Successfully Utilizing Forensic Animation in Courtroom Proceedings

As our society becomes increasingly saturated with technology, jurors will expect the use of more complex and accurate visual aids in the courtroom. Jurors, especially of the younger generation, have come to count on visual media to augment their understanding of a topic. Eyewitness perspectives, cognitive memory, and perception of events and time are subject to intense examination by attorneys. Experienced lawyers are adept at using rhetoric and verbal manipulation to produce doubt about a witnesses credibility. Without the use of visual aids, many participants feel lost in the unfamiliar process of courtroom proceedings. Most witnesses are not prepared to counter highly trained cross-examination tactics. Once an accurate and compelling visual is presented, this edge diminishes significantly. Properly prepared visuals can give a witness more control, which is why animations are so vigorously attacked by opposing counsel. Most media outlets have already adopted the use of computer animation to present visual concepts, and it is only a matter of time before the technology gains wide acceptance in the legal profession.

To successfully use forensic animation, think of the technology as an evolution of the chalkboard. To an experienced practitioner, the process is not complex. A forensic animator presents visuals based on documented evidence and expert consultation. The particulars of a case determine the type of expert needed, but one should be utilized. Flashy camera moves and undocumented assets jeopardize an animations admissibility. Nothing should be presented without a solid foundation. In fact, the majority of a forensic animator’s time is spent documenting process and foundation. A forensic animator only needs to be an expert in the software used, and must be able to demonstrate the accuracy of the animation both in space (dimensions) and time (frames). At trial, a forensic animator should not have an opinion on what actually occurred, only that an event is possible in space and time.

For the purpose of admissibility, a final consideration is to not confuse computer animation with computer simulations. Computer simulations are different in that they present the computer calculations as the expert, not the user. The results of a computer process are presented as the opinion. These cases are extremely problematic and should be avoided at all costs. It is impossible, unless you own extremely sophisticated and expensive software, to input all the possible physical properties of objects and interactions that take place in space and time. NASA and the military have shown that even these sophisticated algorithms are subject to fail.

To get the most out of a forensic animation investment, hire someone who is both experienced in 3D software and trained in classical animation. This may seem unimportant, but classically trained animators are adept at making any objects movement look “real”. If movement looks real to jurors, it will be perceived as such. The human eye can perceive the slightest error in locomotion. Classically trained animators understand how objects move through space and time, and more importantly, how the human eye interprets these motions. It is the precise interpretation of events, realism and accuracy that make a great forensic animation. It does not make sense to spend thousands of dollars recreating a scene only to have someone walking around like a robot.

When used correctly, forensic animation can be a highly persuasive tool. It is currently available and affordable to the masses. As with any new technological investment, be sure to thoroughly research the options available. Looking into the future, courtroom technology is headed quickly on a path toward full event emersion. The ability to immerse jurors in any situation will complete our theoretical evolution of the chalkboard and allow participants to experience firsthand any event or perspective.