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How to do a Forensic Facial Reconstruction

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This is a brief overview of how forensic 3-D manual craniofacial reproductions are done.  While this instructable will show the process of one case from beginning to end, it is not intended to be a proxy for teaching the knowledge and skills required to perform a credible facial reproduction; that takes years of training. Please vote for this project in the Up contest here! Thanks.
 
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Step 1: About the Author

Picture of About the Author
I am a doctor of physical and forensic anthropology. Prior to getting my PhD, I was a special effects artist in the film industry for over a decade. I have extensive training in anatomy (both medical and artistic), art and science. These facial reproductions draw on the science behind the morphology (shape) of the face as well as the knowledge of materials and skills developed from working in the effects industry.

Step 2: The Forensic Workup

Full forensic workup is performed:
Forensic anthropologists use scientific methods to determine the age, sex, stature, ancestry and any abnormalities that are detectable in the bones.
the decedent was estimated to be a white male, between  the ages of 45-55
Height: around 5’6”
Died from strangulation
Edentulous (no teeth)
Skull was brought to me for facial reconstruction

Step 3:

For this case the skull had to be copied by using slow set alginate to make a mold and cast in a gypsum (plaster-like) material. The cast was not as ideal as working on the actual skull, but it was necessary for the skull to remain in the lab for testing. For this reproduction, the cast worked fine. Due to the decedent having no teeth, you can see the lower jaw takes on a much more severe angle than normal, and the tip of the chin tilts up toward the nose.

Step 4: Setting the Eyeballs

Picture of Setting the Eyeballs
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Eyeballs are then created and set into place in their anatomically accurate position (they are usually positioned at an angle to produce a lifelike effect). Most adult human eyes are about the same size (26mm).  This is the eerie part when the skull begins to seem alive!
Brianaala (author) 1 year ago
Hi everyone, have to say I am stunned at the interest in this instructable! Thank you all for your kind words! If you feel inclined to, please consider voting for this project for the Up contest: http://www.instructables.com/contest/up2013/?show=ENTRIES&sort=FEATURED
Thanks again for your interest!

Very Cool and Informative, Nice Job and Thanks.

jrsfo1 year ago
My family gave me a rather authentic looking skull for Xmas a couple of years ago. It would be interesting to try this procedure and see what the model may have look like. I imagine one should have a fairly good anatomy book handy to compare the musculature and general facial anatomy. I'm sure it would take me several weeks rather than 3 days......lol
Brianaala (author)  jrsfo1 year ago
Hi Jrsfo,
Absolutely, that would be a fun project! I would suspect that if it is a plastic skull (one cast from a mold of a real skull) and relatively new, you will find that it is a young female of East Indian descent. You could start with a google search on Caucasian depth measurements and go from there!
Looking at the skull does appear to be female, but that's just a guess. If I were to to start this project, where could I obtain the proper equipment such as the eyeballs and measurement tools? What medium or type clay is used?.
Brianaala (author)  jrsfo1 year ago
Most of the books I mentioned below are really good resources, as far as eyes and clay types; that is really up to you and what you're comfortable working with. The typical adult human eye is ~26mm in diameter, so anything of that size should work, as for the clay, I tend to use oil based plastiline, because it's reusable but you could do it in anything you want. I hope this helps!
Why a young Indian female? Was there one particular skull that's been used for a lot of teaching models, or is India a particularly good source for donated body parts?
Brianaala (author)  xenobiologista1 year ago
Hi Xenobiologist,
yes a little of both; in the case above I was referring to a particular skull that pops up a lot (a really good cast was made and it has been produced a lot). Also, the culture in India is such that they were selling a lot of bones for a while, as a result most of the specimens come from there.
Sequimania1 year ago
Nice overview. Can you name some of the resources regarding soft tissue depth, nose shape, etc.?

I find this type of science-art hybrid fascinating. (Er, yes I do have a degree in each discipline.)

Regarding the angle of the chin - does it increase when an individual loses their teeth? Or in this case was that apparent due to the lack of any dental remains (? fragments?).   It seems as thought the bone surrounding the roots would show changes after tooth loss?

