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Home / Blogs / Last Blog on Earth
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Wednesday, Jan 04, 2012 - Last Blog on Earth | News

Behind this week's 'Watch List' facial composites

Forensic artist Daniel Poré talks about the fine art of police sketching

By Dave Maass
salazar_double Alexander Salazar sketch, before and after enhancement
- Credit: Daniel Poré
The arresting images that illustrate this week's cover story, "The Watch List," were all created on short notice by Houston-based artist Daniel Poré. The individuals portrayed are not on any kind of real police watch list, or would ever have any reason to be (as far as we know).

However, the sketches are authentic in one sense: Poré is a real-life, forensic artist. A good one. We had to reject his first three attempts because they looked too much like Alexander Salazar, Fred Maas and Will Carless.

In creating images for CityBeat, Poré worked from photographic portraits to create the facial composites. Doing seven intense interviews—as he normally would—would've been impractical. So, to make the final images, Poré had to restrain himself from putting on the final touches that really bring his images to life and leave them intentionally off-kilter.

Fred Maas image, before enhancement and after


About the rush job: Poré learned speed in the Air Force, when, as a graphics specialist, he was expected to create portraits of high-ranking officers visiting his base in less than three days—mattes and frames included. After leaving the military, Poré worked as a portrait artist in California before moving to Texas, where he studied the police-sketch craft under Lois Gibson, holder of the Guinness World Record for "Most Successful Forensic Artist."

But it's not all about catching criminals. In a telephone interview, Poré explained that his first case involved recreating the face of a murdered woman for the purposes of identification. She'd been shot in the head and it was Poré's job to use the gruesome post-mortem photos to create a facial composite as if she were alive and well. Within 15 minutes of airing the image on television, Poré says the police had a match.

"It was immediate gratification, man," Poré says. "One of the things I like about forensic art is you see immediate gratification when you’re dealing with a witness that has seen a suspect and she has a good recollection.... When you finish the image and they have opportunity to come around and look, you can see the expression on their face. One woman actually cried because it took her back to the crime scene."

In witness situations, Poré doesn't start drawing until late in the process. Using psychological training, he engages the interview subject in a memory exercise in which he or she (usually she) describes the whole day. Then, when it's time to remember the crime, he first establishes the suspect's ethnicity, so he can narrow down his palette of facial features, and begins with the hair. Next comes the shape of the head, then the eyes—when looking at someone else, people tend to focus on the top of the head, he says. An assailant's facial expression, such as a grimace, can also leave a lasting impression.

"I’ll tell you this: My best witnesses have been children," Poré says, "the reason being because they don’t have a lot of stuff cluttering up their mind. They have fresh imagery. Children will call it like they see it. You may not want them to say certain things, but they’ll say them anyway. If the person was ugly, they’ll say he was ugly. 'Why do you think he was ugly?' 'Well, he had this scar.' They’re vivid in their recall, whereas adults, we have the pressures of the world on our minds."

Adult men,
Poré says, tend not to pay attention to physical details unless previously trained to do so. Women, on the other hand, are very observant of details, such as a receding headline or even a smell—not that a smell would translate well in a police sketch, no matter how powerful the software.

When he first started, he'd be there with sketch pad and pencil, but these days he uses his laptop to create computer-assisted renderings. (Full disclosure: IQ Biometrix, the company that produces the Faces software used by Poré, helped recruit him for CityBeat's project.)

"It's like moving to the iPhone as opposed to using my pager," Poré says. "If I was going to go out and trying to sell or pitch this software to my peers that are working in the field of forensic art and have been doing that for years, they would totally diss me."

Wiil Carless image, before enhancement and after


But it's important to emphasize that composites are only computer-assisted, and it still takes an interviewer's talent to bring out the memory and an artist's touch to finalize the image. (
Poré is also a painter, whose work has been featured everywhere from the sets of TV shows to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.) The next step will be full 3-D renderings.

"That's tomorrow, but it is probably going on right now," he says. "I just don’t have my hands on 3-D. I know it's being innovated right now, and I would like to be part of that innovation process as an artist."
 
 
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