Technology brings saints back to life

St Paulina

Brazilian scientists are using 3-D printing technology to reconstruct the faces of Catholic saints and other holy people, producing life-size busts of what they actually looked like, hundreds of years after they died, Religion News Service reports.

This month the scientists will present their latest project: The faces of St Rosa of Lima, the patron saint of Peru, who died in 1617; and Sister Ana of Los Angeles Monteagudo, a Dominican nun from Peru, who died in 1686 and was beatified in 1985. Their reconstructed features will be unveiled in Lima and Arequipa on July 21 and 24, respectively.

Cicero Moraes, a computer graphics designer, and Paulo Miamoto, a forensic dentist and anthropologist, use tomography (or CT scans) as well as a process of photogrammetry, in which hundreds of photographs are taken, to digitally map the preserved skulls, taking spatially accurate images and data from all angles.

Archaeologists use photogrammetry to give precise, bird's-eye details to excavations; forensic criminologists — think "CSI" — use it to reconstruct skulls.

Along with a combination of dental and anthropological analysis and historical research, the information is uploaded onto 3-D software that uses algorithms to rebuild the face, applying volume to muscles, tissue and skin tone.

"Our aim is to create an individual face from the skull that we believe to be the most compatible with the person when they were alive," said Mr Miamoto who is based in Santos, a coastal city in southern Brazil. "Everything is designed to take into account the period during which the person lived and to give life to their features as accurately as possible."

The real-size digital images are then printed in 3-D at the Renato Archer Center of Information Technology in Sao Paulo, using plastic-based fine plaster to produce the bust.

"The printing process in rebuilding a face can be slow, taking as long as a day or more to complete, because the impression has several layers," said Mr Moraes who is based in Sinop, a city in west-central Brazil.

"When the final printed object reaches our hands it is like a sculpture, completely white and blank. From there we have to add the anatomical details, the facial characteristics, the flesh colour and tones, and build an appearance that does justice to the holy person."

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Scientists bring saints back to life with imaging technology (Religion News Service)