Monday, January 17, 2011

Forensic Animation- Forensic Computer Animation

By Tim McGarvey

Forensic animation is a category of 3D animation that is used for re-creating crime scenes, criminal events, accidents or disasters that have caused death. There is a wide range of uses for forensic computer animation, as forensic scientists work with investigators to gather all the relevant facts of a case and build a provable explanation of what happened and who might be at fault. There are many forensic events that can be useful to re-create in 3D, such as automobile or vehicular accidents, building, bridge or crane collapse, deadly assaults with weapons or the failure of a mechanical device that has caused a crash, explosion or fire.

To begin a forensic animation, facts must be compiled from as many sources as possible both investigative and scientific. Eyewitness accounts, photographs of the scene, statements from emergency responders and police detectives must be combined with reports from experts in relevant fields, such as weapons experts, engineers, scientists, forensic experts, etc. By combining all of the information from these sources it is possible to do a crime scene recreation or accident scene reconstruction.

Animators take these documents and use them to build accurate photo-realistic 3D models of all the necessary objects in a scene. Then the items are placed accurately within a 3D environment. Once the proper textures, surfaces and colors are added, decisions must be made regarding lighting and camera placement. In many cases, facts that have been turned into a realistic and accurate 3D forensic animation can help determine culpability. The advantage of building a 3D forensic animation of scenes and objects is that the camera can then move around the scene freely to show relevant information. This can be very helpful as demonstrative evidence in the courtroom as it can help jurors to more clearly understand the facts of the case.

Crude 3D computer animations run the risk of alienating jurors who have become accustomed to the ultra realistic computer graphics of film and video games. The most experienced forensic animators are skilled at visualizing factual information. By including every fact and detail and applying scientific data, engineering principles, mechanical expertise or other pertinent data, they can create a photo-realistic, believable scenario for jurors.

Thanks to the wide spread use of 3D animated computer graphics in television, film, video gaming, etc. jurors today will likely have expectations of a higher degree of realism. Crudely created animations will not be appealing or credible to an audience of jurors today. Poorly rendered animations by inexperienced animators have given this visual tool a bad reputation in some instances. Animators experienced in forensics will spend over half of their project hours researching and double checking the accuracy of the facts they are animating. The best forensic animators also understand a broad range of technical fields and can quickly assimilate information about new subjects and represent stated events accurately.

Because of our movie going experience with special effects, there is a pre-conceived notion that 3D animations are largely products of the animator's imagination. However, trained forensic animators spends as much as 70% of their project hours on tracking down and verifying the data they are using to re-create the scene. At each and every phase, from building the models and objects to the planned movement of those objects, and the environment they are shown in, every detail must relate and correspond directly with the investigative facts, eyewitness reports, photographs, and expert testimony.

All of these issues are easier to understand when presented with visual support, especially the data driven, realistic visuals that forensic animation uses. From civil suits to law enforcement and criminal cases, animated representations can go a long way toward improving the comprehension and retention of information for judges and juries. A crime scene recreation or accident depiction helps litigators bypass the influence of the jurors imagination of the events, replacing it in their minds with a factual, realistic video representation of the events with clarity and precision.

3D animation should only be created for use in the courtroom under the following circumstances. It must adhere to and support testimony of expert witnesses and that expert should be involved in the creation of the animation in its planning stages. The use of the animation must be disclosed in advance of the trial date, with enough time for the opponent to cross examine the evidence. The animator must be an objective party that fairly and accurately has conveyed the evidence as dictated by the expert witnesses and litigators.

Changes always impact the cost so it is important to have the objectives clear from the beginning. Changing the point of view of the camera slightly does not impact the cost as much as adding new elements to a scene or changing the scene or location altogether.

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