Forensic animation is a branch of forensic science in which audio-visual recreations of incidents or accidents are created to aid investigators. Examples include the use of computer animation, stills, and other audio visual aids. Application of computer animation in courtrooms today is becoming more popular.
The first use of computer animation in a U.S. criminal trial was in the 1991 Marin County, CA homicide trial of James Mitchell (of the porno-businessman Mitchell Brothers). The animation was created by crime scene analyst and pioneering forensic animation expert Alexander Jason who produced the animation for the prosecution to explain the complex details of the shooting incident to the jury. It showed the positions of James Mitchell, Artie Mitchell (the victim), the bullet impact points, and the path taken by bullets as they entered Artie's body. The animation was admitted, over objection by the defense, and was used effectively to obtain a conviction. The use of the animation was upheld on appeal and the success of Alexander Jason's forensic animation led to its use in many other trials.
The basic objective of the animation is to portray or convey a scene which might otherwise be hard to visualize. The use of animation is evolving along with the forensic science. Since the animation has already been used to enhance presentation for cases, some companies, such as think about animation as a futuristic necessity. The role of animation can be applied to situations such as car accidents, a homicide showing penetration of an object into the skull, etc. Occasionally, companies can provide any person involved in the case with said visual information to better the person’s idea of what occurred, which does not necessarily have to be shown in court to a jury. The types of specific details the animation intends to explore are those revolving around timing, perspective, distance/position and process/mechanism of either an object or a person involved in the ordeal. This form of visual testimony is also key in providing the audience with a tool to remember what occurred. The visual stimulation can allow viewers to remember what they saw in court better, to place them in the perspective of the victim, or to enhance the presentation of the speaker.
The software used for this type of animation is also the same used for major films in the movie industry. To be physically realistic, an animation needs to be created by someone with a knowledge of physics, dynamics and (preferably) engineering. When animations are used in a courtroom setting, they should be carefully scrutinized. Animation software can be easily misused, because motions which are not physically possible can be displayed. A reliable animation must be based on physical evidence and calculations which embody the laws of physics, and the animation should only be used to demonstrate in a visual fashion the underlying calculations made by the expert analyzing the case. This accurate type of software animation is called substantive animation, and is similar to that used in regards to evidence in general, in that evidence is conducted using both substantive and demonstrative evidence. Whereas a substantive animation would show that it required data to be collected and inputted into a software program, and also contained substantial research to refine its accuracy, a demonstrative animation would just work to show how something either could allegedly happen or did happen by providing the visual.
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 immersion. 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.