NOTE: Because a standard method for creating three-dimensional forensic facial reconstructions has not been widely agreed upon, multiple methods and techniques are used. The process detailed below reflects the method presented by Taylor and Angel from their chapter in Craniofacial Identification in Forensic Medicine, pgs 177-185. This method assumes that the sex, age, and race of the remains to undergo facial reconstruction have already been determined through traditional forensic anthropological techniques.
The skull is the basis of facial reconstruction; however, other physical remains that are sometimes available often prove to be valuable. Occasionally, remnants of soft tissue are found on a set of remains. Through close inspection, the forensic artist can easily approximate the thickness of the soft tissue over the remaining areas of the skull based on the presence of these tissues. This eliminates one of the most difficult aspects of reconstruction, the estimation of tissue thickness. Additionally, any other bodily or physical evidence found in association with remains (e.g. jewelry, hair, glasses, etc) are vital to the final stages of reconstruction because they directly reflect the appearance of the individual in question.
Most commonly, however, only the bony skull and minimal or no other soft tissues are present on the remains presented to forensic artists. In this case, a thorough examination of the skull is completed. This examination focuses on, but is not limited to, the identification of any bony pathologies or unusual landmarks, ruggedness of muscle attachments, profile of the mandible, symmetry of the nasal bones, dentition, and wear of the occlusal surfaces. All of these features have an effect on the appearance of an individual's face.
Once the examination is complete, the skull is cleaned and any damaged or fragmented areas are repaired with wax. The mandible is then reattached, again with wax, according to the alignment of teeth, or, if no teeth are present, by averaging the vertical dimensions between the mandible and maxilla. Undercuts (like the nasal openings) are filled in with modeling clay and prosthetic eyes are inserted into the orbits centered between the superior and inferior orbital rims. At this point, a plaster cast of the skull is prepared. Extensive detail of the preparation of such a cast is presented in the article from which these methods are presented.
After the cast is set, colored plastics or the colored ends of safety matches are attached at twenty-one specific "landmark" areas that correspond to the reference data. These sites represent the average facial tissue thickness for persons of the same sex, race, and age as that of the remains. From this point on, all features are added using modeling clay.
First, the facial muscles are layered onto the cast in the following order: temporalis, masseter, buccinator and occipito-frontals, and finally the soft tissues of the neck. Next, the nose and lips are reconstructed before any of the other muscles are formed. The lips are approximately as wide as the interpupillary distance. However, this distance varies significantly with age, sex, race, and occlusion. The nose is one of the most difficult facial features to reconstruct because the underlying bone is limited and the possibility of variation is expansive. The nasal profile is constructed by first measuring the width of the nasal aperture and the nasal spine. Using a calculation of three times the length of the spine plus the depth of tissue marker number five will yield the approximate nose length. Next, the pitch of the nose is determined by examining the direction of the nasal spine - down, flat, or up. A block of clay that is the proper length is then place on the nasal spine and the remaining nasal tissue is filled in using tissue markers two and three as a guide for the bridge of the nose. The alae are created by first marking a point five millimeters below the bottom of the nasal aperture. After the main part of the nose is constructed the alae are created as small egg-shaped balls of clay, that are five millimeters in diameter at the widest point, these are positioned on the sides of the nose corresponding with the mark made previously. The alae are then blended to the nose and the overall structure of the nose is rounded out and shaped appropriately.
The muscles of facial expression and the soft tissue around the eyes are added next. Additional measurements are made according to race (especially for those with eye folds characteristic of Asian descent) during this stage. Next, tissues are built up to within one millimeter of the tissue thickness markers and the ears (noted as being extremely complicated to reproduce) are added. Finally, the face is "fleshed," meaning clay is added until the tissue thickness markers are covered, and any specific characterization is added (for example, hair, wrinkles in the skin, noted racial traits, glasses, etc.).