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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Methodology article

Automatic landmark annotation and dense correspondence registration for 3D human facial images

Jianya Guo, Xi Mei and Kun Tang*

Author Affiliations

CAS-MPG Partner Institute and Key Laboratory for Computational Biology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:232  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-232

Published: 22 July 2013



Traditional anthropometric studies of human face rely on manual measurements of simple features, which are labor intensive and lack of full comprehensive inference. Dense surface registration of three-dimensional (3D) human facial images holds great potential for high throughput quantitative analyses of complex facial traits. However there is a lack of automatic high density registration method for 3D faical images. Furthermore, current approaches of landmark recognition require further improvement in accuracy to support anthropometric applications.


Here we describe a novel non-rigid registration method for fully automatic 3D facial image mapping. This method comprises two steps: first, seventeen facial landmarks are automatically annotated, mainly via PCA-based feature recognition following 3D-to-2D data transformation. Second, an efficient thin-plate spline (TPS) protocol is used to establish the dense anatomical correspondence between facial images, under the guidance of the predefined landmarks. We demonstrate that this method is highly accurate in landmark recognition, with an average RMS error of ~1.7 mm. The registration process is highly robust, even for different ethnicities.


This method supports fully automatic registration of dense 3D facial images, with 17 landmarks annotated at greatly improved accuracy. A stand-alone software has been implemented to assist high-throughput high-content anthropometric analysis.

3D face; Facial morphology; Registration; Landmark localization; Dense correspondence