A blog about scientific and medical visualization and all that’s involved.

Archive for April, 2009

Interview with Jim Hoerricks

Posted by Janet on April 22, 2009

While working on a project, my internet search took me to a blog called “Forensic Photoshop.” Being a long time fan of forensics and a user of Photoshop, I was curious to find out more about the author behind this blog. It turned out to be Jim Hoerricks, a forensic image/video analyst who not only writes a blog, but is also the author of a book by the same name. I contacted Mr. Hoerricks two weeks ago and he immediately agreed to an e-mail interview.


me: “First, could you tell me a little about you and what you do with the LAPD? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?”

Jim Hoerricks: I’ve always been into art, the process of creation, crafting, designing, and so forth. I started out as an artist/designer. My first gallery showing and sale was in the 8th grade (some valuable lessons in contracting were learned there). I started out with art as a business in my shared flat in college, doing flyers for parties and so forth. I got a graphics job on campus that later lead to the editor’s job with the college’s daily newsletter.

Over time, I built up a client base. My primary function, my position with my clients, is to find out what they need and deliver it on-time and at a value that they and I can both afford. I’ve done everything from menu boards, to ad sheets, to Excel applications. Later on, with the advent of things like Microsoft Publisher, clients brought their art departments in house to save money. Some came back after a while. I still maintain a small list of clients whose accounts are more like personal relationships than business.

In 2001, I was offered the chance to join the LAPD as a civilian specialist and start the Forensic Image/Video Analysis lab. It took a few years of chasing down funding and equipment, writing SOPs, and whatnot, but I eventually got it all going.

To answer the “is this something that you’ve always wanted to do” question, I’d have to say no … inasmuch as the job, the technology didn’t exist to exploit images the way that we analysts do until I was already in college. Even then, I wasn’t aware of what was happening in the industry. I simply love to create, love the challenge of crafting something new. There’s a lot of technical cross-over between my background and this new industry … so it just fit. It just made sense. I could edit on an Avid, on Premiere, and Vegas … and these are the primary tools for a forensic analyst. Then there’s Photoshop. Everyone uses Photoshop, which is my real strong point. Then I can bring in all of the other software and hardware tools … and the Workflow was born.

me: “I’m sure when many people hear about your job, the first thing they want to know is “how close does it resemble forensic TV dramas such as CSI and NCIS.” Is your job as exciting as what we see on TV?”

Jim Hoerricks:
There is no “CSI” button, obviously. 🙂 The question is valid, and there is a “CSI Effect,” but I think of it in terms of another challenge. Instead of sitting by bemoaning the fact that these shows exist and people watch them, I look to them for research into what juries expect. If a jury expects to see a face resolved from a reflection in a nearby window, and I can resolve the image … great. If not, I can tell the story, my testimony, as if I was within that “CSI” episode. “In CSI, the latent prints are lifted from the whole car in a matter of minutes. Fade to black, off to commercial, and when you return, there’s a match … the reality is much different.” Then I explain why.

Is the job as exciting as TV? No. An unfortunate “side effect” of the work is vicarious trauma, the trauma that your brain endures as you watch (helplessly) as bad things happen to real people, over and over again. In one murder case, I watched the footage over 500 times during the course of my work. It has an adverse effect on your mental health. The trauma can lead to things like depression and PTSD if not recongnized and mitigated. Thankfully, I’ve got a former client who’s an expert in this area. He’s helped tremendously.

I don’t think people realize that there is a psychological difference between watching Arnold blow up a town on TV (then seeing him as Governor later in the day) and stepping around an actual dead body or watching someone actually get hurt on video. Remember the Faces of Death videos from the 80’s? Remember the public’s reaction? There is a difference.

(comment: I couldn’t agree more that there is definitely a greater distinction between the real work and TV drama than many people might realize. It makes me cringe whenever an illustrator delivers facial reconstruction in minutes, and *computers* magically reconstructs accidents without much input on the part of the visual specialist. I think sometimes it is difficult for people to grasp what we do because many don’t realize that sometimes the simplest images require months of preparation and research to produce. However, Mr. Hoerricks brings up a good point that TV is something that a lot of people relate to. So next time we see something impossible on TV, instead of thinking “this is impossible,” maybe we should think instead “how can we make this possible?”)

me: “What are some of the challenges you have come across in your work?”

Jim Hoerricks: The biggest challenge is staying on top of technology. As an example, every time Adobe comes out with an upgrade to the Creative Suite, it costs me a couple of thousand dollars. I’ve then got to find a way to pay for it.

People just assume that these things happen somewhere, by someone. But budgets, priorities, and finding time for things like a life and family all add up.

(comment: Indeed, equipment is expensive and it’s all a big balancing act. I was a bioengineering major before, and I didn’t realize how much more it costs to become an illustrator compared to becoming a scientist. Textbook costs are nothing compared to the Adobe Create Suite, and there appears to be such a limited source of funding for travel. I am jealous of my friends in engineering who get all their conference fees and travel expenses covered for by the school. I would love to attend every single conference that’s relevant to what I do in order to stay on top of the trend, but we simply cannot.)

me: “Can you name one thing you do that sounds fascinating but is in fact very mindless and repetitive?”

