Benefits of Professional Multimedia Production
for Training and Litigation 
Alexander S. Houston 

Noted media effects theorist Marshall McLuhan is famous for saying "the medium is the message."  Generally this means that media-rich communication is likely to present a more complete and convincing message than a message transmitted using only one or two media.  While it is important to note that all communication is open to some degree of interpretation, multimedia can be a powerful tool for training and litigation. 

PowerPoint is an adequate tool for creating simple and effective presentations, but often litigators and trainers need better quality audio and video than desktop presentation programs can reliably handle.  Producing effective video and multimedia is a complex process involving conceptualization, pre-production planning, production, and post-production (editing).  Production "houses" have the expertise to create clear and effective media based on the client needs ("client" defined here as the attorney or organization hiring the production company).  Seasoned professionals can spot bottlenecks and problems well before amateurs, and possess the knowledge, experience, and tools to overcome these obstacles.  Therefore, hiring a video or multimedia production company is always a best practice. 

The choice of delivery format and genre of program depends entirely upon the application.  For litigation involving personal injury, videotape evidence of a "slice of life" illustrating how an incident affects a plaintiff's quality of life can provide convincing evidence to a jury.  Video allows the jury to experience a victim's life outside the courtroom and may help them empathize.  This author has direct experience with a personal injury case where video of an accident scene and post-trauma recovery played an instrumental role in winning a settlement for the client.  "Slice of life" evidence, when presented tastefully and objectively, can be powerful and nearly incontrovertible evidence for a judgment in favor of the injured client. 

Three-dimensional (3D) computer animation can be a powerful tool for illustrating forensic or scientific evidence.  Today, software gives an animator extremely detailed control over the virtual environment, and allows the graphic artist to model objects down to the millimeter and beyond.  Most, if not all of them, offer some form of physics simulation.  These programs can realistically recreate accident scenes, body parts, and environmental variables, allowing a jury to visualize the circumstances surrounding and leading up to an event before it happens.  However, as with all artistic renderings, computer animations are subject to interpretation, and the rendering is only as good as the data provided to the artist.  Realism, accuracy, and precision are of paramount importance. 

Multimedia is also an extremely powerful tool for training.  Video and computer animation can show trainees dangerous situations and take them into places they could not go in a classroom setting.  Two and three-dimensional animation can illustrate difficult concepts (such as complex relational math) in ways that are impossible on a static whiteboard.  Additionally, the social use of motion pictures as storytelling media makes them ideal for behavioral "soft-skills" training.  Carefully crafted dramatic vignettes are excellent primers for classroom discussions about topics such as sexual harassment and workplace ethics, and can provide models for appropriate behavior. 

While videotape is still widely used as a delivery format, the combination of high quality video and powerful interactive capabilities of DVD (digital versatile disc) makes it a powerful new tool in the corporate learning space.  On DVD, trainers can combine the text and still graphics of a slide show with extremely high-resolution video and animations that would not run reliably in a PowerPoint presentation.  DVD is also cheaper than videotape to manufacture, costing as little as $1.00 per disc to replicate.  However, unlike PowerPoint or other presentation software, DVD authoring requires special software, hardware, and training, as well as skilled interface designers and programmers. 

As with all media-rich communication, aesthetic appeal, or "production value," is extremely important.  The axiom "you get what you pay for" nearly always applies.  Lighting, camera angles, and post-production techniques all play key roles in creating effective messages.  Generally, a good ballpark estimate for a production budget is between one and three thousand dollars per finished minute of video. 

In terms of video, a good videographer with his or her own camera and light package will usually charge between $350-$700 per day.  Union members are typically twice as expensive and are not known for being flexible on location, but they have a guaranteed level of expertise and are extremely reliable.  Postproduction houses typically rent edit suite time for between $150-$500 per hour, depending on the capabilities of the room.  Some facilities have their own editors, in which case the editor's rate is usually included.  A good freelance non-union editor can charge upwards of $50 per hour, not including the suite rate. 

Usually more expensive, 3D animation typically runs around $100-$150 per finished second of standard television resolution (NTSC) animation.  This figure can change drastically depending on the complexity of the animation and detail of the render.  For example, a freelance animator would typically charge about $3,000 for a thirty-second animation of a motor vehicle collision with three camera angles and very basic colors.  However, adding additional details such as reflections, glare, and other factors that may be important to the case may double the cost…or more. 

As digital technology continues to improve, these costs will go down.  Time is another consideration.  For small-scale productions, a safe estimate is three to five business days of preproduction, production, and postproduction per finished minute of video.  Both time and cost increase in direct proportion to production value.  Often, many of these prices are negotiable and most producers, videographers, editors, and animators take a great deal of pride in their work.  In a good business relationship, they will often go the extra mile to satisfy their client. 

Alexander S. Houston is a Producer with MetaMedia Training International, Inc. in Germantown, Maryland.

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