4 July 2012
Your pretty face wasn't always so pretty: the first animation of a face forming in the womb reveals how different features morph during development.
The time-lapse, produced for the BBC series Inside the Human Body, is based on human embryo scans captured between 1 and 3 months after conception, the period during which a face develops. Virtual sculptures were created at different stages, then combined by mapping hundreds of points to corresponding dots on the other models. "It was a nightmare for structures like the nose and palate, which didn't exist for most of the animation," says David Barker, the graphics researcher on the production. "Their formation is a complicated ballet of growth and fusion of moving plates of tissue."
A close look at the animation reveals that a face forms from three main features that rotate into place, meeting at the philtrum, the groove above the top lip. The transformation occurs with very precise timing and delays can result in a cleft lip or palate.
For more intriguing views of the body, watch Inside the Human Body, which will be airing in the UK and Ireland on 16 July at 9 pm as part of a month of science programmes on Eden TV.