Jim Hoerricks: There’s very little that’s repetitive. Every case is unique. Different recorders, different lighting, different circumstances, different law being broken, and so forth. Having a set of procedures and a Workflow helps keep everything in order and keep me on track.

(comment: I used to draw insect anatomy every day for a year and people would ask the same thing:) No, it did not get repetitive.)

me: “You have a website, a blog, and a book called Forensic Photoshop. Are some Photoshop techniques unique to the field of forensics?”

Jim Hoerricks: They really aren’t. Photoshop wasn’t written for forensics. I’ve just taken what I know from the design/photography world and applied it to forensics. Sometimes, there are those who disagree with a particular technique, like dodging/burning for example. But it can be done in such a way that preserves the original, happens on its own layer, and does not change the content or context of the image. It can also be documented and explained to the jury … so I’m comfortable with it.

A friend at Adobe told me once that there are over 7 million “consumer” photographers and about a million professional photographers in the world. That’s a big customer base for Photoshop. There are less than 100k potential customers in “forensics” at this time. They really like us and support us as much as they can, but the art/photography world rules the day as far as Photoshop is concerned.

me:Did you ever encounter any ethical or legal issues with enhancing and manipulating images? One can argue that the more you manipulate an image, the more it deviates from the original. Does a manipulated image lose its validity in court?”

Jim Hoerricks: Words have specific meaning. It depends on what you mean by “manipulate.” Here’s how I would explain it. An underexposed image … nothing to see … all darkness. Is it useless? Not hardly. With Photoshop’s tools, I can potentially correct the exposure, adding light to the image. Did I manipulate it? Yes, of course. Did I add anything? Certainly, I added light. Did I change the content or context? No. I only added light to assist the judge and jury in ascertaining the contents of the image. Open the door to a dark room and turn on the lights. What did you do? Did the process of turning on the lights arrange the room as you see it? No. It merely increased your ability to resolve the details in the room. So you see, it all depends on how you define things.

I want to thank Jim Hoerricks again for this interview and his quick response. To view his blog and learn more about him, visit and

Posted in digital 2D/3D, forensics, interviews | Leave a Comment »

Health Concerns with Postures and Back Pains

Posted by Janet on April 10, 2009

Postures and back pains are big concerns for many illustrators due to the sedentary nature of their work. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the importance of good posture until it’s too late. When it comes to back pains, prevention is the best medicine. Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the topic radiography college, offers advice below on how to minimize back problems.

Health Concerns with Postures and Back Pains
Research tells us that it is one of the leading causes for absenteeism in the workplace and that it ranks fifth in the list of hospital expenditures in the United States. Back pain is more often than not caused by bad posture rather than a result of an accident or an injury. Many of us are unaware of the dangers of slouching or sitting without adequate and correct support for our spines. In fact, the very act of being seated is a strain on our backs. And with most us leading sedentary lifestyles combined with working at jobs that require us to be seated for the better part of the day, is it any wonder that we’re prone to back aches that could easily turn out to be debilitating if we’re not careful.

When you don’t pay attention to your posture when you stand and when you don’t accord importance to providing adequate support for your back when you sit, you’re putting added strain on your muscles along the spinal cord. If this becomes a regular habit, you’re likely to suffer from various medical complications like constricted blood vessels and nerves and affected muscles, discs and joints. While some back pains are not too unbearable, if your discs are affected, it could end up necessitating major surgery.

If you want to minimize the chances of a bad back, here’s what you need to do:

  • Maintain the right posture, when sitting, standing or lying down.
  • You don’t have to stand at attention; it’s enough if you follow the natural S curve of your spine with your chin parallel to the ground.
  • If you’re standing for a long time, shift your weight around from one foot to the other. If possible, rest one foot on a small elevation like a stool for a while.
  • Don’t bend over a desk or table to read or look at something that’s on the surface. Instead, bring the material level with your eye. If it’s something you cannot move, sit down and take a look at it.
  • Get an ergonomic chair that supports your back.
  • Use a chair that has armrests and a straight back.
  • Rest your feet completely on the floor when seated, with your knees slightly above the level of your thighs.
  • Don’t sit in the same position for periods longer than 20 or 30 minutes. Get up, take a small walk, and then return to your desk.
  • Remove bulky objects from your back pockets before you sit down.
  • If you’re lying down, it’s best to curl up on your side with a pillow between your knees. If you’re lying on your back, use a pillow under your knees, and if on your stomach, use a small pillow under your abdomen.
  • Use a mattress that supports your back, preferably something that’s not too soft.
  • When bending to pick up objects, it’s best to bend at the knees rather than at the back. This way, the strain is on your thighs and not on your back.
  • Carry heavy objects close to your chest.
  • If you’re carrying a heavy object in one hand, switch hands often.
  • Adjust your car seat so that you’re comfortable reaching the wheel, the accelerator, the clutch and the brakes without having to stretch.
  • Don’t wear footwear with high heels
  • Don’t cradle the phone between your ear and shoulder when making and receiving calls
  • Don’t hold your head too high or look down all the time.
  • Don’t slouch in your chair or slide forward.

