The biology and mechanobiology of joint cavitation have undergone extensive investigation, but we have almost no understanding of the development of joint shape. Joint morphogenesis, the development of shape, has been identified as the ‘least understood aspect of joint formation’ (2005, Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today 75, 237), despite the clinical relevance of shape morphogenesis to postnatal skeletal malformations such as developmental dysplasia of the hip. In this study, we characterise development of early hip joint shape in the embryonic chick using direct capture 3D imaging. Contrary to formerly held assumptions that cavitation precedes morphogenesis in joint development, we have found that the major anatomical features of the adult hip are present at Hamburger Hamilton (HH)32, a full day prior to cavitation of the joint at HH34. We also reveal that the pelvis undergoes significant changes in orientation with respect to the femur, despite the lack of a joint cavity between the rudiments. Furthermore, we have identified the appearance of the ischium and pubis several developmental stages earlier than was previously reported, illustrating the value and importance of direct capture 3D imaging.