Amazing Computer Animation Shows In Utero Development of Human Face

By Dave Andrusko

Over the years I have been fascinated by the skill of the BBC at offering  absolutely amazing examples of science developed with laypeople in mind. But replete with spectacular graphics, its series a few years back on “Inside the Human Body” may be the most captivating  of all.

Although it first appeared way back, it wasn’t until later that most of us here in the states become aware of a YouTube video of one segment—a time-lapse of the development of the human face in utero. I’ve attached a link here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFY_KPFS3LA

According to the New Scientist, the animation “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,” the New Scientist’s Sandrine Ceurstemont explains [newscientist.com].

 Opined David Barker, the graphics researcher on the production, “Their formation is a complicated ballet of growth and fusion of moving plates of tissue.”

In the video Michael Mosley, the producer and presenter, explains, “The three main sections of the puzzle meet in the middle of your top lip, creating the groove that is your philtrum [the vertical groove between the base of the nose and the border of the upper lip].”

 He adds, “This whole amazing process, the bits coming together to produce a recognizable human face, happens in the womb between two and three months.”

It’s easy to see why Barker seemed to be both almost flustered and very proud. “It was a nightmare for structures like the nose and palate, which didn’t exist for most of the animation,” he said.

As you can imagine the developmental choreography is breathtaking and send an unmistakable message of the beauty and fragility of unborn life. “The transformation occurs with very precise timing and delays can result in a cleft lip or palate,” explains Ceurstemont.