The US Army has gathered a team of Hollywood cinematography experts to harness the technology depicted in hit movie "The Matrix" and the popular TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" for use in its own next generation of training and simulation systems.

Lieutenant General William Campbell, the Army’s chief information officer, explained that the Army is examining the feasibility of building a "holodeck", a simulator that would use virtual cinematography and video game technology to create 3D scenes of actual locations for training and mission rehearsal.

The plans, announced last week at the annual conference on Information Assurance and Battlefield Visualization, showed a sequence from The Matrix, in which Keanu Reeves is able to dodge bullets by bending backward. Campbell explained that it is this type of photo-manipulation technology that the Army hopes to use in its future holodeck.

Compulsory James Heath, senior intelligence and technical adviser at the US Army's Land Information Warfare Activity, said visualization is key to the future of the Army. "Not only will the holodeck happen, but it's really mandatory," he said.

Last year, the Defence Modeling and Simulation Office and Paramount Digital Entertainment began work on adapting Hollywood multimedia technology and movie storytelling skills. The aim is to create realistic simulations for military officers learning how to make better decisions during international crises.

Realism Last year, the Army signed a five-year, $45 million contract to establish the Institute of Creative Technologies, a centre for researching applications to improve realism in training simulators.

The Institute is a key member of the "team of experts" tapped by the Army to work with production designers from the entertainment industry. Paul Debevec (Pictured), a filmmaker, scientist and leader in image-based modelling, rendering and lighting using photographs to simulate events, was one of the first experts hired by the ICT. Debevec, is based at Berkeley University, California, his work inspired some of the visual effects in "The Matrix".

"The holodeck is the Holy Grail of the Institute," Debevec said. "It will be a next-generation virtual reality simulation technique that will make it possible for a person to go into a room, or put on a headset, and really feel like they are in a different place. They will be able to see, hear, touch and even smell everything. The terrain or environment will be realistic, and eventually there will even be other characters to interact with, teach and learn from."

Advisor One of Debevec's students, George Borshukov, served as a technical designer for The Matrix. He said: "If you work from photos of real environments, you can get 95 per cent realism, but that doesn't include people or dynamics. Photo- realistic humans and other stuff is a little farther away, especially for real time, which is what the Army would want."

Borshukov said applications using a photo-realistic base with real-time interaction is probably five to ten years away, "but the technology is already there and there's already a plan of how to do it".

"Capturing people doing real things on film and stringing that together with real environments will be done," he said. But "the ultimate goal to simulate all the physics, as opposed to simply image-based rendering, is 20 to 25 years away."

Pretend A mid-August 1999 interview with ICT Director, Dr. Herb Schorr and the Army’s Dr. Michael Andrews, carried on, revealed the Army’s ultimate goal: "Get them involved, get them emerged in the tech, get them emerged in the simulator so they start feeling it, believing it, smelling it and tasting it, to be fully prepared for the culture they're going to go into and to be able to come back alive."

Such technology has its risks, CNBC interviewer Diane Dimond spoke of these, suggesting a "pretend war, made to look real for everyone’s benefit". At that time, both interviewees agreed that such technology could be misused.