Skip main navigation

How do you conduct a reconstruction?

Caroline Wilkinson talking through her technique using digital and clay
I have to take a cast of the skull. That’s a plaster cast, for example, or maybe one using a silicone mould. That process takes a day or so, just to make a cast. I’ve made the skull to stand on the stand now. And I’ll be taking the average measurement of tissue depth by the ostreometric points on the face, on the skull. After adding all the tissue depth on the skull, then I’ll be building up all the facial muscles, and then facial fat, and then covering with skin. The facial reconstruction is usually done after we define what the age of this missing person is, and the gender, and ethnicity.
So based on that, we usually add - we can put wrinkles if it’s mid-40s to 50s, then we can start adding wrinkles on the forehead and probably around the eyes. It would be definitely beneficial if you have some kind of artistic skills where you can amend it to look like certain race, or certain age, or gender even. The other half of the job is really finishing the facial appearance to give it to life-like quality and not leave it looking to mannequin-like. So you’re talking about a week’s work to do a single plastic facial reconstruction in clay. And of course, when I finish it, I’ve got one version.
And if I want to change it somehow, I have to go back to work in the studio, so to speak, and alter the clay model. The digital technique has really developed over the last 10, 15 years. And it’s because of the access that we’ve had to clinical imaging, and also the digital technology has really taken off. The system that we use has what’s called haptic feedback, which means that we can feel what we’re touching on the computer screen, so that relies on hardware as well as software.
So the software that we use is Geomagic Sensable Technologies software called Freeform Modeling Plus which is used across the world for lots of different applications, we just have to apply to our forensic application. And the hardware is called Phantom, so that’s the thing that gives us the haptic feedback. It’s less engineering based than most 3D modelling technologies and softwares, and allows us to have a more intuitive sculptural relationship with what we’re viewing and working with on the screen. I got a Nesta Fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to develop a computerised system. And this is the one that I decided to work with after reviewing a whole host of different 3D technologies.
The reason we chose this was because of this haptic feedback and the intuitive sculptural response that we have. But what I did over there with that fellowship is to build a database that we then apply to facial depiction. So it’s really a combination of the software, which is produced by the software company, and our database, which we produced in-house. And the combination of those two things allow us to do the work that we want to do in forensic and archaeological science.

In this video, we talk to three people experienced in forensic facial reconstruction to find out how they go about reconstructing a face.

First, we’ll hear from the Mr. X case pathologist Professor Martin Evison and Forensic Anatomy graduate Daheen Lee, as they describe the process of conducting a reconstruction using clay.

Professor Caroline Wilkinson then introduces us to a 3D computerised facial reconstruction system that she has developed for use in forensic and archaeological depiction.

This article is from the free online

Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Finding Mr. X

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education