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Monday, September 06, 2004

SwiftVets need computer animations to help sell their case

I wish the SwiftVets would invest, bigtime and right away, in the services of a first-rate computer animation firm.

So far I've seen one semi-decent (and still badly flawed) attempt by anyone to present in visual form the competing versions of events on 13Mar69 regarding Kerry's Bronze Star and the Rassmann rescue — that being WaPo's artist's drawing that accompanied Michael Dobbs' August 22 article.

But so, so much more could be done.  Imagine the best graphics and animations you've seen on, say, the History Channel as they've illustrated the progress of some great battle or the sinking of the Titanic and you'll get a sense of what I'm talking about:  maps, moving arrows, timelines, scale models.

With respect to those same events from 13Mar69 on the Bay Hap River, for example, a good computer animation firm could create multiple animated clips to show what was where, and when, under the various witnesses' versions of events.  One of the flaws in the WaPo drawing, for example, was the trench-looking line that marked where the artist had omitted an unspecified portion of the distance that Kerry's PCF 94 traveled from the fishing weir.  I don't fault the artist for that — he had to do something like that to make everything fit onto the page.  But it completely distorts the time-and-distance aspect of Kerry's version of events.

An animated graphic — yes, a cartoon — could zoom in and out, and could run a set of stop-watch numbers in the corner to demonstrate the time passage.  A cartoon could show how far Kerry's 1500 meters of fire actually would have actually taken him from the weir, for instance, and how much time it would have taken PCF 94 to travel that distance and back.  To be watchable, the cartoon would probably need to run a while in fast-forward, but that could still be done in ways that made it clear to the viewer how much time it would have taken for Kerry's version to be true.  The better one appreciates the times and distances, the more improbable it becomes that enemy fire could have been incoming without any boats or crew being hit by it.

An alternate version of the same cartoon could then show folks the events as described by Thurlow.

Understanding the SwiftVets' precise arguments requires one to visualize the scene and assess the relative probability and improbability of the competing accounts.  The more clearly the competing accounts can be visualized, the more confident the viewer becomes in his assessment as to which is more probable.

Similarly, animated cartoons using detailed maps could zoom in and out to show where the rivers and canals ran with respect to the Cambodian border, the locations of the Swift Boat bases, the places we know that Kerry's boat was on various dates, and therefore just how improbable/impossible it is that Kerry ever crossed into Cambodia to insert SEALs/CIA guys.

Constructing these kinds of computer-generated cartoons wouldn't be cheap — we're talking five or maybe low six-figure expenditures, I'm guessing.  Lawyers already use these sorts of things in trials now, but only in the big cases where the stakes justify the expense; and there's always a fight over admissibility, which usually comes down to how well the cartoons can be defended as being "fair."  Obviously, the SwiftVets would want to be as scrupulously fair as they could, just for reasons of credibility; but there's no judge in this dispute to bang his gavel and say, "Objection sustained!  The jury shall not view that cartoon!"

Even with skilled artists to help conceive and create them, the results would probably be too long to run in 30 second TV ads.  But this sort of stuff would be tailor-made for distribution through alternative media — and in particular, through the internet and through cable TV. 

I'm sure John O'Neill knows from his courtroom experience that talking heads and historical documents induce MEGO — mine eyes glazeth over — which means your audience, be it jurors or voters, zone out quickly if that's all you've got.  Plus they're ineffective in creating the mental images that need to be understood here.  When you've got a tough case to sell simply because it's outside ordinary people's daily experiences and therefore hard for them to conceptualize and visualize, MEGO is your worst enemy.

I think computer generated graphics would be a good investment.  It's time to get creative.


Update (Mon Sep 6 @ 8:25am): Readers who have ideas about how graphics generally, and computer animated graphics in particular, might be used to help shed light on these issues are invited to leave those ideas in my comments here!

Posted by Beldar at 07:47 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to SwiftVets need computer animations to help sell their case and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) lyle made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 8:12:36 AM | Permalink

I've learned my lesson. I won't say 'brilliant' this time. I just hope Mr O'Neill heeds your advice.

