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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Demolition Sequences and the Willful Suspension of Disbelief: Analyzing the 9/11 Storyboard

Listen to my interview with Evelien Gilbert here. Read my capsule description here

Kevin Barrett 

This paper attempts to analyze the events of 9/11 from a SFX professional point of view based on 18 years of experience in storyboard analysis, real world Special effects preparation and film experience.  
In this paper I want to present two ideas not addressed (to my knowledge) before. 

1.   The demolition sequences of 9/11 were based a story board. 
2.   The preparation of the demolition sequences of the three towers was done with software I believe to have been available before 2001 reducing the need for huge numbers of planners and making a number of different demolition sequences available on the day itself. 


When the events of 9/11 took place I was working as a Special effects model maker and engineer in Europe .Together with my husband I owned a small Special effects company with max. 15 employees at times and as such was very involved with the analysis and translation of literally hundreds of story boards. Storyboards are a series of little drawings showing key frames in a film in order to tell the intended story to prospective clients, film crew etc and as such we were presented with many of them. 

Our specialty was providing film makers (primarily short advertisement films) with real world special effects. Models made in our workshops and animated with sometimes complicated mechanical and electronically driven computerised movements.  

By their very nature SFX are solutions both in the real world and in the modern 3D computer world offered for situations which could not happen in reality. If real world solutions were available SFX would not be required. 
For example: a Beer keg rolls along the street, around corners, jumps a bridge only to land after a long and protracted journey in front of a student flat were the students bring it in and open it only to have it explode in an orgy of beer foam against the windows. 

In reality a beer keg would not be able do this so a team of SFX engineers is called in to make this happen. (Real world example of the kind of work we would be asked to do. Photo's available). 

The sequence of events after the artist conceives of an idea like this is as follows:  
a.       Idea
b.       Storyboard drawing attention to key frames. (setting up the storyline)
c.        Analysis by SFX team
d.       Translation into real world possibilities
e.       Preparation
f.        Execution on film set, in theatre or as the case may be in New York and Washington 

Storyboarding as the process is known is used but not limited to film sets or theatres but is used in sporting events big shows other big events such big inaugural events (think Obama's big inauguration) and I assert that a detailed storyboard must have been used for the events of 9/11.  

A storyboard approach will enable compartmentalisation, the use of an extremely small number of conspirators, trigger wilful suspension of disbelief and enable different demolition sequences on the day of the events itself.

The demolition sequences of 9/11 were based on a storyboard: 

Everybody who remembers that day will have their own unique memories of the day itself but a lot of those memories will be imposed by the film material we were shown of that day.  

Some of those pictures will have been made by amateurs and I will not attempt in within the scope of this paper to make a difference between those accidental videos or the actual key frame storyboard videos simply because this is impossible and not relevant for this paper. 

The collective amount of video available to the document makers and the News Senders of that day only served to obfuscate the storyboard beginnings of the events just like you don't see just the storyboard pictures in the final product but the total film is assembled from the large body of material shot based on the storyboard to make for interesting watching. 

Some frames however will be burned into the collective mind such as he impact of the second plane into the ... Tower from different angles such as the one filmed from under the bridge or the huge ball of fire upon impact after the plane approaches the building from the back. 

Or the picture of the plane just before impacting. 

Another indelible picture is the impact of the first plane taken from the street by the French filmers "accidentally" there that day.  

The beginning of the collapse sequences and the clouds bellowing below are other pictures few will be able to erase from their minds. 

All of those bear the hallmarks of key frames used in a storyboard and as such could have originated from a creative mind to convey the 9/11 action movie to the audience of that day. 

Why is this important? 

Drawing a storyboard enables someone to convey the story one wishes to tell and the emotional impact one wishes it to have and gives specialists the possibility to analyze and realize the sequence of events needed to convey the story how and when needed. 

It allows the "client" to separate the design of the event from the people who will be involved in realisation of the event making compartmentalisation possible to a very high degree. 

For example while we were involved in most of the design and execution of SFX we often did not know who was going to do the lighting, filming, catering on the day itself until the very last moment. We did not know who supplied the equipment or who would do the postproduction and which channel would be airing the film made with our help and while we mostly found out on the day itself since no secrecy was needed this would not have been a requirement at all.  

In the case of film making a lot of these groups end up together on film sets but in large productions with many film sets crews can work on scenes that the others have no idea about and while the director and a small group of insiders may know how the final film should look every single unit will only have been presented with part of the storyboard to be realised. 

