The lion behind the development of America's Cup graphics technology has been made a Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in the New Zealand New Years Honours, announced yesterday.
What is now known as VirtualEye was initially created by four people with no sailing experience - Ian Taylor, Professor Geoff Wyvill (University of Otago), Paul Sharp and Stu Smith (Developers) in 1991 and first used in the America's Cup in San Diego in 1992. This core team have remained with the project since its inception, along with several others who have been involved since the early days of the project. One of the newer recruits is John Rendall, who joined ARL straight from school, and now runs all the sailing for ARL.
The original realtime graphics project was commissioned by Television New Zealand, but managed by Taylor, who at that time had a number of television activities operating out of the old TVNZ headquarters in Dunedin. It was also a joint venture by the University of Otago's business arm and Taylor's Animation Research Ltd, in a forerunner to what are now regarded as incubator business projects. Eventually the whole product came under the aegis of ARL.
At the time of the first America's Cup project, email was only really becoming accepted, and the first movie to make heavy use of generated graphics, Jurassic Park, had just been released. A key contact for the project was Dr Alan Trimble, then Developer Advocate with Silicon Graphics, who assisted the project and facilitated the embedding of ARL developer Paul Sharp, into the Silicon Graphics developers program for three months in San Francisco's Silicon Valley.
A number of spin-off products evolved from the initial development, due firstly the need to capitalise on the development engine, and secondly as the product enjoyed a unique place at the fore-front of world sport, leading to the adaptation of the principles of the system into several leading edge sports such as golf, gliding, Formula 1 motor racing, cricket and many other sports. Click here?nid=92437 for the latest ARL projects and where the technology is headed.
The key attribute of the VirtualEye system has been its ability to re-create the action, based on the actual tracks of the boats, planes, ball or cars and then place the camera in the perfect position to show the viewer what really happened, and visually explain the nuances of the incident.
In several instances, notably cricket, the graphics system has been incorporated into adjudication systems, and in several defined situations the batsman can now be given as out on the basis of a graphics replay. In fact so refined is the cricket system that one country, has not adopted it, much to the chagrin of other cricketing nations creating a huge international debate as to the drop in the accuracy of umpiring decisions last week, when two Australian batsmen were given as out using the old visual only method, when the graphics replay clearly showed they were both not out. Click here for the story of how the system was developed for cricket.
Another feature of the VirtualEye productions are the introduction to the host city of the venue, which then forms the backdrop to the coverage of the event itself.
In sailing, the America's Cup graphics have rolled into most major yachting events - as both a TV product and a home viewer product under the Virtual Eye brand. A feature of the graphics has been the constant updating of the quality of the images to the latest standards in movie production, to the point where many fans prefer to watch a race using the Virtual Eye graphics package, rather than the traditional television product.
During the 2007-2010 period when TV production costs were a significant factor in the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series, Virtual Eye was used as the backbone of the televised production, ashore and to remote viewers, overlaid with a full commentary and augmented by limited video coverage. Click here?nid=92437 for the story and graphics.
Taylor has what is usually described as a colourful career, starting out as a singer in a band, before moving into fronting several popular children's TV show, and then into TV production. He is a lawyer by training. For a full profile click here?nid=92437.
A member of the Hall of Fame for the NZ Technology Industry an extract from his profile covers his background living on the east coast of New Zealand:
'Raised in the small East Coast settlement of Raupunga, halfway between Napier and Gisborne, he remembers a house with no electricity, his mother cooking on a coal range, reading Eagle comics by the light of a gas lantern and listening to Life with Dexter on a battery-powered radio.
'I still remember the day we got electricity in our house, the way a single light bulb filled the room with daylight, just at the flick of a switch.
'I don't think we called it technology in those days - but whatever we called it, it had a huge impact on me. At eight years of age I figured if you could do that by flicking a switch, you could do anything.'
As all who have met him know, Ian Taylor is a very hard man to refuse, and is still as heavily involved in Animation Research, as he was on Day 1.
Now, Taylor is much in demand on the speaker's circuit becoming something of an evangelist for the development of technology in New Zealand and internationally. One of his maxim's has always been that if a client is interested in the Virtual Eye product, then he'll get on a plane and travel to wherever is required to met with them, demonstrate Virtual Eye, and work a new deal for a new project.
And 20 years on, from when those first two blue and yellow triangular shapes moved across a computer screen, in the basement of the old brick TVNZ building in Dunedin, the boundaries remain virtual and infinite.