In HISTORY’s The Real Face of Jesus?, a team of computer graphics artists uses cutting-edge 3D technology to answer a question that has captivated painters, sculptors, scholars and theologians for hundreds of years: What did Jesus Christ look like?
Led by Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth, these digital wizards are no strangers to reconstructing important figures for HISTORY. In 2009, they created a living, moving model of Abraham Lincoln for his bicentennial, basing it on more than 100 photographs of the 16th U.S. president. But this time, their only guide is a centuries-old cloth that many believe was Jesus’ burial shroud. Known as the Shroud of Turin, this 14-foot piece of linen bears a faint, ghostly image of a crucified man, along with dark red stains that some researchers have identified as blood.
To attempt this unprecedented feat of science and technology, Ray and his associates must rely on the most sophisticated electronic tools and software available. They must also seek out the knowledge of scientists and researchers who have grappled with the Shroud of Turin’s many mysteries. As part of their yearlong quest, Ray and his associates visit John Jackson of Colorado’s Turin Shroud Center, who in 1978 was given exclusive access to the cloth for five days of intensive scientific examination. Jackson and others have posited that the image on the Shroud of Turin contains unique three-dimensional information in the form of shading variations that indicate how close the body was from the cloth. The tip of the nose, for instance, appears darker because it was near or touching the linen at the time the imprint was formed. As Ray explains it, “It is as if there is an instruction set inside a picture for building a sculpture.”
Ray and his team use this logic as they coax a 3D model out of the two-dimensional artifact. Months into the endeavor, they realize that the fabric would have been wrapped around the face of the man buried beneath it. Thanks to this breakthrough, they can finally account for and remove the distortion in the image, achieving an accurate and lifelike 3D portrait of the man in the shroud—of a face both hidden and preserved in time.