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3D bust of Ivan the Terrible, Tsar Ivan IV (Gerasimov, 1955)

Dr. Mikhail Gerasimov pioneered research into facial anthropology and developed the technique known as the anatomical method. His research had a significant influence on current facial depiction practice, and focused on an understanding of facial anatomy and the importance of muscle structure and position for the production of a recognisable likeness. Image used with permission of Elizaveta Veselovskaya, Moscow Institute of Sciences.

Reliability assessment (Helmer, 1993)

A double blind accuracy study was carried out by Prof. Dr. Richard Helmer. Two researchers reconstructed 12 skulls following a plan based upon the skull morphology. Each reconstruction (examples A & C) was then compared to an ante-mortem photograph of the subject (examples B) using resemblance ratings from five observers. The results suggested the reconstructions were closer resemblances to each other (50% approximate) than to the subjects (42% slight). Image courtesy of Wiley-Liss Inc.

Tissue depth data

The variation in facial tissue depths between sexes, ages, ethnic groups and different nutritional states has been studied over the last 120 years. Facial tissue depth markers are added at the beginning of the facial depiction process and commonly include 15-34 anatomical points on the skull surface. Image provided by Face Lab, Liverpool John Moores University.

2D method of facial reconstruction – Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor in the USA developed a 2D method involving drawing over a frontal image of the skull. This process included the addition of tissue depth pegs to the skull prior to taking the photographs. Images of the April Lacy case (1982) from Oklahoma City, courtesy of © Karen Taylor.

3D manual method of facial depiction from skeletal remains

The ‘manual method’ is a term applied to a depiction process involving materials such as clay or wax applied by a sculptor onto a skull or skull replica. Initially tissue depth pegs are attached to the skull, then the facial muscles are sculpted following anatomical standards and finally soft tissues and skin are added and aged appropriately to create a finished depiction. Image provided by © Ludo Vermeulen.

Technological advances - Laser scans

Laser scanners and clinical imaging (CT, MRI) have allowed practitioners to use non-invasive replication techniques to reduce the damage to human remains. 3D prints can be produced quickly without a messy plaster or silicone casting processes, or a digital reconstruction can be produced using specialist computer software. Portable laser scanners allow practitioners to visit the remains on site rather than transporting them. Image provided by Face Lab, Liverpool John Moores University.

Technological advances - 3D printing

Advances in 3D printing technology has been embraced by practitioners over the past two decades. It is now possible to print a 3D replica of a skull utilising laser scan or clinical image data before the facial depiction process takes place. Alternatively a 3D replica of a finished bust can be printed and then painted, with eyes, wigs and clothing added, if a physical copy of the reconstruction is required. Images provided by PDR Cardiff (www.pdronline.co.uk).

Automated facial depiction from skeletal remains

An automated facial depiction from skeletal remains system utilises a 3D laser scan collection of skulls and faces. This system created average faces and skulls for different sexes, ages and ancestry groups and then utilised morphing algorithms to warp the relevant average face to the unidentified skull.  Image courtesy of Dr Maria Vanezis (University of Glasgow).

Assessment of accuracy using living subjects

A blind accuracy study, using CT data collected from a living subject, superimposed the facial depiction with the subject’s face (using the skull for alignment) and the contour map represents the differences. Blue represents good accuracy (<2mm) and the largest error (>5mm) is red/orange. 67% of the facial depiction is blue. Image courtesy of Caroline Wilkinson and Chris Rynn, University of Manchester; Myke Taister and Heather Peters, FBI Academy; Stephen Richmond, Cardiff Dental School.