Crime Scenes


Criminal law is interesting work, and I consider myself lucky to have learned about the process from an outsider’s perspective. In the past five years, Fat Pencil Studio has helped on numerous criminal cases—just a handful at first, but in 2016 we worked on ten, including seven murder cases. Whoa, what happened? Did criminal defense attorneys suddenly realize they need flashy graphics to win at trial? Of course not. In fact, many of the visuals we create are never used in court. Instead, we are now working with litigation teams very early in a case, using 3d graphics to improve understanding and collaboration.

Consider this: most important cases require a team of attorneys, investigators, expert and lay witnesses to serve one or more clients. Each of these individuals will develop detailed but varied knowledge over the course of their work on a case. Sharing that knowledge is challenging. Gaps in expertise, time, and attention lead to imperfect communication and interpretation of case details. When used correctly, 3d visualization can dramatically improve a litigation team’s shared understanding of what went down at the scene of a crime.

Here’s an outline of our process:

1. Review all relevant discovery (including photos, video, laser scans, drawings, and witness accounts) and collect additional information (if possible) about physical layout of scene.

2. Create a baseline visual story comprised of individual snapshots showing key actors moving through an accurate (but low-detail) 3d model of the scene.

3. Share model with core team using real-time 3d visualization to test different witness accounts and theories for what happened.

4. Deliver snapshots of model that can be used by attorneys and investigators to gather more details and improve shared understanding with clients and witnesses.

5. Add new details to model and repeat steps 3-5 as needed.

On first consideration you might think of such images as a nice “extra” for trial: pretty pictures to help convince a jury to go along with your story. Our experience is that the real value of 3d visualization is unlocked when it is used to provide a framework for interpreting details and discussing strategy. Now you have a tool that lets you see definitive answers to questions like “what could she see from her location?” or “what if he was holding the gun in the other hand?” And perhaps more importantly, you can quickly share your current thinking about an issue with any colleague, without a lengthy explanation, or miscommunication. This is a game changer, and we are excited to be part of the process.


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio