Cost Factors of Forensic Animations

In the past, many companies were quoting animations based on a dollar per second rate for finished footage and there appears to be a trend away from this method of pricing. Part of the reason is that the amount of work involved in producing one second of animation can vary enormously depending on what is required and the level of realism. The advances in computer visualization technology available today are mainly responsible for the widening gap between what was possible and what is possible today.

The best thing one can do is educate themselves on what parts of the animation process are the most time intensive and where they can expect to pay the most (or least) for the requirements.

Below is a breakdown of several cost factors that are “tangible”. As with any outsourced service, you also pay for reputation, experience and overhead costs, but these are more difficult to quantify. The greatest cost in a forensic animation is the number of man-hours required to prepare, assemble, edit and finalize the animation. Since vehicle collisions are the most common forensic animations, most of the examples used below will reflect this particular example, however, the process and cost factors are more or less the same regardless if the animation being produced is of a crime scene, personal injury case, or medical procedure.

1. Information Gathering and Preparation

During the initial stages of a forensic animation, it is imperative that the animator be brought up to speed on the details of the case. This often means that all photos, video, drawings and reports must be provided to the animator and they must subsequently go through all the materials of the case. Initially, it is helpful to bring the animator into the initial discussions about the trial strategy and what is the objective of the animation. Further, it is useful to have the animator contact the accident Reconstructionist as applicable to go over details of the accident report and if there will be any transfer of other data such as a digital site survey or simulation data.

Where applicable, the animator may be required to travel to the location of where an accident or crime may have occurred. This is to obtain subsequent images and information that may not have been obtained or was not available in the existing scene materials or reports.

2. 3D Models – Recreating the scene assets.

Normally, it is very rare that a forensic animator can reuse the main 3D models in a scene. In the case of an automobile collision, there could be some “standard” 3D models reused such as a stop sign, traffic lights or electrical poles, but there are often times when even these smaller objects must also be built from scratch in order to obtain the highest level of realism.

There are typically three types of 3D models in a forensics animation. These are classified by their level of importance, accuracy and necessary level of detail. Primary objects are those that are directly involved in the animation. Think of them as your primary characters. Secondary objects are those which may not be directly involved, but their movement or relative position plays some part in making the animation accurate or credible. Tertiary objects are those which are strictly for the benefit of visualization and do not play a direct role in the animation. An example could be a tree off in the distance which would not affect the animation if it were removed except for the level of realism.

Creating accurate and realistic primary 3D models is still a time intensive task which has not changed very much over the years. The quality of the models and options associated with the level of realism are greater and therefore, there is an equivalent amount of time required to create the models. Where possible, it may be possible to purchase an existing 3D model and tailor it to suit the needs of the animation. This should only be done when the accuracy of the model is not a requirement and it may be a secondary or tertiary object in the scene.

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