Mortuary professionals must make replicas of any missing features of a face.
By J. Carbajal
Mortuary science students took turns March 29 learning how to use 3-D scanning to create digital images of the human face that could be printed into replicas of human features.
The students are enrolled in MRTS 2447, Technical Procedures 2 – Restorative Art, taught by Professor Felix B. Gonzales, but they met with Aaron Ellis, Title III grant academic program coordinator, for instruction on 3-D scanning.
The six students from the restorative art class took turns scanning each other’s faces.
The students used an Artec Eva portable scanner, which was provided for the college through the Title III Grant for Hispanic-serving institutions.
Three students had to work together to scan a face — one to be scanned, one to do the scanning and a third to hold the laptop the scanner was connected to.
Bodies may have missing features, such as a nose or ear, and their loved ones may want a viewing of the body, so mortuary professionals must reconstruct whatever is missing.
For many, a viewing of the body during a funeral is the first proof of the reality they now face, an affirmation of death, Gonzales said.
“It sometimes enables them to set on the path of recovery, but they have to accept the reality before they can heal,” he said April 5.
A wax or clay face will be made for viewing, but this is a very labor-intensive process, and the materials used have no pores, causing light to reflect off of them more. This draws more attention to them, but 3-D printing can also mimic pores, which draws much less attention, Gonzales said.
Using 3-D rendering technology, facial structures similar to the deceased’s could be scanned and printed for a realistic replacement. For example, if a body were missing an ear then a mortuary professional could scan the ear that is still there and manipulate it to fit the other side of the face, he said.
Previously, 3-D rendering has not been used in mortuary science, Gonzales said, but this college’s faculty is looking at the future application of the technology.
He hopes to give his students an advantage in getting hired after they graduate and become licensed by becoming specialists in this technology to 3-D print facial features rather than sculpting them.
Because it is not used in this field yet, it is hard to estimate the additional costs a grieving family might have to pay for this procedure as opposed to the older method of wax or clay sculptures.
Some funeral homes charge additional fees if a body requires reconstruction while others provide this service without additional charge, Gonzales said.
The class met again April 5 for instruction on uploading their facial scans onto a 3-D sculpting program.
“They made it as close to real sculpting as possible, and it’s less messy,” mortuary science sophomore Janessa Smith said.
The students sculpted a basic facial skull in the program and then uploaded their own facial scans. They introduced various types of head trauma to their 3-D sculptures to practice building a prosthetic.
“It’s about having a keen eye and looking from all angles. From one angle it looked good, and from another it looked like Squidward,” Smith said about the program and her 3-D model. Squidward is a character from the cartoon “Spongebob.”
The scanners have also been used for other departments and programs in the college.
“We have scanned over 200 people, including two astronauts — one who might be going into space,” Ellis said April 5.
A dinosaur footprint was also scanned at Government Canyon State Natural Area, a state park in Bexar County, for the geology program.