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Motion Capture

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"Motion capture is exactly what it says: it's physical moves, whereas performance capture is the entire performance - including your facial performance. If you're doing, say, martial arts for a video game, that is motion capture. This is basically another way of recording an actor's performance: audio, facial and physical."

Motion Capture is a relatively new procedure that provides a more realistic alternative to the traditional process of animating a 3D computer-generated character. Depending on the goal (and how well the data translates to the CG character), anywhere from trivial to massive re-animating over top of the mocap data can be required. Motion Capture refers to capturing the movement of the body overall (head, torso, arms, hands, legs and feet), while Performance Capture refers to capturing the facial performance.

For it to work, a performer wears a skin-tight suit with tracking points on it: initially this was done with reflective balls, but technology is now advanced enough that high-contrast black-and-white circles can be tracked with a camera array, although folks tend to talk about the nylon-suit-with-golf-balls imagery since that's a much funnier thing to imagine George Clooney doing. The dots are placed on articulation and movement points (elbows, feet, knees, head, chest, etc), and an array of cameras track their position and movement. This data can then be applied to one or more CG characters (for example, in The Lord of the Rings entire armies were animated this way).

Performance Capture is a similar version that adds small dots applied to an actor's face, allowing a camera (such as one on a boom arm mounted to a cap) to record data on the facial muscles. Performance Capture exists because Motion Capture typically doesn't record facial data, nor fingers and toes. Before this the face was animated traditionally, and extra details not on the actor also need to be simulated or animated: Bill Nighy's tentacles didn't animate themselves!

Motion and Performance Capture have several advantages over traditional animation, namely that it's less time-consuming to give characters incredibly lifelike movement that would take an animator weeks to do. Its limitations are the sheer amount of animation data created (if you need to adjust an arm, you may have to completely redo its animation), and it doesn't quite look right in more cartoony art styles.

Rotoscoping is the manual, pre-computer version of this process.

Often a domain of the Serkis Folk.


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  • Orangina used Motion Capture in their various CGI commercials. See here for the "making of" vid.

    Film - Live-Action  
  • One cannot even mention Motion Capture without Andy Serkis, who played Gollum with much acclaim in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film adaptations, as well as King Kong in King Kong (2005) and Caesar in the Rise, Dawn and War for the Planet of the Apes. In all cases, the detailed motion capture performance was completed with the help of hand animation for the face and fingers, based on footage of Andy's performance.
  • Everything in Avatar is mocaped, or like James Cameron likes to call it, "performance captured", which means full body movement including facial muscles and the eyes without any additional animation.
  • Jurassic Park did this for some of the dinosaur shots after they decided to go with CGI instead of stop-motion. The puppeteer crew was kept on and essentially did motion capture puppeteering: they made dinosaur armatures connected to servos, which animated the dinosaurs on the computers. This was done to ease the jarringness of transferring to CG for mostly stop motion animators.
  • The Martians in John Carter. Interestingly enough, the film was directed by Andrew Stanton (whose old company, Pixar, wasn't very big on the process).
  • Pictured above, Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean movies, playing ruthless and devilish captain Davy Jones.
  • In Hulk director Ang Lee himself "played" the Hulk via motion capture.
  • Used In-Universe in Grudge Match, where Razor and Kid both get motion captured for a boxing video game.
  • Rosa Salazar portrays the titular character using this technique in Alita: Battle Angel.
  • Ahmed Best as Jar-Jar Binks in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy was the Trope Maker. The technology and the program coding was created almost from the ground-up for him.

     Film - Animated 
  • In Happy Feet, most of the penguins sing, and so have talented singers for voice actors. Mumble, on the other hand, tap dances, so the producers brought in (and credited) famous tap-dancer Savion Glover to do the motion capture just for Mumble.
  • Several Jim Henson Productions that use CGI characters have used a puppet-like armature covered in sensors, to allow the company's puppeteers to animate the character in real-time using their existing skills; Henson puppeteers regularly perform by watching their own actions on a video monitor. Generally, the low-quality real-time render is redone as a better render afterward.
  • The film adaptation of Tintin is also based on these.
  • The Ballet Dancing in the Barbie movies is this.
  • Food Fight! was among the first, production wise, animation films to use the tech. However, it wasn't exactly the best. It was noted in by the Nostalgia Critic that it seemed as if the characters' expressed themselves mostly through awkwardly waving their arms, and it's more akin to watching C-3PO suffer a seizure. Spending ten years in Development Hell meant that it looked kind of dated compared to later films that used motion capture successfully.
  • BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn, produced by the same guys as Foodfight, contains a few scenes of this. But are pulled off much more effectively than that film.
  • A few background characters in Barnyard were done this way.
  • The guitar playing in Coco was animated this way.
  • Tarzan (2013) is animated through the motion of actors.

     Music Videos 
  • Kraftwerk's Musique Non Stop video was mocaped.

  • In the original Broadway production of Shrek: The Musical, this was how the Magic Mirror's face was portrayed on the stage.

    Live Action TV 
  • From 1995 though 1998, there was a satellite TV channel showing a bingo program called Basil Basset Bingo, hosted by the titular Basil. Bizarrely enough, Basil himself was reused for Macaroni tout garni, a Québécois kids show.