The SwiftVet story has been so heavily filtered by Kerry-friendly media that most readers are aware of only a few discrepancies in Kerry's version. For the most part, Big Media has dismissed the SwiftVet case without investigating.

Animation would help explain why Kerry's version is implausible. It would also give the SwftVets another free bite of the media apple, as cable news shows snap up a prepackaged presentation.

(2) cherokee made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 9:15:43 AM | Permalink

Agreed that a "picture is worth a thousand words" but the Swiftees have already sighted the next target-Senate testimony and voting record!
With the expanded involvement of Clintonites in his campaign (and they will be listened to), time or money shouldn't be spent on "old targets".
The damage has been done. Let others do mop up, ( ie., Naval investigation into medals). They're in retreat and the battle has moved to other ground. Go Swiftvets!

(3) ed made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:05:34 PM | Permalink


What you're looking for is called Machimina. This is an art form that uses computer 3D game engines, mostly FPS (First Person Shooters), to create animations. Generally a FPS 3D engine won't have sufficient resolution to really look good on video or film so some tweaking is required to increase the resolution. In such instances the 3D engine no longer works in realtime and instead renders each image and saves it onto a harddisk.

Quite a few people have gotten into Machimina as an art form since it's a LOT easier and a LOT lower cost of entry than traditional cel-graphics. I looked at doing some myself for some story ideas I have, but I haven't had the time to really do anything worthwhile.

This might be a preferred low-cost method of providing a graphical representation for the SwiftVets. In such an instance a combination of low-cost installable simulation could be provided, for those who are really interested, or some straight online video for those who don't care.

Hope this helps.


(4) ed made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:19:50 PM | Permalink


An example might be a system that uses the Quake II 3D engine, which is either no-cost or low-cost for an organization like the SwiftVets. The reason would be because of the enormous amount of tools and objects available for this engine.

The artist would use a level/map(1) tool to create the actual map. This tool is used much like a CAD drawing program. The basic layout of the terrain is drawn out and then the details are filled in. The canal would be enplaced, filled with water and various other objects, such as trees, would then be placed as well.

After that the main actors(2) would be placed on the map and any necessary scripts created that would resolve how they interact with the level/map and each other. An example would be that boats could only move on the water of the canal, that these boats aren't submarines and they cannot move onto land.

Frankly a huge number of useful objects are available either for a reasonable cost or even free. Quite a few artists enjoy creating custom levels/maps and objects for use in additions to existing games. The most popular addition, CounterStrike, was done by two people and was published freely online and it's a huge hit even today.

In terms of cost it would be reasonable. First off much of the work would be pretty moderate. The maps themselves would be relatively simple and there are, again, many useful objects freely available. In addition there is the enormous prospect of having millions, upon millions, of people viewing the artists work and having huge name recognition.

It's very much a doable thing.

*any questions, please post them here. I don't check my public email all that often, far too much spam. However I will email Beldar with my private email in case you have questions for me.

(1)Level/Map: Some people use one term or the other. I include both just in case.

(2)Actor: an object, such as a person or boat, that moves, acts or reacts.

(5) ed made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:21:35 PM | Permalink


Oh BTW. The History Channel uses Machimina, so it's not very new.

(6) James B. Shearer made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:28:36 PM | Permalink

I doubt the SwiftVets have the resources to do anything like this since they can't even put together a decent website. For example if you go to their website and jump to the "Kerry in Vietnam" section, there is a list of his medals at the bottom. The first purple heart has a hyperlink to the SwiftVets version but the remaining entries have no hyperlinks. It looks like these were intended to hyperlinks but that the SwiftVets ran out of energy before finishing. It does not make a good impression.

Also I suspect it is a lot easier for the SwiftVets to agree that Kerry's version is wrong than to come up with an authoritative version themselves. So it might be a tactical error to even attempt to do this. It could just lead to a bunch of stories about things they got wrong in the opinion of one or more of the people who were there.

(7) ed made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:32:17 PM | Permalink



Someone probably forgot about those dead links. Probably worked from a list rather than using a web crawler(1) to validate his website.

(1) a web crawler is a tool that lists all links on a page and then traverses to the pages linked. This continues until the tool runs out of links to crawl or a preset limit is reached.