This makes the storyboard a very versatile and powerful tool in the preparation of any event and as such it bears thinking about when looking at the events of 9/11.

The preparation of the demolition sequences of the three towers was done with software I believe to have been available before 2001 reducing the need for huge numbers of planners and making a number of different demolition sequences available on the day itself. 

Here I aim at giving some insights as to how some of the most important questions regarding the demolitions could be answered: 

1.       How did they plan the demolitions?
2.       How many people were needed to plan the demolitions?
3.       How did they know how much explosives were needed?
4.       How did they know were to place the explosives to bring down the buildings?
5.       How were they able to design the two atypical demolitions of the twin towers which were top down rather than traditional bottom up demolitions?
6.       How come the demolition of WTV7 was so radically different from the first two demolitions and why? 
To name a few. 

All of these questions can be answered with one response if my assumptions with regards to the existence of demolition/animation software are true. 

Computer integrated modelling, building and demolition. 

First let me quickly introduce the two different uses of what is loosely termed "Virtual reality" and the different ways it is used. 

What is Virtual reality? 

Virtual reality is a term coined in the early 90s to describe the illusion of space and objects created when software began to be developed to enable designers to build such spaces. The worlds created for computer games are examples of virtual reality but so are computer generated visualisations of buildings, robots, cars etc. 

What is computer modelling? 

Computer modelling is the technique of generating seemingly realistic 3D objects in a virtual space. The art is in appointing with specially dedicated software imaginary points in an imaginary space connecting those points and giving the resulting mesh a "skin". In other words making the mesh opaque so that it resembles an object. 
This technique is of course mostly known from the film industries application in creating Special effects, artificial worlds, scenery, movement (Such as making people look like they can fly etc.) and disaster, demolition and destruction effects. 

Some of the applications will use real world Physics and Mathematics but some effects or visualizations can violate those laws. Such as people able to fly or magical changes in computer generated worlds or environments.

What is computer integrated building? 

Computer integrated building is the technique of building buildings, factory robots, boats, cars, etc. with the help of computer software.  

The software allows the construction of afore mentioned objects in a virtual environment. 

The big difference is that CIB always uses Physics and Mathematics to get to a design as close as possible to the real world final product. 

In order to achieve that ISO standards were implemented in as early as 1998 in order to establish databases or libraries of objects often used such as the size of beams, bolts frames etc. So that efficient use could be made from objects created in 3D and file formats could be exchanged along different platforms. In fact NIST designed some of the first cross platform software to be able to view designs from different software called CIB2 in 1999. 

What are uses of modelling objects in a virtual environment? 

These are some of the advances of Computer integrated building. 

1.       Visualisation 

This would be the most generally excepted and known advantage. Let's say a building can be 3D generated and viewed. This would give a prospective client an idea how the building he is commissioning will look. 
There are however several other much less known advantages to using the Computer integrated building technique.
1.       Planning/building/Lifespan calculation

Based on the building blocks objects are made of and the analysis of the construction sequence generated and tested by the software assemble of the designed object can be planned, budgeted and executed.
2.       Testing

Models of buildings etc, factory robots, ships, cars, etc., can be tested. A building can be put in different stress situations and tested to see if it withstands wind speeds, fire, earthquakes etc.
3.       Demolition

Based on the virtual construction and the design drawings as generated by the computer software demolitions can be planned and executed. As we will see this is already a compulsory part of the permit application in countries such as Australia and Canada since the 90s.

1.       Efficiency

If you can design a building in a virtual environment show the building to the client, test for weaknesses, generate drawings and automate budgeting, etc, it goes without saying that this saves a huge amount of money and time.

If as I assert you can plan the lifecycle value, demolition and recycling of the building this means another huge economic gain. 

It bears reminding that all software developed for the building and viewing of 3D objects and animations are capable and in fact rely on real world limitations such as the laws of motion, Physics etc and software in use for Film will often have the same capabilities with regards to real world input and design as most advance CIB and CAD programs.  

Computer integrated demolition planning 

The applications capable of the above are and have been in existence for quit a while and the use of these tools is in widespread use amongst professional Architect and Engineering firms and a such won't come as a surprise to those professionals reading this paper. 

To make my case for what I will call Computer Integrated Demolition planning (CIDP).

I have to take you for a historic journey along the development of this software we take for granted today as performing these tasks today.

