CSI: New York logoI have enjoyed my role as forensic art consultant for the CSI: television franchise for many years. I have always viewed it as an opportunity to encourage accurate presentation of forensic art to the viewing public. Though “Hollywood” considerations have sometimes over-ridden my advice, my experience with the shows has always been a positive one. For the CSI:NY  episode “American Dreamers”, I was asked to consult with writers, prepare sculptural props and travel to Los Angeles to act as an on-set consultant for the actors. This can be a demanding and stressful task but I have always embraced it.

Storyboard for writers and producers

Storyboard for writers and producers

The earliest step was to consult with writer Eli Talbert about how he hoped to utilize forensic art as an integral part of the plot he was crafting for the episode. I prepared a storyboard of sketches to give an idea of the various stages of the props I could develop. This allowed insight so that the director and producers could more precisely plan a shooting schedule for the facial reconstruction action, once the time crunch of filming actually began.

In advance of my travel to California, I created the prop facial reconstructions in multiple steps, sort of like it is done for cooking shows. It would be far too slow for me to do a finished sculpture while the actual filming was taking place. Instead, the plan was that one step would be filmed, then the next and so on. Once edited together, the viewer would get the sense that it all happened as a smoothly flowing process. The multiple steps I made were then shipped ahead before my arrival for filming.

Three of the steps of the prop facial reconstructions by Karen T. Taylor for CSI:NY

Three of the five steps of the prop facial reconstructions

For this particular episode, actress Vanessa Ferlito portrayed CSI “Aiden Burn” who was doing the sculpted facial reconstruction. She listened carefully to my guidance and worked very hard to accurately achieve the impression that she was doing the sculpture. Once shots of my hands working were interwoven with shots of hers as part of a “process shot”, the effect was totally realistic.  They kindly allowed my book, Forensic Art and Illustration, to appear in the shot on Aiden’s work table.

Actress Vanessa Ferlito doing "work" on the prop facial reconstruction by Karen T. Taylor

Actress Vanessa Ferlito doing “work” on the prop facial reconstruction

My time on the set is always challenging yet fun. I enjoy the interaction with writers and production staff as well as the actors.

Karen T. Taylor with lovely actress Vanessa Ferlito on a break from filming

With lovely actress Vanessa Ferlito while on a break from filming

Artist Karen T.Taylor with writer Eli Talbert on the set of CSI:NY

With writer Eli Talbert on the set of CSI:NY

Artist Karen T. Taylor and writer Eli Talbert reviewing some of the shots of the facial reconstruction process for the show CSI:NY

KTT and Eli reviewing some of the shots of the facial reconstruction process

All in all, this episode was loads of hard work and I feel that it turned out well. It boggles my mind a bit that the work I did was viewed by so many millions of people. I do particularly like the fact that fictional police procedural television shows have great power to generate interest in real-life crime issues. Over the years, I have come to truly admire actor Gary Sinise and the tireless work he has done for American military personnel and veterans.  Though he is “Detective Mac Taylor” on CSI:NY, he will forever be Lieutenant Dan!

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation logo Writers and researchers for top-rated CBS crime drama CSI: first contacted me and sought my input for plot ideas about six months prior to the series premier in 2000. Since then, I have developed many friendships related to the show and have continued a long-term consultant relationship. The writers bestowed on me a great honor when forensic artist character, Teri Miller, played by actress Pamela Gidley, was roughly based on me. Her character was originally developed as a “love interest” for Grissum (played by William Petersen) but alas, things just didn’t work out for them and they both moved on. The episode “Snuff” marked my first visit to the California set so that both my artwork and my hands could appear on camera. “Snuff” was co-written by Ann Donahue and Bob Harris and directed by Kenneth Fink. Certain scenes for this episode were shot at the old Ambassador Hotel, site of the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968.

My role in this episode included several things.  I consulted with writers about how to accurately incorporate forensic facial reconstruction into the plot, I created the step-by-step sculpted props, and I acted as an assistant to the actors on the set. The first step was to do storyboard type drawings of the various stages for the facial reconstruction props.  This would allow the writers and directors to plan the action prior to filming.  Time is money and careful advance planning is critical.

Storyboard sketches for the CSI: episode "Snuff" by Karen T. Taylor

Storyboard sketches for the CSI: episode “Snuff”

3 Steps of the CSI: Prop Facial Reconstruction by Karen T. TaylorWhile still in Texas, I created three primary stages for the facial reconstruction. Sculpting in real time would be far too time-consuming during filming, so all of this advance preparation was necessary.  As part of the plot, anthropologist “Teri Miller” determined that the skeletal victim had Downs Syndrome, so my reconstruction had to reflect that.

Actor Blair Williamson and Karen T. Taylor on the set of CSI: in Los Angeles

Actor Blair Williamson and I had a lot of fun and he even tried his hand at modeling some clay.


My time on the set in Los Angeles was great.  One of my favorite things was interacting with young actor Blair Williamson who played my “victim” in the life sequences.  Blair was so enthusiastic and really enjoyed seeing the sculpture I had made to resemble him.


Karen T. Taylor, Dr. Telgenhoff and Anthony Zuiker on the set of CSI;

Fun with “Dr. T” and Anthony Zuiker

Dr. Gary Telgenhoff is the Forensic Pathologist and Deputy Medical Examiner at the Clark County Coroner’s Office in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He’s also a consultant for the show and happened to be on the set when we were filming.  When “Dr. T” and CSI: creator Anthony Zuiker get together, there’s no telling what might happen…lots of fun.  His T-shirt says “Coroner – Stop by for a cold one.”

There’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” in television production. I feel like my time spent testifying in court has given me some good preparation for that. Sometimes on the set, I just sat around in the background and waited until the director yelled my name for assistance.

photo of forensic artist karen t taylor on the set of CSI in Los Angeles

In the background on the CSI: set

Forensic artist Karen T. Taylor on the set of CSI: with actors William Petersen and Pamela Gidley

On the CSI: set with William Petersen and Pamela Gidley

At one point, Billy Petersen remarked to me, “Hey, you don’t seem to be bothered at all by the craziness on the set. Some of the other advisors have problems with it.” We then had a good chat about real autopsies, testifying against real rapists and murderers and trying to help real crime victims. I explained that stress for me was struggling to do a fast and accurate composite sketch when a child had been abducted and the news crews were outside my door…the potential for life or death.  He totally got it and understood why I was unfazed, even a bit amused by the “Hollywood” variety of stress.  I have gained a genuine respect for the pressure-filled schedules and demanding work that is necessary during the creation of television shows.  I am awed by the amazing skill and craft of the actors and all of the various individuals involved in production of a show like CSI:.  I am proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

There was time for a few fun photographs to be taken.  All in all, I felt that the filming went  well on this episode and the facial reconstruction sequence appeared quite realistic.  In the capable hands of the director, it was beautifully filmed and assembled. Later, I was pleased when I watched a DVD of the episode that included commentary by Director Kenneth Fink and he described how proud he was of the facial reconstruction scene in particular.  That made me happy…

Karen T. Taylor in the morgue area of the CSI: set

In the morgue area of the set

Karen T. Taylor in Grissum's office on the CSI: set

In Grissum’s office

Karen examining some of the creepy stuff in Grissum's office

Examining some of the creepy stuff in Grissum’s office

The facial reconstruction sequence on CSI: with the hands of Karen T. Taylor

The facial reconstruction sequence with my hands sculpting