Thanks! Any answers are appreciated.
Brianaala (author)  Sequimania1 year ago
Hi Sequimania, the majority of the resources I use are compiled from journal articles and FBI bulletins. Carl Stephan (JPAC-CIL) has a number of articles pertaining to eyeball placement within the orbit, Caroline Wilkinson has a number of books on the subject which are very useful as well as Taylor, Marks and Clement. As for the jaw; yes, the mandibular angle does become more acute due to tooth loss, the alveolar tissue (bony tissue surrounding the teeth) does resorb after tooth loss. The amount of alveolar bone loss can exceed 1/2" over time! This will further increase the apparent mandibular angle. Thanks for the great question!
Thanks for the references. You seem to have found just the right field of work to use the breadth of your knowledge and talents. BTW, nice eyeballs!
Euphrosyne1 year ago
This is marvelous. Questions: how was the eye color determined? (do I hear you say"from the dead body, stupid") Not having had much exposure to dead bodies and how long their eye color lasts after death, or if disappears in the first place...anyway, this person's clear blue eyes seem slightly out of place in a face that seems to suggest Native American identity - or is that the red scarf talking? and did you make the eyes, they're beautiful, and btw they look a tad better (e.g., clear) than this person's might have been in life, since evidently he had some bad habits, to say nothing of fading color from old age. This person looks about to speak...your talent is impressive! thanks so much for putting this information out, and it's a gratifying way to make a living, I'd think.
Brianaala (author)  Euphrosyne1 year ago
Thank you Euphrosyne! No there is no way to determine eye color, these reproductions are usually revealed to the public in B&W photos so that any misleading information is not suggested. I do make the eyes, thanks for the compliment! To answer your question, eye color can last for a while after death (depending on the temperature and humidity of where they are; for example a frozen body can maintain the iris color for over a hundred years)! It is usually the dehydration that turns the eyes a cloudy white and eventually darkens all of the tissues to nearly black. In a hot, dry climate it can happen within days. Thanks again for your kind words!
realife111 year ago
Great job! Just out of curiosity, what films did you work on?
nvnusman1 year ago
Good overview of the whole process, but SO lacking in details available in fiction, let alone scientific docs.

I say "kindly,": this is not a how-to or instructable, merely an overview of the process.

Nothing here about the function of the "depth markers" or how their dimensions are determined. Nothing about that whole perceived race thingie. So how do you protect your process from just evolving toward an expected result?

I'm not saying you are wrong. I am also not saying you don't have many protocols embedded to protect against errors ... I'm just saying there's a lot of details left out for this to actually be "How to do a Forensic Facial Rescontruction."

Of course, to actually provide ALL those details would amount to posting the details of several years of college education and hands-on experience ...

Just commenting "nicely" on what appears to be a bity of mislabelling ...
Believe it or not,what you are doing helped in breaking the ice between Russia and America, The Kremlin requested American Re-Constructive forensic team help reconstruct (Ivan the Terrible) I think that was his Nick-name, The process confirming your undertaking of the same.The benefits helps us get a better understanding of each other. To help further your research ,drop me a line for updates.
Brianaala (author)  stephenfitton1 year ago
Hi Stephenfitton, isn't it amazing how much the world has changed! Thanks for the info!
JrezIN1 year ago
we can see you steps to build this amazing piece, but not how you came to them... Some links to documentation about the procedures and measures for the reconstruction would be very appreciated! =]
Brianaala (author)  JrezIN1 year ago
Hi JrezIN,
Yes I agree, the problem is that many of the techniques and resources are from a lot of different sources (and sometimes hard to find) and, depending on what you working with we often have to use different data (depending on age, ancestry, sex, etc.). If I were to try to include all of that this instructable would be over 300 pages long! That is why this can only be an overview; it just requires too much research and knowledge to fully cover in this format. Thank you so much for your compliments! I could direct you to some books if you want more information.
wow, some books about the methods, data and procedures are VERY welcome! =D
JTomM1291 year ago
This is one of the things I absolutely love about 'Strctables. Everything from how to dress your kitty up like Brad Pits in Pirates to this. I love the background you give - puts some meat on the bones (sorry) of fascinating field.
Brianaala (author)  JTomM1291 year ago
Thanks JTomM1129! I agree, the breadth of Instructables is awe inspiring!
kirnex1 year ago
WOW. Fabulous instructable. I work in the forensic sciences as well, but on the behavioral side. I've always been fascinated with reconstructions. Very cool that you brought your experience from special effects work with you into such a useful, necessary science.


