3-D animation software has been key in creating Hollywood movies. You've seen in it films like Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Now that same software is being used in law enforcement. The Phoenix Police department is one of the first in the country to start using it.
From the Na'vee in Avatar to the ghosts in the pirates of the Caribbean, 3-D animation has gotten so advanced the images almost look real.
These Hollywood techniques are being used inside the Phoenix Police Department.
"There are so many things you can do to whatever level you need to do," says Kirt Messick of the Phoenix Police Department. "The creativity goes beyond just a plane surface and a drawing."
Photo forensic specialist Kirt Messick has drawn hundreds of composite sketches, including some for very high profile cases.
Now he's shifting his artistic talents to this high tech software, working on a digital 3-D surface.
With just the click of a mouse, or swipe of a stylus pen, he can take a raw form and mold it.
The image is lifelike, even down to the finest detail in the skin.
"If you look close I actually put in some pores, you can see the pores in it, you can actually go that much."
This software isn't necessarily geared towards putting together composite sketches -- in other words, creating something out of someone's memory. It's better suited for cases with actual photographs, cases like John and Jane Does.
"In April 2001 a body was found in the area of 13th Ave and Southern."
Detective Stuart Somershoe's case was the first to use the new technology.
An unidentified man had been lying in a vacant lot for days. His face was decomposed.
The autopsy photos are just too graphic for TV. However, there was something unique on his body.
"The tattoos are so unique and distinctive that somebody's going to recognize him and that's what we're keying in on," says Det. Somershoe.
Colorful tattoos covered his arms, chest, shoulders, and stomach. Messick took these photos, cleaned them up, even down to the most intricate parts of the design. The process took hours.
He then painted the tattoos directly on a 3-D model, molding each tattoo to the curve of the body.
Two dolphins were inked on his chest with the name "Claudia." There's a woman's face on his back, a jack in the box on his arm, and writing on his stomach.
"He's 30 to 40 years old, 5'8, 140 pounds to 160 pounds," says Somershoe. "This is a case that's very solvable, there are a lot of features on this body that can be recognized."
After 11 years and no solid leads, Detective Somershoe is hopeful this 3-D image will bring them one step closer to solving this case -- to identifying this John Doe.
"The one thing you receive when you're born is your name and when you die that should be the one thing you keep. And for 11 years he hasn't had his name."
And there are about 100 unidentified victims' cases at the Phoenix Police Department.
If you have any information about the man in that 3-D image, contact the Phoenix Police Department's Missing Person's Unit.
WJBK-TV | Fox 2
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