(8) M. Simon made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 2:08:57 PM | Permalink

The battle has moved on.

I do not think focusing on this issue will do us much good. At this time.

Where we need to swing into action is to show how the proposals re: 'Nam '71 correlate with the proposals re: Iraq '04.

What was the result of following Kerry in '71?

Let us not get stuck in the jungles of 'Nam. We have won as much as we need to there. Kerry has lost the Leno polll on his purple hearts 'nuff said.

(9) Norman Rogers made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 3:18:59 PM | Permalink

Beldar, I think your suggestion is a good one, but probably overkill.

Just consider that Kerry & Rassmann's stories wouldn't survive the first two minutes (alright, five minutes) of a news conference.

What's needed now is the right interlocutor (not Dan Rather).

(10) James B. Shearer made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 6:03:25 PM | Permalink

ed, these are not dead or broken links (which are often caused by the target page moving) which can be detected by validation tools. The links are missing completely, although it looks like there should be links there. This is a sign of an unfinished website. Obviously if the SwiftVets can't put together a webpage with their version of the Bronze Star incident it is unrealistic to expect them to make a fancy computer animation.

Btw when I preview and then try to post my name and email are disappearing. Is anyone else having trouble?

(11) anon made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 7:41:54 PM | Permalink

I think SVBT should focused on the 1st PH. Clearly either Kerry or Schachte is lying about this one. If Schachte would agree to appear in an ad, I think it would be impressive. "I'm retired Rear Admiral William Schachte. John Kerry says I wasn't there. But I'm here to tell you that I was." Folllow Schachte with Letson, and Hibbard. It's so clear in this case that Kerry is lying, he really has no serious defense. The broze star incident is too complicated to communicate in a TV spot even with fancy CGI, and is further confused by the genuine dfferences on the question of hostile fire. But the 1st PH is a slam dunk.

(12) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 9:32:08 PM | Permalink

Frankly, you don't need a bunch of fancy grahpics to diagram the different versions of the events of March 13th. Anyone can do it for themselves with a pencil and paper, and either a copy of Tour of Duty or the American history article online.

John O'Neill, Larry Thurlow, Van Odell, or Vorphal could do it with their versions on a white board in a television studio. It's outrageous that none of the talk shows have attempted such a display. It's obvious the Tour of Duty version doesn't work when you make it visual.

(13) Eric Pobirs made the following comment | Sep 7, 2004 12:51:59 AM | Permalink

There are small companies that specialize in such animations for courtroom presentations. Their services can had for a few thousand bucks, which is trivial for this kind of effort.

This also very common for storyboarding in film production, even where no special effects are involved. The cost of the animation can save a small fortune if it reveal a set design flaw in advance of construction.

(14) ChrisD made the following comment | Sep 7, 2004 10:58:57 AM | Permalink

This sounds like a Flash animation project. A talented person could knock it off in a work-week.

What is really needed is for someone to sit down and write a script for it.

(15) Al made the following comment | Sep 7, 2004 12:11:55 PM | Permalink

The Bronze Star Incident
March 13, 1969

Boat Commanders:
Don Droz(43), Larry Thurlow(51), Richard Pees(3), Kerry(94), Jack Chenowith(23) --http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5782981/

Pees(3) Crew:
Droz(43) Deceased. Crew: Wayne Langhoffer(Machinegunner),
Thurlow(5) Crew: Robert Lambert(Petty officer)
Kerry(94) Crew: Del Sandusky(Steerman), Tommy Belodeau(Foregunner), Michael Medeiros, Gene Thorson(Engineman),

The Bronze Star, by Kerry, Kerry, Rassman, and Thurlow.
(I'm of the opinion that you take Kerry at his word as much as conceivably possible. His story as _he_ tells it is still nuts. So give him the benefit of the doubt, and anything that draws a complaint is then a retraction.)

1) Five boats (3,23,43,51,94) heading down a 75 foot wide canal. Boat tour (http://pcf45.com/boat_tour/boattour.html) shows the boat.

2) A fishing weir set across the canal means the boats split up into two groups. 3, 51, 23 head left of the weir, 94, 43 head right.

3) 94 reaches the weir first. Everyone's lined up single file (in two files).

