Okay, that title is a little grandiose, but it was the first appearance WitmerLab research has made on a Top-10-rated network television show. We get requests all the time from the cable science networks for materials for documentaries, and we’ve even personally appeared in a number of them. But in October, I got a call from a producer at CBS’s hit show CSI: Miami, saying that they were doing a show in which an alligator necropsy figured in a couple of scenes (Spoiler Alert: the gator was used as a murder weapon). They had heard that we did high-tech-y stuff with alligators, and they needed some animations to run in the background, and, oh, could they have them…um…now?
The producer and I looked at the materials we put online in connection with a 2008 Anatomical Record article on sinuses in dinosaurs and their kin, selected a couple, and then Ryan Ridgely stripped off anything that linked the animations to us, and I shipped them off. We figured that, if they used them at all, they’d be running in the background on monitors, out of focus and basically just part of the set dressing. That turned out to be correct. The episode, called “Match Made in Hell,” aired in the US on January 2nd (view the episode online). I’m not going to review the show as a whole, but apparently it did quite well in the ratings, landing that week, as usual, in the Top 10. No doubt our two animations (out of focus, in the background, miss ‘em if you blink) were the key to the show’s success.
(Above) The first necropsy sequence (about 16 minutes into the 42 minute episode) used the above animation, which is a sagittal slice animation of an alligator head (OUVC 9761). A downloadable QuickTime movie is also available.
(Above) Officer Natalia Boa Vista (played by Eva LaRue) enters the room while Dr. Tom Loman (played by Christian Clemenson) begins the necropsy of the gator suspected to have killed the victim (yes, they pull human body parts out of the stomach). But look, that’s our animation in the upper right!
(Above) This is a scene from the first necropsy sequence in which Dr. Loman photographs the dissection. Interestingly, the animation in the background is our other animation that is used in the second necropsy sequence that takes place later in time. Wow, we discovered a continuity error!
(Above) The second necropsy sequence used the above animation, which is surface rendering of the nasal airway, paranasal air sinuses, and brain endocast of the same alligator head. This visualization formed the basis for part of the 2008 Witmer & Ridgely Anatomical Record article.
(Above) In the second necropsy sequence (about 35 minutes into the show), Dr. Loman makes a key discovery in the alligator’s mouth (which is upside down, by the way). Our animation spins happily in the background, and the skull is momentarily on left side view.
(Above) The “eureka moment” for Dr. Loman when he pulls a key, case-breaking piece of evidence from the alligator’s mouth. Whatever… Much more exciting is the awesome ventral view of the gator skull in our animation!
So, our work appeared momentarily on a major network television drama. Does any of this matter? Not really. It’s kind of fun, I guess. I’d like to think that maybe somehow it will help the science we did and published find a broader audience. But I’m not sure how. There’s nothing in the CSI: Miami show that links those animations to us or the publication, and we’re not included in the credits, and so maybe this blog post is the only link. I expected no more or no less. Maybe it’s just one of those things where you sit back with some mild satisfaction knowing that millions of people saw your work, and you can say, “we did that.”