Background: Head and neck anatomy is complex and represents an educational challenge to the student. Conventional two-dimensional illustrations inherently fall short in conveying intricate anatomical relationships that exist in three dimensions. A gratis three-dimensional virtual reality atlas of craniofacial anatomy is presented in an effort to address the paucity of readily accessible and customizable three-dimensional educational material available to the student of head and neck anatomy.
Methods: Three-dimensional model construction was performed in Alias Maya 4.5 and 6.0. A basic three-dimensional skull model was altered to include surgical landmarks and proportions. Some of the soft tissues were adapted from previous work, whereas others were constructed de novo. Texturing was completed with Adobe Photoshop 7.0 and Maya. The Internet application was designed in Viewpoint Enliven 1.0.
Results: A three-dimensional computer model of craniofacial anatomy (bone and soft tissue) was completed. The model is compatible with many software packages and can be accessed by means of the Internet or downloaded to a personal computer. As the three-dimensional meshes are publicly available, they can be extensively manipulated by the user, even at the polygonal level.
Conclusions: Three-dimensional computer graphics has yet to be fully exploited for head and neck anatomy education. In this context, the authors present a publicly available computer model of craniofacial anatomy. This model may also find applications beyond clinical medicine. The model can be accessed gratis at the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Web site or obtained as a three-dimensional mesh, also gratis, by contacting the authors.