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The many uses of motion capture

Posted by Tom Ghirardi on 1st November 2019

As a film and video game fanatic, I was recently lucky enough to enter the world of motion capture through work. In addition to enjoying an excellent hands-on experience with the equipment myself, I have begun to learn a lot more about this amazing technology and its multitude of uses.

In the past, VFX artists would often use a technique known as rotoscoping when looking to capture and animate a subject, where an animator would then trace over live-action footage for use in animated films, capturing realistic movements of actors. However, in more recent decades, motion capture — or mocap as it is sometimes referred to — has become the answer to bringing life-like animation to our screens.

Mocap has now become a staple feature in the entertainment world. In simple terms, it is the process of using a series of cameras to capture and develop a 3D representation of a subject. The technology often comes in active and passive forms. Passive mocap is the most common and the most accurate, simply using reflective markers over the subject that are then picked up by a series of surrounding infrared cameras. Active mocap, on the other hand, uses LED markers, which are connected by wires. Often the individual being captured wears a suit, onto which markers are placed across most of the subject’s joints so the cameras can pick up movements, and then more are positioned asymmetrically across the individual’s body.

It is generally agreed that the revolutionary equipment was first made famous in 2003, with Andy Serkis’s memorable portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. The film was able to bring an entirely computer-generated character to life for the first time, using the physical expressions and movements of an actor and adding visual effects. Now, it has become a standard addition to many high-budget films such as Avatar, Ready Player One and the Marvel series. The technology has proved hugely popular, granting a whole new level of realism to characters in films, video games and even theatre, creating new levels of immersive experience for audiences.

Those with an interest in the video games industry are already enjoying the incredible benefits of mocap within a game. Gone are the days of pixelated stick-figures; many titles now feature prominent actors, such as Willem Dafoe and Keanu Reeves. Simply animating a video game character can only grant a certain level of realism. But with mocap, the movements are given a higher level of fluidity, much more akin to real life. Considering the increasing demands on large gaming companies to produce titles with more immersion and realism, this technology has become invaluable.

Furthermore, the next stage in gaming has arrived with the introduction of location-based VR (LBVR). LBVR has enabled new companies to create VR arcades, allowing groups of players to battle out in realistic environments brought to life through VR headsets. LBVR is predicted to become a very popular form of entertainment, and as the technology improves, we can see larger groups of people engaging at the same time.

However, there is much more motion capture, which is now being used in a number of new and innovative ways across a variety of sectors. When it comes to the development of robotics and automation, tracking equipment can be used to produce accurate data by analysing the movements of everything from buildings to drones. Mocap assists in the development of automotive and aerospace innovations, being able to accurately measure and test equipment. With robotics and drones, the sensors can be used to help a machine successfully navigate around environments without collisions — particularly useful as autonomous drones are set to become increasingly integrated into our lives with deliveries and logistics.

Mocap also has a number of creative applications for life sciences. Athletes and sporting bodies alike have a huge stake in its benefits for improving performance, preventing injuries and speeding up rehabilitation. Many of the largest sporting teams across the globe have incredible amounts of money invested in their players, so injuries must be rectified as soon as possible when they occur. Mocap has had a huge influence on the process, offering the ability to track athletes and offer precise data and visual evidence to assist in monitoring the movements of a subject. This can even extend to animals, for example, in assessing where a horse or dog could sustain an injury during a race and exploring how this can be avoided. The technology offers researchers in medical sciences greater insights too, for example, working with individuals suffering from movement impairing diseases by analysing the way they move and looking for ways to help.

These are just a few of the many innovative uses for motion capture equipment. As the technology advances and develops further, it is likely that we will see a number of new creative applications appear!

Tom Ghirardi

Tom’s energy and enthusiasm is infectious, especially when it comes to creativity. Whether finding new angles to pitch clients, writing, brainstorming or organising events, Tom embraces these challenges wholeheartedly, not resting unless he’s got the result he wants. He also has a deep love for pre-history and Crystal Palace FC, which co-incidentally have dinosaurs in common! A graduate of international business, Tom started his career in B2B PR before transferring those learnings to tech at Wildfire.