This article is contributed by Sarah Scrafford. She invites you to your questions, comments, and freelancing job inquiries at her e-mail address:

Posted in miscellaneous, reference | 2 Comments »

Anaplastology on the News

Posted by Janet on April 10, 2009

A story in the Chicago Tribune about anaplastology:,0,918896.story

Thanks Scott B. for the link!

Posted in prosthesis | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Finding Jobs: What Your Employers Won’t Tell You

Posted by Janet on April 8, 2009

In a previous post about a current internship I’m doing, I mentioned that I would get into the detail about this internship/job searching process. I’ve come across some pretty neat opportunities over the last few years, but what my resume doesn’t tell you is that every opportunity I find comes with at least five rejections. The recent economy crisis brings that number to at least ten. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Finding positions in our field isn’t like finding positions in other fields.
Although not the most important point on my list, every person new to this field should understand and accept this. It doesn’t make it easier to find something, but knowing this will make it easier to deal with when your friends pick up salaried jobs with ease and you’re still hopelessly begging for an unpaid internship after being rejected for the 10th time. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of competition out there and our positions are usually the first to be cut when funding becomes a problem. So what can you do?

Make contacts.
This is the most important strategy for us. This is important no matter what field you’re in, but especially so in ours. The dirty secret is that many available positions are announced in private and passed around like chain letters, making job positions difficult to find for those who aren’t part of this private club. Science/medical illustration is small compared to other fields, so employers who are looking specifically for someone trained in this field will likely contact directors of graduate programs. The directors of these programs then pass them on to current students and alumni. Sometimes positions are e-mailed prior to the official public announcement, giving us an early start. Other positions never make it to the public. Therefore, knowing people who can pass information on to you makes a big difference.

People also post position openings in newsletters or pass them on through mailing lists of related associations such as the GNSI or AMI. The bottom line is the more people you know, the more chances you’ll have in finding out when something becomes available. I highly recommend joining GNSI, AMI, or any other association of your choice. Sign up for newsletters, put your name on the mailing list, and go to conferences to meet people. If you are not ready to commit to anything that requires a membership fee, I suggest finding people who are more experienced in the field and e-mailing them with relevant questions.

Choose the right categories.
As I said before, science/medical illustration is a small field. This means that most positions you qualify for won’t say “science/medical illustration” in their title unless the employer is specifically looking for someone who is certified or has a degree from an accredited school. However, if you look carefully, you can often find jobs under a different title that will fit your background and interest.

Don’t be frustrated if you can’t find a category called “science illustration.” Look elsewhere, but be aware of key words such as “science,” “medicine,” and “health care.” Unless you want to work in a lab or a clinical environment, you won’t find anything there. First, find a company you would like to work for. Then look under categories that resemble the creative field such as “graphic illustration” and “visual information.” If you are feeling brave, explore the “advertising,” “marketing,” and the miscellaneous categories. Sometimes you will find medical illustration jobs under “advertising” if the company sells medical products. You get the idea.

It’s okay to look beyond your boundary. Even non-creative companies need illustrators. Creative but non-scientific industries would also love to have your expertise. If applying a skill set is more important to you than focusing on the scientific and medical subjects, think about what additional skills and interests you have and expand your search. Your unique background can make you stand out in a pool of applicants.

Some positions don’t exist until you convince someone to hire you.
It’s true. Sometimes a potential employer will tell you that nothing is available, and a week later your friend/classmate/nemesis somehow acquired a position working for them. The right timing and good people skills can get you somewhere. It also takes us back to the most important point of all–making contacts. Keep talking to people. If you talk to the right person at the right time, it can happen. When someone wants to hire you but the appropriate position does not exist, they will create a position for you.

Posted in business | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

News Update 4/7/09

Posted by Janet on April 7, 2009

For the past two weeks I’ve been busy, and with good reason. I found a summer internship at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History so I have been working hard trying to pull everything together, from finding housing to filling out forms. Did you know most interns need to be fingerprinted and go through a background investigation process to work at the Smithsonian? Surprisingly, the big new police station near my house doesn’t do fingerprinting, so I actually have to make an extra trip to downtown Chicago to get this done.

I have a few good topics lined up over the next two weeks, including a guest post on the importance of good postures in a work environment and an interview with a forensic image analyst. I would also like to share my thoughts on internship search. Lastly, I am currently working on a virtual reality project that I would very much like to share, just like I did with the ear project. However, a licensing issue may prevent me from using a software or showing images (of my own work!) on my website, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Posted in announcements | Leave a Comment »