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This paper deals with image and video segmentation using active contours. The proposed variational approach is based on a criterion featuring a shape prior allowing free-form deformation. The shape prior is defined as a functional of the distance between the active contour and a contour of reference. We develop the complete differentiation of this criterion. First we propose two applications using only the shape prior term: the first application concerns shape warping and the second concerns video interpolation. Then the shape prior is combined with region-based features. This general framework is applied to interactive segmentation and face tracking on a real sequence.