Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gamers vs. Scientists

Finally! Validation that all my years spent as a youth inside playing video games rather than taking in the fresh air and sunshine was actually a good decision. Apparently, gamers have done what scientists could not. They deciphered the structure of an AIDS-like virus by "playing" with the virus in 3-D space using a program called "Foldit" created by the University of Washington.

The Foldit software was created as a game for the purpose of having gamers compete against one another to finish puzzles. The puzzles in this case were chains o
f amino acids that needed - you guessed it - unfolding. When not "unfolded," amino acids and viruses look like blobs of spaghetti in a 2-D space. It's hard to see what's really going on and for scientists to develop cures, they need to know the structure of the virus.

According to Seth Cooper, one of Foldit's creators, the decision to let gamers take a crack at the virus was based on the idea that humans have intuitive spatial relationship skills that computers don't yet have. The result was a perfect balance of computer generated images that made seeing a microscopic object possible to the naked eye and human ingenuity that thought around the process.

This is just one example of how 3D space combined with human perception can yield incredible results. The same goes for the courtroom. Science and math are wonderful, but not everyone understands it. That's why there are years of schooling and often massive student debt required to get a piece of paper that says a person understands those subjects. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean lay people should abandon hope of understanding tough scientific concepts and ideas. The gamers that figured out the AIDS-like virus structure were not scientists, but yet by observing the virus visually in 3D space, they came up with a well-reasoned conclusion.

The same could be said for judges and juries. When faced with complex verbal explanations of complex ideas, jurors may often feel lost. They must then make decisions together based on separate, perhaps inaccurate, understandings of a subject. However, if those same jurors hear a step-by-step explanation accompanied by a 3D animation or a 2D visual, they will take away more from the information than they would left on their own. The added benefit is that all of the jurors see the same visual, so they can then discuss the issues from the same starting point. Without the groundwork or base of a visual, each juror must then come up with their own idea of how to visualize the subject matter in their minds resulting in different pictures. A lawyer's goal should be to get all of the decision-makers in a room on the same page by visualizing an argument or an explanation. When someone can see what you see, you're already closer to your goal of understanding. Just as gamers saw a problem visually in 3D and then figured out how to solve it even without fully understanding the science, so can jurors and judges understand complex ideas when presented with accompanying visuals.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Projection In The Courtroom

A new evolution for home theater has recently come about in the last few years since an increasing amount of 3D movies and are now available. Welcome, the 3D projector. 3D Projectors originally hit the market in 2008 mainly for educational purposes with a maximum high resolution of 720p. Then, in 2010 that changed with the first release of a 1080p model by LG. This meant that it could process signals from 3D-ready Blu-rays, Playstation 3, and could also handle multiple 3D formats. Some projectors can now even convert 2D content to 3D.

Unfortunately, these 3D projectors still require 3D glasses that must be worn in order to see a three-dimensional image. Remember the old red and blue style glasses? Well, those were the most basic way to achieve seeing this 3D effect, but also the poorest way for viewing 3D material. More modern glasses for the latest 3D technology use a different method through polarizing lenses (passive glasses) that filter the projector's light to each eye. The result is a very convincing 3D effect.

3D projectors achieve this effect by using active shutter glasses. This is a standard that will stay true for all future DLP 3D projectors. With these, the screen rapidly alternates between scenes intended for each eye while the glasses open and close the corresponding lenses. The only downside to this is that it causes a dimming effect on the image quality and the colors aren't as rich as they would be with watching content in standard 2D high definition.

As valuable as it is to use 3D projectors for educational purposes in classrooms, it would be just as valuable for educating a judge and jury in a courtroom (admissibility issues aside). Imagine a scenario where a crime or car accident happens. Immersing the viewers into the scene so that they have a much better sense of what is going on and what it almost feels like to be there would spark different thoughts than by just watching a standard 2D presentation. How would things change if 3D projectors that did not require glasses were available? Would that remove the feeling of viewing something through a frame? Perhaps it would enable the judge and jury to feel as if the incident is happening right in front of them?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Who Failed The Jury?

Although not so long ago, it seems like old news that a jury acquitted Casey Anthony of murdering her daughter. For what seemed like 15 min. of fame after the verdict was handed down, everyone in the legal community had an opinion about what happened.

Some thought that our justice system prevailed because she was in fact innocent, others thought that the justice system prevailed because regardless of guilt or innocence, the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" was not met by the prosecution. Yet others felt that regardless of technicalities, the jurors should have acted on what they felt and what the jurors felt was guilt. Guilt for acquitting Casey Anthony because of the guilt they felt emanating from Casey Anthony. The problem was that they could not hang that guilt on a nail of reason.

In an interview one of the jurors said, "I did not say she was innocent . . . I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be." The same juror also said, "It was because we were sick to our stomach to get that verdict. We were crying, and not just the women. It was emotional and we weren't ready. We wanted to do it with integrity and not contribute to the sensationalism of the trial." This reaction is unique. The jury went against their feelings and demanded that the prosecution prove the case with reason.

Perhaps the most shocking statement made by a juror was, "I'm not saying I believe the defense. Obviously, it wasn't proven so I'm not taking that and speculating at all. But it's easier for me logically to get from point A to point B via the defense argument." For a prosecutor this must be the worst kind of thing to hear. The jurors wanted to find her guilty, but because the prosecution did not present a story that was easy to follow, they couldn't. This sounds like a communication problem.

