Morticians are a class of unsung heroes in most societies. Mortuary arts dovetail technical medical knowhow, painstaking practical effects, and the excruciating job of trying to please grieving families. Preserving and presenting bodies is particularly difficult in cases where the deceased passed under physically disruptive circumstances.
Whether involved in fire, car accidents, or visible illness, disfigurement can exacerbate the already difficult process of mourning a loved one. Reconstructing damaged facial features can take morticians up to a week of difficult work in order to deliver the open casket ceremonies many families desire in order to pay full respect.
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Now that 3D printing has gotten more affordable and efficient, Chinese funeral parlors are beginning to use additive tech to speed up labor intensive recreation. Reconstruction is typically accomplished using familiar modeling materials like wax, rubber cement, gypsum, paint, and delicate hand stitching, but Babaoshan Funeral Home in Beijing has started streamlining the process with full face masks printed onsite.
With the rapidly advancing detail in both scanning and printing resolution, a full face can be printed in just 12 hours. And thanks to advances made by the government’s 101 Institute, the 3D model can be developed from a single 2D photograph. Partial reconstructions take even less time. These techniques update, and to some extent sterilize, the eons long practice of replacing limbs and faulty features of the dead.
As in many cultures, Chinese conventional wisdom finds death and death handling unclean and unlucky, but with additional governmental support and technological breakthroughs, the 3D printed mask seems to be taking off. Though other types of model making may be cheerier, giving mourning families more options for saying goodbye seems like an exemplary application of trickle down tech.