The History Channel will reveal the image -- and the painstaking and technical process of finding it -- tonight at 9 p.m. ET in the special "The Real Face of Jesus?"
Viewers should be prepared: The results achieved through the convergence of science and religion doesn't resemble the popularized images of Jesus.
It's impossible to know how close the computer-generated images come to reality, but they'll likely be of tremendous interest, both to believers and to the curious.
"There's a long tradition in Christian theology and Christian history of seeking the face of Christ -- of wanting to know what he was like as a man," said Father Jonathan Morris, a Catholic priest and author.
Finding Jesus' Face
The artists worked to pull impressions from the Shroud of Turin, the famed blood-stained linen that many believe was the burial cloth of the crucified Christ.
"If you want to re-create the face of Jesus and you want to get the actual face of Jesus, you have only one object and that's the shroud," said computer artist Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth.
The ancient shroud contains a faint impression of the front and back of a human body, along with blood, dirt and water stains from its age.
Cutting-edge modern skills were required to pull an accurate flesh and blood face from a piece of fabric so old.
The year-long project culminated with a team of graphic artists using the newest technology to create a computer-generated image.
"I have a lot of information about that face and my estimation is we're pretty darn close to what this man looked like," Downing, the lead artist, said.
Ancient Shroud Provides Clues
One of the main problems -- the condition of the shroud -- provided key clues. The team realized there were distortions in the image on the shroud because the fabric had been wrapped around the body.
"The solution was to realize that the shroud wasn't hanging on the wall – it was wrapping a corpse. That's the crux of the problem -- the face is hidden in there," said Downing, who has also used computers to create images of Abraham Lincoln.
"By imitating those distortions we could take the image and put it back into that shape and figure out what the face looked like … it gave us a blueprint," he added.
One the blueprint was formed, the computer artists started the recreation. Of course, there were limitations to what they could do with what they had.
"Inevitably, you do run out of information," Downing said. "You can't see the pores in a linen fabric. There are no eyebrows. It doesn't take a lot of guesswork to assign pores and skin texture to a model, to know that the man did have eyebrows and to provide them. At some point, you do have to leave the realm of actual information and use experience."
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