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Telepresence Eliminates Travel and Saves Valuable Human Resources Derek Chan, head of digital…

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Telepresence Eliminates Travel and Saves Valuable Human Resources

Derek Chan, head of digital operations at DreamWorks Studios, is ecstatic. DreamWorks used to release an animated film every 18 to 36 months. “Now we’re doing a show in May, another in November, and then May. We’re reaching a scale no one else has been able to do. When we ended up building these systems, it changed the landscape for us,” says Chan. The systems Chan is using are telepresence systems.
DreamWorks Animation SKG, creators of many popular films including “Shrek,” “Madagascar,” “Chicken Run,” and “Bee Movie,” is well known for its high-quality 3-D animation. Creating these movies takes the combined effort of many top animators located around the world. For DreamWorks, a great deal of collaboration takes place between its home studios in Glendale, California, and its subsidiary, Pacific Data Images, 400 miles north in Redwood City.
The long distance between sites was causing important DreamWorks executives, artists, and directors to waste time traveling rather than creating. DreamWorks tried a variety of network conferencing systems, but none provided a smooth stream of communication—in-person visits were much more productive. DreamWorks partnered with Hewlett-Packard (HP) to create a videoconferencing system that allows people around the world to communicate as though they were sitting around a conference table. The result is an HP product called HP Halo, a telepresence and videoconferencing system. The technology has proven successful and similar systems are being offered by other vendors under the general title of telepresence systems.
Telepresence participants sit at a long, one-sided conference table facing a wall covered with large displays. The room is equipped with unobtrusive video cameras and a high-resolution document camera. When connected to the telepresence studio at another location, the displays show the other meeting participants seated as if across the table. A large display above the participants shows documents that people want to share using the document camera or directly from a PC. Microphones and speakers allow participants to converse in a natural voice. People outside the telepresence environment can dial into the system to join in on audio.
Network connections are the most important component of the telepresence system. DreamWorks’ HP Halo system provides a dedicated high-bandwidth network line between its Glendale studios and its Redwood City offices. Users describe the so-called tele-immersive environment as being stunningly lifelike. It’s as though the participants are physically together.
For DreamWorks, this means a fundamental change in the way it does business. Teams can work together by sharing and discussing documents, images, and video, while cutting the time and cost of travel. Animators and producers use the system to collaborate from disperse geographic locations, developing storyboards, reviewing artwork, and adjusting character designs in real time. The document camera allows artists to sketch ideas to share with the group. The network is fast enough to transfer video clips from motion pictures while it is transferring live action video of participants.
Using HP Halo, DreamWorks became the first company to release two animated films in one year. Executives that previously traveled overseas once every three weeks now travel once every three months. Trips between Glendale and Redwood City have been reduced by as much as 80 percent.

1. What network considerations are involved when introducing a telepresence system? How might DreamWorks’ requirements vary from a retail company such as Home Depot?

2. How did telepresence allow DreamWorks employees to be more productive and efficient?

1. Although some workforces are becoming more mobile, others such as DreamWorks find it more effective to stay put. What types of business activities are best carried out through travel? What kinds of professionals benefit from avoiding travel? How do telecommunications assist both?

2. In your chosen career, do you anticipate a lot of travel or a little? What types of activities will you perform that require telecommunications?

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