Western Mail Profiles: Dr Bernard Tiddeman, Aberystwyth University

‘Computer models of faces can help in psychology, cosmetics and surgery’

Dr Bernard Tiddeman is a senior lecturer in computer science at Aberystwyth University.

You could be forgiven for wondering what the subject of computer science, often portrayed as a haven for the antisocial geek, has to do with steamy topics such as sex, evolution, health and attractiveness, but these are exactly the areas that my research is involved with.

I work with research psychologists, cosmetics manufacturers and medical professionals interested in faces.

I develop software and algorithms to help them study images, videos and 3D models of faces.

The analysis and synthesis of facial images has long been a topic of interest for computer scientists, and is still an active area of research in laboratories around the world.

There are a wide range of applications, including face recognition for security, interpreting facial expression for robotics and human computer interaction, face reconstruction for forensics or facial animation for animated films.

Although a great deal of progress has been made, there are still many areas that could be improved – face recognition that can handle changes in the subject’s age, or a wide variety of poses, expressions and lighting.

In facial animation, although impressive results have been achieved, by tracking markers placed on an actor’s face for example, a great deal of input is still required from talented animators.

My research started with a PhD project developing software for analysing the shapes of patients’ faces for surgeons, helping them to plan and evaluate their treatments.

The main focus of the project was cleft-lip and cleft palate, conditions that affect about one in every 700 newborn babies.

More recently, I have been working with orthodontists, analysing both cleft lip and palate and also congenital hypodontia (missing teeth).

After my PhD I joined the Perception Laboratory at the University of St Andrews, a psychology laboratory investigating facial perception.

The laboratory had developed methods for realistically blending faces and for using these blends to transform faces between groups.

I created methods to improve the processing of textural details, such as wrinkles and stubble, for applications such as ageing faces or simulating and analysing the effects of cosmetic skin treatments.

The software I developed is now used by numerous psychology laboratories around the world.

This is where the sex, evolution, health and attractiveness comes in, as many of the psychological theories relating to how we process facial images are based on how our brains have evolved, learn and function to recognise healthy and attractive individuals.

The current focus of my work in computer science is to extend the methods developed for images to 3D models and videos, while in psychology my research is currently focused on health.

We have shown people prefer faces transformed to simulate the effects of a healthy lifestyle, such as diet and exercise.

We have preliminary results suggesting that showing people the consequences of their actions simulated on their own face can have a long-term impact on improving their diet and lifestyle, which could potentially save the NHS a great deal of money.

You can try out some fun face transforms on yourself and your friends at www.faceofthefuture.org.uk.

Dr Bernie Tiddeman and some examples of using the face transforming software he has developed (from left to right older, Afro-Caribbean, ape-man and portrait by the artist Modigliani).

To contact Bernie please email bpt@aber.ac.uk.

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on the 7th November 2011, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.

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