One more incredibly interesting piece of information is that apparently the defense used a Palm Beach graphics company to help them communicate visually to the jury. I have not seen these graphics, nor do I know if they were helpful to the jury. What I do know is that the end result is that apparently, despite the jurors not trusting Casey Anthony and wanting to find her guilty, the defense communicated better than the prosecution.

In the end a juror said, "If there was a dead child in that trunk, does that prove how she died? No idea, still no idea."

Conversely, the prosecution in an interview said when referencing some of the evidence, "What I've said all along is if a jury looks at that photograph and doesn't see it the way I do and doesn't know how she died, then so be it . . . I wouldn't have been involved in this case if I didn't think she did it."

Unfortunately, the juror is right. The misconception made by the prosecution as well as many attorneys is that feeling alone will get them from point A to point B. Yes, they showed a photo of a dead child in a trunk with duct tape on her mouth. This shows that the child was dead at the time the photos was taken. That's it. Yes, it's a visual piece of evidence, but it is not communicating in an effective visual way (see an earlier blog post for more detail about this).

Despite showing this photo, the prosecution did not explain how she died. The defense exploited this gap in the reasoning and widened it enough so that the jurors could not logically make the leap from point A to point B. The missing step is that an attorney can't just put up a photo and have it speak for itself. The attorney needs a story as well as a proper visual (perhaps a timeline or geographical diagram connected to the photo) to explain that photo. Moreover, the attorneys needs to use that photo as part of a larger visual communication strategy that incorporates storytelling. The story needs to link pieces together so that a juror can follow along. The one repeated comment by the jurors is that the prosecution did not do this. They paraded their visual evidence, but did not tie it together in a way that explained what happened.

I am interested to see how yet another potential emotions vs. reason trial plays out in the State v. Murray trial.

Michael Jackson's doctor has definitely made quite a few enemies in the public eye. He allegedly negligently caused the death of one of the greatest musicians of all time. Not much is known about the evidence in that trial, but if juries couldn't find an alleged child murderer guilty, then the prosecution might have a harder time nailing Dr. Murray. I, for one, will be watching closely to see if the prosecution puts together a cohesive story that the jurors can follow. If they're on their game, they hopefully have some visual communication strategy already lined up.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bad 3d Makes for Bad Law

Ever have someone offer you help and it actually just made things worse? You know, “I'll help you move” and the person "helping" is now inadvertently scraping the wooden legs of your couch against the new paint on the hallway wall. Sometimes hiring graphic artists can be like that. Graphic artists, court reporters or engineers will tell lawyers that they are "committed to helping you present your case in the most compelling, memorable manner possible." While compelling and memorable are very important to a legal visual presentation, more important is that the presentation of evidence be admissible. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and money.

This is exactly why my company assigns lawyers to consult as project managers for the legal visual communication projects we undertake. A lawyer, trained and practiced in evidence, understands the difference between a substantive presentation designed to persuade at a mediation … versus a presentation used as a pedagogical device at trial to teach principles explaining complex expert testimony … versus a silly inadmissible Hollywood-style dramatic visual presentation created for entertainment value.

The bottom line is that non-lawyers who create visuals for litigation do not (and for good reason should not) understand the rules of evidence or the practice of law. This is true even though the non-lawyers happen to spend a lot of their time in a courtroom, like court reporters. Because they do not possess a thorough grasp of the rules of evidence, and because they don't understand precisely why certain evidence must be shown in a particular way, trial lawyers who hire these individuals need to spend more time with the non-lawyer graphic designer to ensure admissibility of the final animation.

The focus of any legal graphic, especially a 3D animation, needs to be on relevant, professional, educational visual communication, instead of visceral, manipulative, visual entertainment. A trial lawyer, reviewing 3D animations (ones created for you or for your opponent), must pay close attention to the following:

Camera angle choices - why did the visual designer choose a particular camera angle? Does that make the presentation of the information more persuasive or more manipulative? Does it make the graphic more admissible or less admissible at trial?

Sound effects - Honestly, I don't ever see a need to use sound effects – they are silly, distracting, irrelevant, and manipulative. Nonetheless, I have seen lawyers (and graphic consultants) stand before a roomful of CLE attendees proudly presenting PowerPoint presentations and animations with sound effects … without a hint of any awareness of the impropriety. The one exception to the use of sound might be if a sound is being used as a demonstration of the actual sound heard by a witness. But then it would not be an effect, rather, a demonstration (with its own admissibility hurdles to overcome).

Flashes of light or flying objects - Flying or flashing things are usually used to create dramatic Hollywood style effects. Unless there is a science to the randomness of the way in which objects fly through the air (like electrons in a mechanical device), such things ought to be left out of an animation (or objected to as manipulative and irrelevant).

Motion blur effects - These effects are used by Hollywood to imply speed or dizziness. Such effects are not relevant and unduly prejudicial, making the jury (the viewer) feel a certain way -- as opposed to illustrating the evidence in a fair and accurate, (or sometimes, scientifically accurate way).

Particle effects – These are used to replicate air or liquid movement such as in an explosion. Unless an expert will be authenticating the visual depiction of the explosion as a fair and accurate representation, it is extraneous and probably prejudicial/inadmissible.

For a great example of precisely how not to develop a 3D presentation, and the highly inappropriate use of all of the above methods, look at the first example on this website ( of a 3D animation of a truck accident -- complete with sound effects, flying objects and particle effects.

Lawyers should use 3D animations when the third dimension actually helps to convey information that cannot be explained in another better way. Bad 3D animations make for bad law. Unfortunately, they also may adversely impact the ability of prosecutors and trial lawyers to use properly created, appropriate, and admissible 3D animations in the future.