To keep it as simple and comprehensive as possible I would like to introduce only a few programs to you and while I'm not saying that these and only these programs could have been used for the CIDP of the WTCs 1,2,7 it gives a clear insight as to why programs able to do CIDP were well and truly available to do so before 2000. 
In a follow up if needed I'm prepared to develop a complete timeline but for the sake of brevity allow me to give a short description of these programs and some key dates in their development. I link to the Wikipages (For as much as they can be trusted) and home sites were I can so that those of you who want to learn more can read up on them. 

1.       Maya. The industry standard for 3D modelling, animation and destruction sequences since 1990.
Maya is the powerhouse of the film world. I is used in almost every aspect of filmmaking.
Whether it is character creation, world building, animation or destruction sequences almost always will Maya be at least part of it.

Maya started life as three different programs: Wavefront's The Advanced Visualizer (in California), Thomson Digital Image (TDI) Explore (in France) and Alias' Power Animator (in Canada) and only emerged with the name Maya (Sanskrit for illusion) in 1998 but was known to all of us working in the film industry as the hottest most exiting development ever from as early as the late 80s.  

Imagine being able to build characters for films, moving them with real world people movements. Fitting real world objects in imaginary worlds making them seem more realistic and literally having no limit to your imagination other than budget and boy were Maya and the computers you needed expensive. We tried to build a business plan to build a suite with one of those monsters but at $ 300.000.- + it was just to much for our little SFX unit. 

While all this development too place other interesting programs were developed that would literally change the way we thought about SFX and how we could build both in the real world and in what was quickly coined Virtual reality. 

In fact at the time (1989-1991) I was working (While my husband build up our SFX company) for a computer collective as a MIDI specialist while in the room next to me a programmer was working on his SGI station worth tens of thousands of dollars on a program which was soon to be part of Maya and one of the most exiting modules to be added to the software package: a program obeying the laws of nature and the ancestor of all programs capable of imitating random events such as cloud forming and moving, smoke and fire movement and to us most important of all explosive energy displacement.. We called it the particle generator and it was kind of hush hush at the time because the ramifications of what could be done with this software was so huge. That program was:
2.       Dynamation. The program that obeyed to laws of physics.

My friend the programmer (Name available) was only a small part of the whole project but the premise of the program he was working on was simple: a generated object was at all times subject to the algorithmic limitations given. This was in 1990-92.

The algorithms were always based on the laws of physics and these could not be broken.

The program was used to imitate generation of smoke, fire, hair movement and just about anything that needed to move according to the laws of motion and physics.

Needless to say that it quickly became a module within the software structure of the ancestors of Maya. (1993)

And today while Jim Hourihan who was the man who did the development with the help of programmers such as my friend at the Computer collective received a Academy Awards® for Scientific and Technical Achievement (1996) for the genius of this program it is barely a glitch on the radar while it continues to be one of the most important parts of Maya and with it for anything to do with explosives animations or destructive sequences shown on film anywhere in the world.  

(In fact right about the same time Maya's ancestors and Dynamation were being developed Mark Loiseaux and Demolition Inc. were involved in the making of some of the most Iconic films from that time: Demolition man 1993 and Lethal weapon II both needing a building blown up and for the first time making use of all this new software)

What more do you need other than a program that can show explosive force based on the laws of Physics?

A program which can model a building with all it's different materials and the different ways in which those materials will disintegrate in response to that explosive force. As it happens just such a program is available and even more handy it is a module integrated in Maya.

It's name?
3.       Blastcode . Destruction at the fingertips of film and military. Knowledge of physics and mathematics required to program this baby.

This is were it get's interesting and murky. So bear with me.

I found Blastcode when I was searching for professional demolition software for a post on my blog in response to the BBC hit piece about WTC7 which featured Demolition inc.'s Marc Loiseaux. 
I knew that on film sets for a long time explosive sequences were realised with the help of computer programmed sequences and wondered it the same thing was possible with professional demolitions. I found a remote control demolition device used to set off radio controlled Explosives and I know that if that was possible there must also be a way to program the sequence of explosions and if that was possible perhaps there was a way in which these sequences could be generated by software which could also be used to visualise buildings. 

Blastcode is a software package advertised curiously enough as a module for Maya specialised in the virtual emulation of Demolitions and destruction sequences for clients as diverse as: Motion picture, Broadcasting, Video game, Military and defence industries

It's tagline is: Destruction at your finger tips!  

