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Identity-invariant estimation of head pose from still images is a challenging task due to the high variability of facial appearance. We present a novel 3D head pose estimation approach, which utilizes the flexibility and expressibility of a dense generative 3D facial model in combination with a very fast fitting algorithm. The efficiency of the head pose estimation is obtained by a 2D synthesis of the facial input image. This optimization procedure drives the appearance and pose of the 3D facial model. In contrast to many other approaches we are specifically interested in the more difficult task of head pose estimation from still images, instead of tracking faces in image sequences. We evaluate our approach on two publicly available databases (FacePix and USF HumanID) and compare our method to the 3D morphable model and other state of the art approaches in terms of accuracy and speed.