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[] LT 11.03.03: Movie men add special effects to media war,

March 11, 2003

Movie men add special effects to media war
 From David Charter Camp As Sayliyah, Doha

THE Pentagon has enlisted Hollywood to help to present its daily briefings 
to the world.

Fresh from the latest Michael Douglas film, one of Tinseltown's top art 
directors has been hired to create a $200,000 (£125,000) set for General 
Tommy Franks and other American commanders to give daily updates.

George Allison, 43, who has designed White House backdrops for President 
Bush and worked with the illusionist David Blaine, has been flown into the 
US Central Command base in Qatar as part of a reputed $1 million (£625,000) 
conversion of a storage hangar into a high-tech hub for the international 

Mr Allison's credits include the set for ABC's Good Morning America as well 
as Hollywood productions for MGM and Disney such as the Kirk and Michael 
Douglas film It Runs in the Family, due to be released next month.

His work in Qatar reflects the Pentagon's realisation that it needs to look 
good on prime-time television, especially given public disquiet about the 
war, which is being led by some Hollywood personalities such as Martin 
Sheen, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.

Gone are the easel and chart, solitary television and VCR machine with 
which General Norman Schwarzkopf showed fuzzy images of smart-bomb raids 
during the 1991 Gulf War. On a set that will become instantly recognisable, 
generals will present updates from two podiums at the front of a stage 
adorned with five 50in plasma screens and two 70in television projection 
screens ready to show maps, graphics and videos of action.

Behind them will be a soft-focus elongated map of the world, as if to 
suggest that the world is united behind them. The set was built in Chicago 
and reputedly shipped over by Federal Express at a cost of $47,000 (£29,000).

Besides looking good on television, the presentation conveys another 
message ? that American technology is second to none and far outclasses 
anything possessed by the Iraqis, who will be watching the briefings on the 
Arab broadcaster al-Jazeera.

President Saddam Hussein's generals are likely to present their updates in 
Baghdad at a table in front of their national flag. The technology gulf 
will be part of a psychological campaign abetted by the media, which is 
here in droves. US military planners have ensured that their footage will 
be instantly available in the eight most common video formats.

Mr Allison said: "This is about bringing the level of technology up from 
the flipchart to the modern age. It is trying to send a clear message about 
the technology and our use of it."

Not all is running smoothly. Organisers have discovered that they are 
several hundred telephone lines short. Nor is the spirit of openness 
towards the media unrestricted: photographs of the set are banned.

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