    Video Games 
  • More and more common in video games, especially Fighting Games. Incredibly helpful to make 3D martial arts maneuvers look authentic to have an actual martial artist recording said maneuvers. Granted, there's some problems if the move's mapped onto someone drastically different from the attacker or defender, but adds a little verisimilitude.
  • Prince of Persia (1989) - credited by the Guiness Book of World Records for first use of motion capture in a video game, albeit via rotoscoping.
  • The Interplay adaption of The Lord of the Rings was motion captured in the cheapest, most primitive way imaginable. For example, Gandalf was 'played' by one of the developers wearing a bathrobe, sombrero, and Santa Claus beard.
  • Madden NFL Football 1994
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Some of Link's stunts were done with motion capture.
  • Experimented with in the Metal Gear Solid VR Missions add-on (2000), brought into all later games in the Metal Gear series, with Hideo Kojima directing the actors as if it were a movie.
    • Nearly caused problems when, during the development of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001), Kojima's son (who had been taken into the studio by his father so he could have company) toddled onto the set, picked up a prop sword and started poking the reflective dots on the motion capture actors' suits with it.
    • During development of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008), the additional time needed to render the cutscenes meant the voice actors had to sync along with camera-recorded motion capture footage instead - weirdly enough, it improved performance. Facial motion capture was also used for the first time, and to great effect.
    • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain had the voice actors perform their own facial and motion capture, blending in some Ink-Suit Actor elements to make the characters feel more plausible.
  • Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance has Mokap, a motion capture actor as an actual playable character.
  • Capcom's Clock Tower 3 uses motion capture in its cut scenes.
  • Primal (2003) When it works, it works really well. A couple of times it seems to be wildly overdone, perhaps to draw attention to the fact that it's motion capture.
  • Enter the Matrix (2003) had all actor's movements, combos and speech mo-capped. This resulted in the very smooth movements, unfortunately overshadow by graphics, obsolete even by 2003 standards.
  • Ghost Hunter (2003)
    • They even seem to have captured Michael Gambon's characteristic stoop.
  • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening (2003) had Reuben Langdon, Daniel Southworth, and Stephanie Cheeva mocap as Dante, Vergil, and Lady respectively.
  • Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007), Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011), although Naughty Dog still insists on doing facial animation manually. They are continuing the trend with The Last of Us.
  • World in Conflict (2007) and its expansion Soviet Assault use motion-capture for cutscenes; some raw footage of motion-capture sessions plays over the credits with the final cutscene next to it for comparison.
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008) used motion capture of gymnast Heidi Moneymaker for Lara's acrobatics.
    • Underworld is the first of the Tomb Raider games to use motion capture.
    • Ironically, quite a few players complain about Heidi's ...I mean Lara's incredibly fast movement looking jerky.
  • Heavy Rain (2010): All major character's performances are fully mocap, including the face and the eyes, just like in Avatar.
  • For Grand Theft Auto IV, MMA fighter Bas Rutten was used as the motion actor for Niko's martial arts. Bas was also given a cameo as himself in one of the in-game TV shows.
  • This was used for L.A. Noire to help achieve detailed emotions on characters faces.
  • Heavenly Sword used this for facial expressions in cutscenes.
  • Halo games from Halo 4 onward make extensive use of MoCap for cutscene animations, both body and face.
  • Beyond: Two Souls (2013), another David Cage game just like Heavy Rain, also used full motion capture and starred Elliot Page and Willem Dafoe as ink suit actors.
  • The original version of Final Fantasy XIV used motion capture, including the player character's attack animations. One of the major criticisms of the game was battles felt clunky and slow due to the "weight" the animations had behind them plus their animation locks (though this was just one of many problems the game had). After the game was rebooted, the majority of cutscenes used generic animations while the more important main story cutscenes tended to use mocap animations.
  • Midnight Fight Express (Summer 2022), an indie beat-em-up brawler that uses motion capture for a large majority of the attacks/skills/counters. Eric Jacobus and his company were the ink suit actors.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2021) used Motion Capture for pretty much everything. This included Cosmo and his pups, meaning they put dogs in a mocap suits.
  • Maggie Robertson provided both the voice and motion capture of Statuesque Stunner Lady Alcina Dimitrescu in Resident Evil Village, helped by Robertson being pretty tall herself (she's 6').

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: starting in Season 8, battle sequences started being done using motion capture (including most of Episode 10). Seasons 9 and 10 furthered the motion capture work with all of the Freelancer scenes being entirely motion capture.

  • In-universe in Sandra on the Rocks: Part of Sandra's job as the new model for Carmen Chamelia is to do motion capture for the new Carmen Chamelia game.

    Western Animation 
  • This sorta fits in some computer-animated college demo reels.
  • The Donkey Kong Country cartoon used this for the animation process.
  • The Moxy Show was a very early All-CGI Cartoon by Cartoon Network. Moxy himself had his first appearance was in this TBS cartoon special, which he was rendered in real time, making it among the first TV shows to use mo-cap.
  • The humans in Jane and the Dragon were animated this way at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital in New Zealand.
  • The planes' faces in Jay Jay the Jet Plane were animated this way.
  • Tigtone is a groundbreaking example of using motion capture for 2D animation, with digitally painted characters whose mouth movements and facial expressions are controlled by motion capture acting. Since the characters dont move in three dimensions, the face actor for each performance not only wears motion capture dots on their face, but must also sit in a special reclining chair which immobilizes their head so they are always facing straight into the camera positioned above.
  • Several of Mike Young Productions/Splash Entertainment's CGI productions — such as Bratz, Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks and Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures — have mixed this technique with traditional CGI animation (with the motion capture performers being credited as "character performance artists").


Video Example(s):


The Jim Henson Hour: Waldo

Waldo is a 3D, computer-animated Muppet character controlled by the motions of the puppeter's hand while in a special, mitten-shaped rig.

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