February 16, 2007


ASU helps create real face of George Washington: ASU researchers and others mix technology, art, science (Anne Ryman, Feb. 16, 2007, The Arizona Republic)

Researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Pittsburgh have re-created Washington at three ages, using anthropology, 3-D scanning and digital reconstruction. The 2 1/2-year project culminated in new life-size figures unveiled in the fall at Washington's Mount Vernon home in Virginia.

He is not the Washington on the dollar bill. [...]

Using a grant from the Mount Vernon estate, researchers approached their work from a scientific standpoint. Unlike early portrait painters, who were known to embellish famous subjects, their work would be based on data.

Schwartz knew Razdan from a previous visit to ASU and believed the university's expertise in digital 3-D would be ideal for the Washington project. ASU's Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling, or PRISM, specializes in 3-D computer modeling and visualization. Washington was their first famous subject.

Examining the first president's skeleton wasn't an option. He is buried at Mount Vernon, and the estate didn't want an exhumation.

Instead, they relied on historical records and existing images. They steeped themselves in history by reading books and documents and traveled to examine Washington's dentures, clothing, a terra-cotta bust and a life-size statue.

Razdan's team used a breadbox-size scanner to capture digital 3-D images of a mask and bust made when Washington was 53. The bust and mask, kept at Mount Vernon, are believed to be accurate representations of the former president because he told the sculptor he wanted them lifelike. The team also traveled to the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., where they spent five days scanning Washington's statue.

Once the scans were done, it was time to manipulate the data to show Washington at different ages. This was challenging because he lost his teeth during his life, which altered his jaw and face. He was known to crack walnuts with his teeth, which exacerbated his problems.

His first tooth was pulled in his early 20s, and by the time he turned 53, he may have had only two lower teeth left, Schwartz said. Portraits painted in his 50s show him unsmiling and stern, which may be because he clenched his dentures while the artists painted.

The ASU team used existing software and created its own to morph Washington's face. The difficult part was translating what Schwartz wanted into reality.

"He would say, 'Taper the jaw, elongate the chin.' He'd say, 'It's a tad too much.' We had to figure out what 'a tad' meant," Razdan said.

Just because your pallet and brushes are electronic doesn't mean you're closer to reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 16, 2007 4:18 PM
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