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Animation Goes To War

Noticed those amazing 3D graphics and animation CNN has been using in its coverage of the war in Iraq? AWN was able to get some questions answered about how they're done from Mike Kraft, director of graphics at CNN USA and his beleaguered department pounding out the images round the clock, seven days a week.

AWN: How do you create the terrain do you do it in-house, with what tools?CNN: We have a number of different options when it comes to creating 3 dimensional terrain. Often we take 1km image data (purchased from Viewpoint) and use the elevation data to displace the geometry in Maya or Vizrt. We can also export 3D displacement from Curious Maps or purchase a 3D model that has elevation associated with it.

AWN: How do you create your models of tanks, aircraft, etc.?CNN: A large portion of our 3D models were purchased from Viewpoint Data Labs/Digimation as part of a Platinum Library collection. For anything we don't own or cannot find a vendor to purchase from, we use schematic and photographic reference to create our own models.

AWN: What kind of timeframe are you working on?CNN: Our preparation effort included creating base maps in coordination with our military desk that enabled us to adjust them quickly to scenarios that were taking place in the field. We have the ability to create fast turnaround scenarios using Maya and Vizrt. These scenarios have been based on dynamic situations as they unfolded. These animations usually require a turnaround from 30 minutes to 4 hours depending upon complexity. For example, we were asked to create a 3D map of Iraq that illustrated the latest military troop movements, the map itself was in Vizrt, and it took us about 15 minutes to add the 3D arrows, text, set the camera move, and record to tape in real time. Many of the animations in Vizrt can be modified and played back to air almost instantaneously. An example of a longer turnaround animation would be a scenario illustrating urban warfare. This was designed, completed and rendered in Maya and turned for air in 24 hours. Animations were also produced in conjunction with Analytical Graphics, Inc. They were able to provide technical 3D scenarios with short turnaround.

AWN: What further possible uses of animation (besides titles and weather maps) do you see in the future for CNN?CNN: We currently use 3D animations to illustrate news items including medical stories, science and to provide layered elements for graphics packages. Further uses would possibly include increasing the number of animated/moving elements to enhance the on-screen look, as well as provide more illustrative/visual ways of telling stories.

(Image) AWN composited this image using Viewpoint models of an Apache Helicopter, an Abrams tank, and the TruEarth Satellite imagery that are currently featured on CNN's website. 3D Models and satellite imagery are available online at (c) 2003 Digimation, Viewpoint Inc. and TerraMetrics Inc. All Rights Reserved.