(WKBN) — The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) and The Ohio State University have partnered up to help answer the question of what a person may have looked like based on their skeletal remains.

Until fairly recently, 3D facial reconstruction at BCI was essentially limited to building a clay bust based on a CT scan of the skull. This left much guesswork to gauge the person’s age, sex, ancestry and unique anatomical features.

Thanks to new technology, BCI is now able to provide a variety of photo-like depictions of the decedents’ faces. This represents a significant advance and brings new hope for future unidentified-remains cases in Ohio, according to a release from the office of Attorney General Dave Yost.

Digital renderings of John Doe in Stark County formed from new technology
Courtesy of: BCI

The technology is being used in active practice in a case out of Stark County in an effort to help identify two sets of human remains discovered nearly 20 years apart.

Samantha Molnar, criminal analyst, is working with Ohio State in the role of forensic artist to help develop this technology. The process involves Molnar creating a clay model and uploading it to MetaHuman, a software developed by the gaming community to apply a range of facial features and skin tones to any avatars they may create. Within the platform, Molnar could generate a diverse combination of faces.

“The advantage of the new technology that we’re implementing through Ohio State is that it allows us to quickly edit the digital image to change features,” Molnar said. “So, if somebody calls in a tip and asks to see the face with lighter skin or the head with a different hairstyle, we’re able to accomplish that much more easily than we could have in the past.”

While there is still room for improvement, Molnar said she can envision a time when digital busts from unidentified-remains cases might be posted on a website that allows the viewer to change facial features just by clicking on the image.