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Motion Capture

What is Motion Capture?

Motion Capture also known as Motion Tracking or ‘Mocap’ for short is basically 3D Animation. It’s a process in which recordings of human movement are translated into a digital form by filming sensors on every pivot point on the actor/actresses body. Once this footage is recorded it is then translated onto a 3D Model.

Performance Capture

Motion Capture technology has advanced phenomenally since the 1970’s and Performance Capture is a term referred to when Motion Capture animates small human features such as fingers, subtle expressions and facial features. More sensors will be used to portray these features making It is a very time consuming process, a perfect example of Performance Capture is the 2009 20th Century Fox award winning film “Avatar” which took almost 15 years to create.

The whole purpose of this film was to capture the performance of an actor and translate it into a digital form.

Here I have embedded a short video that I found whilst researching Motion and Performance Capture in to my blog titled ‘Performance Capture’ which takes you behind the scenes on set of the film ‘Avatar’ so that you can understand how revolutionary this new technique of Performance Capture is changing the way CGI characters are developed.

Mechanical Motion Capture

Mechanical Motion Capture is a process in which the actors/actresses wear skeleton structured body suits known as ‘exo-skeleton motion capture systems’ to track human joints and angles.

Mechanical Motion Capture is still a popular type of Motion Capture because of it’s cost, It’s one of the cheapest options available in it’s field.

Electromagnetic Motion Capture

Electromagnetic Motion Capture is one of the more technical types of Motion Capture relying on transmitters and receivers to track movement. An actor/actoress would wear several magnetic receivers in which transmitters would tract and calculate movement.

Electromagnetic Motion Capture was used in another 20th century fox film ‘The Lord of The Rings’ for one of the lead roles of the creature ‘Gollum’.

Optical Motion Capture

Optical Motion Capture is another common form of Motion Capture, It requires the actor/actoress to wear reflective sensors over a tight ‘Mocap Suit’ or there own clothes if they wish. They would then continue to act out the part whilst several cameras track the reflective pads. 

When the cameras have the desired footage it is then shared amongst eachother and translated into digital form.


Motion capture was first developed in the late 1970’s but it wasn’t recognised as a revolutionary animation technique until the mid 1980’s when it was eventually used for entertainment purposes. Inspired by ‘Rotoscoping’ a ancient time consuming animation technique from the early 1900’s in which the animator would trace movement frame by frame. Motion Capture was originally tested  by the Military to track head movements of pilots by electromagnetic motion capture.

Above is your typical ‘Rotoscope’ invented by brothers  Max and Dave Fleischer animators from the early 1900’s who used rotoscoping in some of the most notable cartoons today such as Betty Boop and Gullivers Travels.


I have also embedded a video from 1932, one of the first Betty Boop cartoons by Fleischer Studios.

Watch out for the visual high point of this episode, Betty’s hula dancing which is an early example of the rotoscoping animation technique developed by Max and Dave Fleischer.


In the mid 1980’s when Motion Capture was being used for entertainment purposes Professor Tom Calvert at Simon Fraser University attached ‘Potentiometers’ to a body which are basically electronic sesnors, he then used the output in his studies for Computer Animated Figures at the University.

Where is Motion Capture used?

Motion Capture serves a wide range of purposes these days like tracking head movements of pilots in the military, tracking the performance athletes in sports, determining injuries and how to treat them in medical applications, creating more human like characters in cartoons, games and films for entertainment & advertising purposes and finally validating and improving computer visions.

Motion Capture In Development

Motion Capture is even being used by the world wide car manufacturer ‘Ford’ to help develop a better product.

Ford Motor Company is the only car manufacturer to use the same type of Motion Capture software in its virtual engineering labs as Hollywood employs to create such motion pictures as “Avatar,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “Polar Express”

“Just like in the movies, we hook people up with sensors to understand exactly how they move when they are interacting with their vehicles,” said Gary Strumolo, manager, Ford research and engineering. “Once we have all that motion captured, we create virtual humans that we can use to run thousands of tests that help us understand how people of all sizes and shapes interact with all kinds of vehicle designs. It’s an incredibly efficient way of engineering tomorrow’s vehicles.”

Gary Strumolo also stated that:

  • Ford uses motion-capture software for a variety of automotive applications including the study of human movement for better ergonomics, immersive virtual driving experiences, and virtual manufacturing
  • The technology is the latest innovation at Ford to help engineers optimize vehicle design, comfort and ergonomics. The work from this technology is being applied to future products



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