BTW...not for nothing, but this victim rendition reminds me of Geronimo. It takes on a special meaning for me, in particular, because he was my great-great uncle; as many of you know, his skull was stolen by a particular "secret society" and never recovered.

At any rate, it's very cool to see this reconstruction, because it gives me some idea of what could be done with HIS remains, should they ever be recovered.

Anyhow, thanks so much for sharing!
Brianaala (author)  kirnex1 year ago
Hi Kirnex, first off, thank you for the compliment! He does have a bit of the same look as Geronimo, but alas, he was Caucasian. You know, it's funny you bring up the Skull and...er, I mean "secret society", that stole your ancestor's skull; their explanation was to say that "it was the skull of a you boy (or woman)" and yet if you look at the most famous photograph it is obvious that is not true. I am still stunned they get away with that!
triciafb1 year ago
This is absolutely amazing. I took forensic classes at my first college. Sadly I didn't get to finish because my family and I moved. This is one of the things that drew me to forensics in the first place. I also love ballistics, even though I hate guns lol. I am a 3D modeler, and I my 'dream job' would be able to do this in 3D, or do 3D crime scene animations/re-enactments.
You did a marvelous job, and I'm happy that the family was able to find out what happened to their loved one.
Brianaala (author)  triciafb1 year ago
Hi Triciafb, thank you so much! It is a fun and inspiring field to work in!
This is great stuff, and completely interesting. It makes me want to go back to school and follow your career path.
Brianaala (author)  Philip Williamson1 year ago
Hi Philip, thank you so much!
askjerry1 year ago
I was interested to find that you actually sculpt the muscles and cartilage details. I knew about the depth markers... I just had presumed that you piled on clay to that depth and smoothed it out evenly. Very interesting... it would be really nice to see one that you did with an image of the person to compare just how close you can come.

I presume the same information can be extrapolated to some extent to determine how extinct animals and such may have looked. Very interesting science.
Brianaala (author)  askjerry1 year ago
Hi Aksjerry, thank you for the kind words! Yes, there were other methods developed over the years that use one or the other technique, they were developed during the Cold War by a Russian scientist named Gerasimov (this is the method of building up each muscle) and the other is called the American method (not to be outdone during the Cold War) this is the depth marker and fill with clay method. Both of these methods have pros and cons, so a combination method emerged using the pros of both methods this is dubbed the Manchester method (from England). This last method is the one I use. Finally, yes, these same techniques are used on premodern hominins ("Early man") reconstructions as well!
Krenath1 year ago
It looks almost like Terry O'Quinn - John Locke from Lost. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0642368/
I want to do this with a skull that has been passed down to me from an old town doctor in my family.
melarkey1 year ago
Hi,

What an interesting presentation. Were you able to compare a real life photo of the person with your reconstruction? It would be so fascinating to how closely they compare. I realize that a photo wasn't available but perhaps once he was identified?

Thank you!
Brianaala (author)  melarkey1 year ago
Hi Melarkey, actually in the end a photo of the decedent was found and compared. However, due to the sensitivity of the subject I cannot present it here.
I understand about the privacy aspect. It must be so rewarding to see how close your representation is to the actual person. Keep up the great work!
Brianaala (author)  melarkey1 year ago
Hi Melarkey, thanks for the support!
daytona6751 year ago
Absolutely brilliant! Thank you for this I really enjoyed it, particularly in the light of the discovery of Richard lll's skeleton and the subsequent reconstruction of his face from the skull.
Brianaala (author)  daytona6751 year ago
Thanks Daytona675! Yes, the Richard III project is really interesting and exciting! Good stuff!
mooster1 year ago
This is fascinating! Thanks for sharing it.

I just wanted to remark that if you get one like this who has lost all his teeth, especially at so early an age, perhaps it means that he has been out on the street for a long time and isolated from relatives. If the toothless version had not yielded results, would it have been possible to do a version of what the person would have looked like with teeth, as he may have been when he was last seen by people who knew him well?
Brianaala (author)  mooster1 year ago
Hi Mooster, good instincts! As it turned out he was homeless; but adding in something that isn't there can lead to some confusion, so we generally avoid it. Simply because it can cause people to discount a possible match because the teeth don't match or something, so we err on the conservative side only for that reason. All that being said, you are absolutely right; the aim is to try to jog the memories of those that knew them well.
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