This Art is Judged in Court. Widener Graduate’s Company Assists Legal Arguments
By Bill Yingling Staff reporter
Between the diverse worlds of law and art, Kenneth Lopez has found his niche. He graduated from Widener University School of Law in 1995. But he’s not a lawyer. Although he creates visual image, he says he’s not an artist. He considers himself a translator, speaking the two languages of law and art. And, after graduating from law school, Lopez saw it as a talent and an opportunity. “Knowing both, I could bring the two worlds together that weren’t coming together,” he said.
Lopez, a native of Alexandria, Va., who lived in Greenville during his time at Widener, owns a rapidly growing company in the Washington D.C. area, Animators at Law Inc. The firm makes computer-animation videos for litigants to use as evidence in lawsuits. These are no primitive two-dimensional cartoons. They are elaborate visuals, using the same kind of technology employed in the movies “Jurassic Park” and “Toy Story.” The smooth, occasionally life-like images are intended to help lawyers and expert witnesses prove their points to judges – and sometimes to adversaries. One of Lopez’s animations, for example, played a pivotal role in a complex medical-malpractice case in Delaware several years ago. During law school, Lopez was a clerk for a Wilmington lawyer Bruce Hudson, who represented a local woman who was sterilized by her doctor. After a woman delivered a son at Christiana Hospital, the doctor said he needed to remove the patient’s uterus and an ovary to save her life. The patient accused the doctor of negligence. Before the case went to trial a second time, Lopez prepared an animation illustrating Hudson’s case. Hudson said he showed it to the doctor’s insurance company. He planned to use it as evidence. The case was scheduled to go to court on Monday, Hudson said. But the parties reached a settlement the Friday before. Powerful visual images helped bring about the agreement and averted more courtroom argument, Hudson said. “ I think it played a major part in that they knew that the jury would ultimately see that,” he said. “ I felt it was very persuasive.”
Lopez said he wanted to be a lawyer from the time he was in second grade. But he also was interested in technology. He taught himself computer animation as a hobby during law school. After graduation, Lopez saw that, by starting the animation business, he could continue to pursue his hobby and make money working in the legal industry. The business has immersed him in the kind of high-profile cases he believes he would have taken 20 years to get involved in, had he stayed on a traditional legal track. His company recently prepared a 10-minute video for a case stemming from the 1996 ValuJet plane crash in the Florida Everglades. It synchronizes cockpit audio with animated images of the plane. “ It was a powerful, chilling and disturbing,” Lopez said. Hudson said computer animations are sophisticated tools that help lawyers communicate with juries. But he noted that, legally, they are merely extensions of the artist renderings that lawyers used before the digital age. Showing the images in court is governed by rules of evidence. For example, Lopez said that, to qualify as a “ simulation” under federal rules, a visual must make a prediction or calculations based on the known facts – a strict standard. As a result, he said, animations often are only scenes or images reflecting someone’s opinion. A simulation tries to reach a conclusion on its own. Animation does not. Nevertheless, animations can be expensive. Hudson said the visual for the Delaware case, although only about three minutes long, cost about $10,000. He expects that prices will drop with the cost of computer software. Lopez said that today, many of his clients are big corporations that can afford the kind of quality animations his firm produces. “ That makes up for the bulk of our clientèle,” he said.
Copyright 1998, The News Journal Co.