Knott Laboratory provides forensic engineering and animation, Civil & Structural, and Fire & Explosion Investigation services to reconstruct accidents.

Effective Visualizations that Don’t Break the Bank

Effective verbal communication alone is not the most effective means for jurors to comprehend and retain information.


Published April 7, 2020

By William H. Pierce, P.E.

Juries consist of people with diverse educational backgrounds, learning styles, and beliefs. As such, engineering expert testimony should be presented in such a way in which every jury member, regardless of educational background, learning style, and belief structure, can fully comprehend the expert’s opinions rendered and empower each juror to reach their own conclusions based on the expert testimony.

Considering that only approximately 5 percent of the population have engineering backgrounds, engineering experts must have the skills to effectively communicate complex technical issues to non-engineers when providing expert testimony. Such effective communication methods include offering concise simplification of technical concepts, providing analogies to common real-world experiences, and the proper use of body language, eye-contact, and vocal tone/inflection to build rapport and maintain the attention of the jurors.

However, effective verbal communication, alone, is not the most effective means for jurors to comprehend and retain information. Retention is especially important in the cases where an engineering expert testifies on the first day of a multi-day trial. Scientific studies have shown that generally, people more effectively comprehend and retain descriptive knowledge when graphics and visualizations are combined with verbal descriptions than verbal descriptions alone. Therefore, the use of graphics and scientific visualizations, in conjunction with effective verbal communication, can bolster juror’s comprehension and retention of the expert’s testimony.


While graphics and scientific visualizations are extremely effective in the presentation of engineering opinions, many attorneys understandably face budget constraints and therefore, are hesitant on requesting such services. While it’s true that fully rendered photorealistic animations are best suited for high stake cases, it is a common misconception that all visualizations require substantial budgets. With advances in computational power and simulation software, effective scientific visualizations can be created even under tight budgets.

In general, vehicle accidents are reconstructed based on the evaluation of physical evidence and principles of Newtonian physics. Hand calculations are often performed to reconstruct impact speeds and delta-vs. After quality hand calculations are performed, the accident can easily be simulated using scientifically validated physics software, PC-Crash. Simulation of the accident provides a means of validating hand calculations, thereby strengthening the analysis, solidifying the admissibility of the analysis in the court, and preventing embarrassing miscalculations that can result in the loss of a case.

While simulations provide a means of validating hand calculations, they also provide a means to quickly generate scientific visualizations and graphics.  Therefore, simulations provide a cost-effective one-two punch in strengthening a case. Once a simulation is completed, a bare-bone scientific visualization can be created in a matter of minutes for any camera angle (Example 1).

With only a few hours of work, realistic vehicles can be imported into the simulation and objects such as trees, bushes, light posts, and houses.  Alternatively, backplates using scene or site photographs can be used to create more realistic scenes (Example 2).

In summary, exporting scientific visualizations directly from PC-Crash is an economical alternative to the production of high-end animations that are created using simulation data and rendered in traditional animation packages. The creation of scientific visualizations directly from PC-Crash is best suited for low-budget cases, whereas the creation of high-end animations is best suited for high-budget, high stakes cases.