I don't know when Blastcode was conceived and it only was presented to the civilian world in 2004 but that does not mean that the software wasn't in existence before that day.  

Here are some curious facts surrounding the package. 

·           If you Google Autosketch Maya you get over 50.000.000 hits 
·           If you Google Blastcode you get About 9,390,000 results 
·           If you look under the section of modules mentioned on the Wiki page of Autosketch Maya
Blastcode is only mentioned as a module for Maya from 2009.  

·           On the Blastcode site the software is advertised as a module for Maya as of 2003.  
·           On the Blastcode Wikipage nothing is mentioned at all. It is just a stub.  
·           Blastcode is the only piece of software I have ever found which advertises directly to the military and defence industry. In fact the about page reveals that the Maya module is only a subset of the demolition software it apparently is. 

In fact this is the entire "About us" page: 

About Blast Code
Blast Code, Inc. is an R&D-laboratory and production facility serving the 3D computer graphics industry. Its aim is to develop unique and innovative solutions to the many complex problems facing the computer graphics community today.  

Demolition Effects Production 

Blast Code specializes in animated demolition effects. Supported by the development of its advanced proprietary demolition software, its mission is to create superior photo-realistic, computer-generated demolition animation for the motion picture, broadcasting, video game, and defense industries. With complete in-house production and software development capabilities, Blast Code can adapt to the most demanding production or research environments.  

Blast Code Software  

Blast Code has released a subset of its demolition software for over-the-counter purchases. Designed for the Autodesk Maya Animation program, this is an advanced animation system for visualizing the disintegration of objects. It is a revolutionary method designed to simulate the break-up of structures in response to catastrophic forces such as explosions, projectile impacts, shockwaves and natural phenomena such as earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes. See the Products section for more information.  
At the time that was the only software I found because I was not looking for architectural or manufacturing software capable of stress testing buildings or cars or other structures. However recently when I went back to this research I found a veritable treasure trove of software which had all been used for twenty years or more to do just that but that is for later.

By the way if anybody would like to work for the company that owns Blastcode here is what you have to be able to do:
Blast Code is on the forefront of destruction technology. We look for highly motivated and team oriented individuals who possess initiative, creativity, and the ability to think outside the box. Candidates should be capable of engineering whatever is required to get the job done.

We are looking for people with skills in the following areas:

·       Modeling (error on website)
·       Shading & Lighting
·       Particle and/or fluid fx
·       Visual C++ programming.
·       Win 32 programming and/or Unix programming.
·       OpenGL/DirectX
·       Knowledge of Physics and Mathematics.
·       Experience in 3D programming or Game development. 
If interested please send your resume and demo reel (NTSC VHS, DVD) to:  
4.       Autodesk. Bringing NURBS to the table.

Anybody who has ever needed CAD (Computer aided drawing) has had to deal with Autodesk one way or another. Autodesk has a long history in the field of Computer graphics but is primarily recognised as a technical professional drawing program which evolved into a 3D program over time.

But not a lot of people know that Autodesk in fact opened a multimedia branch in order to cash in on the multimedia bandwagon. 

In 1996 Autodesk started a company called Kinetics witch offered a program called 3D Max offering an affordable windows based alternative to Maya. In 1998 Autodesk announced it's acquisition of Discreet logic which had developed a series of programs for 3D editing called Flame, Flint, Fire, Smoke, Effect, Edit. The same year Maya was finally registered under the name Maya. 

3D max was a program which no surprise there was first released in 1990. 

Discreet logic like Maya's ancestors had been in business like Maya from as early as the late 80s, early 90s. 

Currently Autodesk holds all previously mentioned programs and it's spinoffs and modules in it's portfolio.
5.       NURBS. A freeform designers dream.

Here I'm just going to do a little copying and pasting while attempting to explain the importance of NURBS because while I love using the tool as an artist this is were the underlying mathematics just get's over my head.

NURBS or Non-uniform rational B-spline is a mathematical model commonly used in computer graphics for generating and representing curves and surfaces which offers great flexibility and precision for handling both analytic and freeform shapes.

The development of NURBS began in the 1950s by engineers who were in need of a mathematically precise representation of freeform surfaces like those used for ship hulls, aerospace exterior surfaces, and car bodies, which could be exactly reproduced whenever technically needed. Prior representations of this kind of surface only existed as a single physical model created by a designer. 

