April 10, 2014

Animate: Give Your Jurors Three Dimensions, or More

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm: 

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In an age when Americans spend a stunning 11 hours every day, on average, interacting with digital media, the idea that it is somehow enough in the courtroom for trial lawyers to simply use the power of words or a few static images is becoming increasingly dated. If you really want to engage, you should give jurors something to watch, including all three dimensions plus motion and time. Psyblog recently shared some amazing brain imaging and animations showing brain structure and activity. For this post, I am going to shamelessly borrow those clips (embedded below with appropriate thanks to their creators and, to the always interesting, Jeremy Dean for calling them out). What I hope to add is a contextual focus on how these fare as demonstratives in litigation.

In trial, we know that demonstrative exhibits are often seen as playing a secondary role: second to evidence and second to the verbal explanation. The higher-end animations, however, are often an even more distant second (or third, or fourth) to exhibits that can be created more simply or more cheaply. Understanding that not all, or even most, cases will be able to afford or to merit the higher-end demonstrative animations, it is still worth it to pay attention to the state of the art and to think about how this technology can be brought to bear when it matters most. The good news is that creating sophisticated graphics is easier and cheaper than it has ever been before. Laptops now surpass what the best production workstations could have created in earlier times. A skilled computer animator can take an idea from design to execution in less time and expense than you might think. So let’s take a look at some of these new brain images as an example of what modern imaging and animation can bring to today’s courtroom. 

[Note, those of you subscribers who receive this post by email, I understand that the post just includes a blank space where the video would otherwise be, so I’ve included a link in each heading].

1. The Electric Brain
(A 3-D brain showing electrical connectivity in the brain, Glass Brain Project, Adam Gazzaley: Link

  • It is easy to imagine something like this being used in a brain injury case to show damage and reduced activity in a particular area. 
  • The clip uses color in a meaningful way: gold is fiber tracts, and each of the other colors represents a different frequency band.
  • The slow rotation gives viewers a sense of perspective and makes it clear what they are seeing.
  • It is literal and not just figurative: The measurements were taken via MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) on a live subject.
  • It pulls the viewer inside the brain for a closer look. 

2. The Mouse’s Mind, Unsliced
(A 3-D tour of a mouse brain, National Institute of Mental Health: Link)

  • In litigation, how the graphic was created is often as important as what it shows. In this case, the clip is showing a technique that was previously available only for thin-sliced tissue. 
  • Like the previous video, this one also uses rotation (to establish perspective) before pulling the viewer into the image. 
  • In this case, the design also imposes a 3-D rectangular box over the brain in order to prevent the viewer from getting lost while moving through the image. 
  • Because the mouse’s brain is a little flat and spread out, it may not read immediately as the spherical “brain” that viewers expect to see. For that reason, it might be even better if it started within the outline of a mouse skull, just to give viewers a reference point. 

3.  The Neurotransmitting Synapse
(A 3-D illustration of Neuron and electrochemical transmission, The Human Brain, DK Publishing, via Alex Ivanov: Link)

  • This animation is useful in conveying the complexity that is often needed in illustrating expert opinion. 
  • It gives the viewer more than one thing to look at, focusing not just on one neuron and one reaction, but initially giving the viewer the sense that these reactions are happening constantly throughout the system. 
  • As recommended for the first two videos above, this one begins with the human head and brain before zooming in. You can see how this gives viewers a reference point. 
  • The “whooshing” sound effects are a little fanciful and likely wouldn’t be allowed in court, but in this context it helps to convey the feelings of intense activity and power. 

4. This is Your Brain on Cocaine
(A 3-D illustration showing how the drug affects the user’s brain, BBC: Link)

  • This style of animation would be a natural for a pharmaceutical case, explaining complex effects or side effects in a memorable way. 
  • Setting aside the narration and interview (less likely to be allowed in court), the illustrations themselves are incredibly detailed and involving. 
  • What would be an abstract chemical explanation becomes immediately understandable via this clip. 
  • For litigation purposes, the speed of some of these transitions could be too quick. In addition to making viewers a little dizzy, it could also prove to be a challenge for the expert or the attorney who is narrating it. Building in natural “pause points” could also help facilitate explanation. 

It is worth noting that, since some of the clips draw from actual brain imaging, these graphics have the potential to blur the line between imaging and animation, and also between demonstrative and substantive evidence. It is a good reminder that whenever creating or adapting this kind of imagery for the courtroom, it helps to have the graphic artist work side by side with the expert witness. 

Looking at some of the related videos that YouTube associates with each of these, it is clear that there are many great examples out there, particularly in medical contexts. But the use of high-end animations is not by any means limited to medical injury cases. Any case that needs to engage jurors (and judges too) and facilitate an understanding of complex interactions or relationships can benefit from an animator’s work. 

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Other Posts on Animation: 

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Image Credit:  Valerie Everett, Flickr Creative Commons

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