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We describe a method for automatically building statistical shape models from a training set of example boundaries/surfaces. These models show considerable promise as a basis for segmenting and interpreting images. One of the drawbacks of the approach is, however, the need to establish a set of dense correspondences between all members of a set of training shapes. Often this is achieved by locating a set of "landmarks" manually on each training image, which is time consuming and subjective in two dimensions and almost impossible in three dimensions. We describe how shape models can be built automatically by posing the correspondence problem as one of finding the parameterization for each shape in the training set. We select the set of parameterizations that build the "best" model. We define "best" as that which minimizes the description length of the training set, arguing that this leads to models with good compactness, specificity and generalization ability. We show how a set of shape parameterizations can be represented and manipulated in order to build a minimum description length model. Results are given for several different training sets of two-dimensional boundaries, showing that the proposed method constructs better models than other approaches including manual landmarking-the current gold standard. We also show that the method can be extended straightforwardly to three dimensions.