So as early as the 50s engineers began to develop NURBS technology which until today is the only way to form complex and organic freeform 2D models. This technique allowed for the development of the curved and seemingly freeform modern buildings we accept as normal today. It enabled the futuristic design of cars, buildings, utensils gadgets of every possible nature with mathematical precision. It allowed for the sedign of the outside shape as it were. 

But it did not allow for the translation in printable building drawings or detailed analysis of building/demolition sequences and stress tests which are part and parcel of modern day architectural and design practices. So when did that come about?
SAP2000. The industry standard for structural analysis since 1970.

SAP2000 is generally accepted as the software to test building designs for structural integrity and it is currently in its 14th edition. It originally was only usable as a 2D package.
I don't know when 3D testing began to be implemented in the program and this needs researching.

SAP2000 is the file format in which NIST released its 3D models in 2007 under a FOIA request (I'm trying to get in touch with the requester) (more file formats available but not for this FOIA request) and it was this program which seems to have been used to show the alleged progressive collapse of the towers and the fires in WTC7.

6.       NIST and Computer Integrated building and testing. NIST was early at the meeting.

According to NIST's website the institute with its Computer integrated building processes group established ISO standards for CAD software and the objects created with these programmes. This happened in 1998 and shows that 3D construction was already well on its way at the time and with that it is probably safe to assume that SAP2000 complied with these ISO standards. Which means that testing of virtual reality buildings based on real world physics and geometry was possible well before 9/11.

With an over the counter Blast Code released in early 2004 capable of taking advantage of NURB, mesh and Geometric information stating clearly that this was just a spinoff of the proprietary Demolition software advertised as capable of engineering full and real world based Demolition sequences (and therefore in existence before they released the spinoff), ISO standards for 3D library building for Computer integrated building as early as 1998 and a program such as SAP2000 available as early as 1970 and capable of doing 3D testing of steel framed building and in use by NIST for the animation of collapse sequences of the WTC buildings no less it begs the question as to why.

7.       Applied science International. The first Computer planned Demolition sequence in 2007?

Claims they were doing the first computer planned demolition in as late as June 2007.
In fact it warranted a mention in the homeland security journal
Notes and links: 

Maya history: 

Maya for architects

The future success of large Japanese construction firms may well depend on the widespread implementation of computer integrated construction (CIC) concepts. Because of changes in the competitive environment, the nature of the construction industry is evolving in fundamental ways. Construction companies that emphasize CIC are likely to gain a significant competitive advantage over those that do not. In today's construction industry, information technology must be viewed as a potential resource. CIC is a strategy, incorporating computers and robotics, for linking existing technology and people in order to optimize business activity. There is no standard formula for CIC. A strategy for implementing CIC should be formulated, and each company must define its own system. The strategy must be supported and promoted at the highest company level. The objective of this paper is to describe the experiences gained in CIC research from a Japanese construction company's viewpoint, and to present a test-base model for CIC implementation. Although the model is not a comprehensive system, it can be considered as a methodology toward total CIC.  

©1993 American Society of Civil Engineers  

Submitted April 27, 1992
Special interest group graphics
Piping analysis/structural steel analysis etc. 
BIM for Design and Documentation of Structural Systems 
This is recent though. 
NIST computer integrated building June 2001 
Published 1996 
Computer model industry standards 1999/2000 
3d modeling 2000 
Virtual Cybernetic Building Testbed  
For fire and smoke testing vreated January 2000 
Object modeling? 
Share ware steel stress calculation list 
Another building software list 
TV series 9/11 related 
Professional background
Monday, 6 December 2010
8:02 a.m. 
My name is Evelien Gilbert. 
I was born in Amsterdam on 26-05-1956. 
From 1989 To 2004 I owned a small SFX company in Europe (More details available on request).
Together with my husband I ran this SFX company which catered primarily to the advertisement industry and allowed me to gain indebt experience with the preparation and pre shoot problem solving of Special effects for film and video.  

Our company specialised in real world special effects. For example real world moving objects on a table covered with a table cloth. (Show reel available upon request). 

While my job was primarily the making and design of models the set up of our company was such that I worked in close conjunction with my husband who has a background in electronic and mechanical engineering as team leaders for our teams in solving the problems with which our clients presented us in the storyboards we were given and the translation and preparation for real world filming. 

I believe this gives me a unique insight in the delivery of the 9/11 storyboard on 9/11/2001.


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