Everybody loves a little Hollywood magic, including the military-security-industrial complex.
That explains why Raytheon, one of the world’s largest defense and security contractors, has built an in-house team of former Hollywood and video-game industry animators, graphic novelists, and other illustrators, whose job is to create animated visualizations of many of the company’s projects.
Take, for example, the video the Raytheon visualizations team created for its Cyber Security Operations Center.
“Cyberattacks spread fear, disrupt commerce, and leave a trail of widespread damage,” says an ominous voiceover, as we see a futuristic cityscape bathed in blue light that looks straight out of a Michael Bay film. One after another, blasts appear from the sky, erupting in huge explosions on the ground as the narrator continues. “Raytheon’s integrated end-to-end cybersecurity solutions safeguard mission-critical systems against the widest range of internal and external threats.”
Finally, a giant dome–what moviegoers would probably call a force field–appears out of nowhere, protecting the city from above. All is well, thanks to Raytheon.
“A lot of our clients, even internal people, still ingrain that storytelling,” Trent Stroud, a senior visual-effects artist on Raytheon’s ConOps Visualization team, who had previously helped create Oscar-winning special effects for films like Life of Pi, tells Fast Company. “Being able to use those tools helps give our message a little more power. Images tell a story a lot better than any other way.”
It’s no accident that the cyberattack scene looks like it came straight out of Tron. As Luke Stewart, a visualization project manager, put it in an online Raytheon document, “We turned to the world of Tron, where cyberspace was a vast network of glowing cities and fast-moving data” in order to visualize something that really only happens at the level of 1s and 0s deep inside computer systems.
Raytheon has visualization teams in both Huntsville, Alabama, and Tucson, Arizona. All told, there are about 13 people doing animations for various Raytheon projects. Stroud says that during busy summer months, the teams typically work on five or six simultaneous animations, while they might slow down to about one or two at a time by the end of the year.
Stroud’s team isn’t just animating cyberattacks. It’s also helping Raytheon visualize missile programs, tank programs, or even how the company’s technology is used by soldiers in urban desert battlefields.
“Whether [it’s a] concept or an upgrade to something or a new program,” Stroud explains, “they say, ‘We have this solution and we need to show the capability of it.’ They tell us the capability, how it’s used, and give us examples of that. Maybe it’s a dogfight [or a radar system], we storyboard that out with our artists, kind of like a comic book, and create a full visualization to turn over to a client.”
Raytheon’s ConOps team has been doing animation and visualization work in one form or another for about 10 years. Naturally, it has added new technologies as they’ve become available. Now, it’s built out a new immersive design center in Andover, Massachusetts, known as the Cave.
Featuring 72 ultra-high-definition monitors that spread out 320 degrees, the Cave allows visitors wearing stereoscopic glasses to take in 3-D imagery and videos and interact with immersive experiences that help them understand more about certain Raytheon programs.
“The Cave is basically like a video-game engine, except instead of looking at a screen, you’re actually in the game, walking around in the environment,” Jim Coletta, a 3-D animator with Raytheon’s Advanced Media team, says in the online document.
Inside the Cave, engineers can figure out how to solve design programs in an entirely digital environment. The system allows designers to manipulate 3-D versions of various real-world designs, including letting them walk around inside digital representations of rooms and structures well before a single physical part is ever built.
“One of the cool things that made Raytheon appealing to me,” Stroud says, “is that if you think of Iron Man, it’s not always feasible to go out and blow up a mountain and show things that way. We’re able to show those [kind of] capabilities in an easier way, that’s reusable, and we’re able to tell the story more often.”