4) As 3 passes the narrow part, a mine goes off. Everyone on all boats describes this with a sort of awe. "The boat was lifted clean out of the water 2-3 feet."

5) A couple of people on #3 (not the crew IIRC) are killed outright, a couple knocked overboard, the rest stunned/unconscious. One of the twin screws locks in 'full on', while the other jams or something. It isn't clear to me if the boat is circling left or circling right. Start up '5000 meters of fire'. I have no idea if they used tracers, but assume they are the _worst_ shots ever, and that only those within 500 feet can fire on any given boat. Remember to miss. Alot. 'Heavy small arms and assault weapon fire, both banks, 5000 meters'.

6) Here's the first variation point. I'd Kerry's boat 'split' into two with slightly different colors, and subtitle them 'K: Mine story'(reddish) and 'K: Moving out of ambush'(yellowish).

7) The reddish boat needs a humongous waterspout - something that might lift a 25' boat 3 feet out of the water if it had hit. Knocks a reddish Rassman overboard, shatters the windows, cuts Kerry. Pause right here for a second and list problems with this story: 1-not one person on the other boats remembers that sort of explosion. No one missed the first explosion - they remember it with _awe_. 2-people on Kerry's boat say 'naw, couldn't be a mine. Maybe a rocket.' 3-Kerry says this wasn't what happened anyway.

8) So the yellowish boat slams the petal to the metal and takes off. The #94 swerve/rocket/whatever needs to happen here - or Rassman wouldn't be anywhere near anyone else. It might be worth highlighting what a 'turn to starboard' would do, and how silly falling off the starboard side in a hard starboard turn is, but a rocket & tripping over the rail is probably most favorable to Kerry.

9) Split the screen, so we can watch the #3 rescue contemporaneously to what #94 did. Have the '#3' half aligned so we can see down the river (and so we see Kerry receding into the distance in the background here.) Actually, devote much less than half to the #94 boat. All the other boats are blasting the dickens out of the jungle.

10) In the #3 half, we have a 'full speed #3' circling aimlessly, while boat #51 tries to match speeds. Thurlow's getting ready to jump, Lambert is steering. (#94 receding into the distance, Rassman treading water, remember 5000 meters of fire.)

11) Thurlow jumps onto #3, #3 jerks when it hits something, Thurlow gets flung overboard.
12) Lambert gets Thurlow, Thurlow jumps onto #3 and throttles down. Rescue operations continue.
13) Remember, 5000 meters of fire.
14) Chenowith et al pull people and bodies out of the water.
15) Kerry turns around and comes back. End the split screen.
16) Chenowith and Kerry both approach Rassman, Kerry in the lead.
17) Kerry, bleeding, reaches over and pulls Rassman in.
18) Show a wall clock zipping around at 10x normal speed as the #3 boat is set up for a tow.
19) After an hour and a half, fade out.

20) Still shot of the five boats in top view with the people in their 'std' positions w/boats numbered.
21) In the still, add up all the awards for this operation. Lambert, Thurlow, Kerry = bronze star, Everyone on #3 + Kerry -> PH. Note, no one was shot.
22) (If there's anyone else, add their awards.)

23) Do a damage review of the boats real quick - highlighting the injuries in red, and noting possibly previous damage. (The key is only three bullet holes.)
24) Show the 'CASREP' on the #94 and #3 boat - http://idexer.com/articles/kerry_medals.htm there he points out how to decipher the coding of the numbers to figure out who filed the report - indicating that it was Kerry.

5000 meters of fire is insane. If there was one variable in here to tweak, that would be it. So being able to programatically, or at least quickly, change the volume of fire would be needed. I postulate a maximum of 12 people (two 6 man groups, one on each side) where they made a couple of shots and fled around step #9. Any more, and their poor marksmanship begins to defy belief.

I wouldn't do it as an ad, I'd spring it on anyone that was there that day and ask what they'd change.

(16) Old Guard Guy made the following comment | Sep 8, 2004 12:35:48 PM | Permalink

About ten days ago, on NBC Nightly News, Lisa Myers reported a story on the Bronze Star episode that used some form of computer animation.

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