Mar 16, 2016 | By Andre

With every passing year there exists more and more unsolved crimes, commonly known as cold cases, around the world. In the United States, these cases typically revolve around violent crimes and are not affected by the statute of limitations. This means that if new evidence is discovered that relates to an unsolved mystery, no matter when it took place, the case goes on.

A collaboration between the New York Academy of Art and the New York City Office of the Medical Examiner is doing their best to get to the bottom of some of these with the help of 3D printing and a sculpting workshop.

By using 3D printed replica skulls of active cold cases from across the United States — ranging from Delaware, California and New York and spanning since the US Civil War — a group of 15 artists spent much of January sculpting over top accurate 3D printed skulls with clay via the écorché method.

As the group of graduate students worked away at their recreations, John Volk, director of the school’s Continuing Studies Program commented on how the room changed as the sculptures progressed. “When you walk in and you’ve come from 15 people to now there is 30 people in the room at the same time it’s a very strange and eerie kind of feeling. And now [the 3D printed skulls] are no longer an abstract idea, this is somebody.”

While their efforts are not meant to replace traditional detective work in any large scale, work during last year’s inaugural run of 11 reproductions yielded the identification of one cold-case victim with another currently pending. Volk adds that “this is very exciting because it is very fun to do for the students but you recognize that you are doing a service for someone and there is the possibility that you can help someone.”

To produce the final replica, details such as age range, where the body was discovered, a guess at gender, nearby personal belongings were provided to the students. From there, the slow process of adding muscle, bone and skin textures to produce as anatomically accurate of a model as possible transpired.

Interestingly enough, some of the students were fortunate enough to work along side real historical artifacts. One of the skulls, for example, belonged to a member of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, which happened to be the first all-African-American civil war regiment in the country.

Allison Hill-Edgar noted that “to be able to put a face for someone that was unidentified, that was so cool,” and furthermore that “doing it right was very important. I think we all felt a certain amount of responsibility.

As the project nears the completion of it’s second year, Volk is proud to admit that the program has received a lot of positive feedback and that their efforts might be expanded into a full 15-week program.

From the student’s perspective, he finishes that “they’re using their sculpture skills and their knowledge of anatomy to help the community so it’s very satisfying for them,” and that “some of them have actually talked about pursuing this as a career.”

Lastly, their efforts won’t be hidden from the public by any means. If curious and local to New York City, you can check out the sculptures until March 23rd at the art academy’s headquarters in Tribeca (111 Franklin St.).

A video glimpse of the project can be seen here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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