motion platform developed using theme park technology, and the 270-degree display is 25 feet wide, 10 feet high and contains 15,000 pixels. The system also produces 2.5 Gs of force to simulate an explosion.
“Nothing that happens in that simulator is incidental,” Lindheim said.
Every aspect of the experience, from the cinematography for the video shot in Lone Pine, Calif., to the sound of ringing in the soldier’s ears and the smell of smoke following an IED blast, was carefully planned by entertainment industry experts, he said.
The scenarios start out easy but build in intensity with each level like a video game. The digital video also allows instructors to mix up scenarios to prevent groups of trainees from warning each other what to expect.
Rogers added that over time scenarios can be developed and added to the library, and that new tactics, techniques and procedures can be created using photo-realistic computer-generated imagery, then overlaid onto the video for quick updates within days.
As of Jan. 11, 355 soldiers had trained using the system. A second RL Leaders IED simulator is scheduled to arrive at Camp Atterbury in February. Moving forward, Lindheim said RL Leaders is undergoing internal and external discussions about the future of its IED simulator. RL Leaders is looking at different scenarios and different parts of the world, and anticipates a version 2.0.
Lindheim said the companies and professionals RL Leaders works with in Hollywood aren’t in these projects for financial gain, being that the entertainment industry is already a lucrative one.
“People are doing this to make a difference and save lives,” he said.