Ragdoll Animation brings crime scenes to life

  • Co-owner of Ragdoll Animation John Anderson sits in his office on a recent Friday afternoon. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—

  • John Anderson Ragdoll Animation works on an animation in his office on a recent Friday afternoon. Staff photo by Abby KessleR

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 5:20AM

The slaying of a math teacher at a high school in Massachusetts and the murder of a prominent doctor’s wife at their multi-million dollar home in New York have scrolled across television screens and grabbed newspaper headlines far away from the quiet town of Antrim.

But one company has helped solve these cases, and a slew of other high-profile deaths that have gone to trial, in their studio space located on Antrim’s main drag.

Ragdoll Animation was co-founded by John Anderson and Tyler Jordan in 2014. Anderson and Jordan got into the field with the intention of designing video games, and although they are using similar skills, a large portion of their business consists of animating crime scenes.

It didn’t start out that way, but their work has been moving in that direction since the company created an animation that helped win a lawsuit involving a dishwasher. Whirlpool Corporation was being sued after a fire that was thought to have ignited from one of their appliances.

Whirlpool enlisted Ragdoll Animation to help convince jurors otherwise.

“I was able to show in my animation that it absolutely could not have been the dishwasher that caused the fire,” Anderson said on a recent Friday afternoon.

And it worked. Whirlpool won the case, and since then, Ragdoll has made a name for itself in the legal realm.

The company worked with prosecutors on a case involving a teenager who killed his high school math teacher at Danvers High School in Massachusetts. The 2013 slaying of Colleen Ritzer, who was 24, by Philip Chism, who was 14 at the time, occurred in the school’s bathroom. According to news articles, Chism strangled, stabbed and raped Ritzer before dragging her outside in a recycling bin and burying her close to the school.

Anderson and his team recreated the crime scene by splicing together footage caught on surveillance cameras and using the films timestamps to pinpoint Chism’s location as he moved through the building.

“[Chism] was moving very erratically and doing some pretty weird things right afterward, so we have all the video camera footage and we mapped his movements and recreated it in 3D animation to show [the jury] what was going on,” Anderson said.

Anderson said video footage is caught on multiple cameras, but animating the scene splices those parts together into one fluid segment that puts evidence into context for the jury.

“We won that case,” Anderson said.

Chism was sentenced to life in prison last February.

Ragdoll Animation also created graphics for a controversial case involving Dr. Robert Neulander, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering his wife, Leslie, in 2012.

Neulander pleaded not guilty to the charge, claiming his wife had fallen and hit her head on a stone ledge in their shower that inflicted a head wound and resulted in her death.

Ragdoll Animation, again, recreated the crime scene and was able to help prove the blood spatter marks were inconsistent with Neulander’s testimony. The company also created a graphic that convinced jurors that Leslie’s head wounds were inconsistent with injuries that would have been sustained if she had fallen in the shower.

Anderson said he discovered a key detail in the case that prosecutors had overlooked while creating the animation. Leslie had a horizontal laceration on her head, but had she fallen in the shower as the defendants claimed, Anderson said, she would have sustained a vertical laceration.

“It was a huge part of the case,” Anderson said.

With a few high-profile cases under its belt, Anderson said the business has carved out a niche for itself in a competitive field.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.