APS News

Science and Engineering are Hidden Stars in Stealth

Hollywood actors take a back seat to science and engineering used in the movie Stealth, which opened in theaters nationwide in August. In the movie, the science of artificial intelligence is taken to new heights as three U.S. Navy pilots face their toughest fight yet when an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle named Extreme Deep Invader (EDI) becomes too smart for its own good.

In artificial intelligence, a machine imitates traits seen in human behavior, such as making a decision, but artificial intelligence expert James Hendler at the University of Maryland says that artificial intelligence will always need a human touch. "No matter how 'smart' the machine is, you still have to tell it what to do," says Hendler.

While artificial intelligence is the science featured in the plot of the movie, it’s the science and engineering hidden behind the scenes in the movie’s production that is truly impressive.

Stealth director Ron Cohen worked with industrial designers drawing from the latest naval jet patterns to create the three talon planes and "EDI." Then, the talons were tweaked to look "beautiful as well as powerful," while “EDI” was designed to be "cool yet terrifying," explained Cohen.

In order to capture all angles of the planes and look realistic flying, the planes had to be able to move in all directions. So, engineers designed and built a one-of-a kind gimbal, which allows the plane to incline at different angles. "The gimbal weighs 100 tons, has the ability to pull five G’s and can work on a very wide range of motion," said Cohen. "In terms of our mechanical technology, we designed a gimbal the likes of which had not been seen before."

With the planes ready for any camera angle, Cohen had to worry about how the planes would look flying over the landscape. So, he turned to the computer scientists and technical experts at Digital Domain to try out their brand new technology call Tergen (terrain generator) which creates virtual backgrounds using actual topographic maps of that area. For example, Tergen could pull up a map of Arizona and "EDI" could appear to be flying over the Grand Canyon.

"I think it will be a long time before a movie of this magnitude comes along again where they’ll be able to use this type of technology," says John Frazier, Stealth’s special effects expert.

–Inside Science News Service

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