Have you ever watched a movie or played a video game and wondered how the characters move so realistically?
That would be the courtesy of Motion Capture.
Motion capture used to be something only big studios with deep pockets could afford. But, guess what? Over the last decade, things have really shaken up! Thanks to the cost of technology going down (and more capture options popping up), there are loads of different setups and combos you can use to capture human movement.
So whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker, a game developer, or a curious enthusiast who wants to:
- Capture and identify complex movements of subjects and objects,
- Design digital prototypes,
- Host a virtual event,
- Plan an interactive experience for your fanbase,
- Create live VR or AR sets;
The motion capture technology is just what you need.
Keep reading and you’ll find everything useful about full-body motion capture, full-performance motion capture, and facial motion capture systems and the technologies they use.
Full-Body Motion Capture
Let’s start with full-body motion capture. Full-body motion capture employs hardware and software to capture the actor’s entire body movements. As you’ll soon read, this type of mocap is popular when it comes to creating realistic character animations in video games and animation.
Full-body motion capture is also used in film production, especially in scenes where computer-generated characters interact with live actors.
Here are a few examples of projects that have used motion capture to take their productions to the next level:
- Full-body motion capture was used in the video game “Avatar: The Last Airbender” to create realistic character animations.
Advantages & Limitations
Advantages of full-body motion capture include:
- Accurate Capture: Full-body motion capture accurately captures complex movements and body dynamics.
- Immersive Animation: The full-body motion capture technology creates more immersive and realistic character animations for games and films.
- Real-Time Feedback: Some full-body motion capture systems offer real-time feedback, allowing for immediate adjustments during performance.
- Historical Archive: The technology also provides a way to preserve and analyze historical performances.
Limitations of full-body motion capture include:
- Cost: The technology and equipment required for full-body motion capture used to be more expensive in the past, but can still be considered high if optical systems are used.
- Space: You’ll need space just big enough to fit your performance.
Full-Performance Motion Capture
Simply put, full-performance motion capture follows the movements of the entire body, including the face and fingers. Similar to full-body mocap, this type of motion capture is often used in films and video games to create lifelike characters.
Here are a few examples of projects that have used full-performance motion capture to get that real-time cinematography just right:
- Full-performance motion capture was used in the film “Avatar” to create lifelike performances of the Na’vi characters.
- The cast of The Adventures of TinTin shot the movie using full-performance motion capture techniques. But instead of giving TinTin characters faces based on actors’ faces, they used Hergé’s original drawings to make characters more believable and less awkward-looking.
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice production team also used full-performance motion capture technology to capture the smallest details of the actor’s movements for the game.
Advantages & Limitations
Advantages of full-performance motion capture include:
- Comprehensive Capture: Full-performance motion capture captures both body and facial movements for highly immersive performances.
- Emotional Expression: The technology allows for more expressive and emotional performances, making characters more relatable.
- Realism: Full-performance motion capture provides everything you need to make your production realistic, even if there’s a totally surreal theme to it.
- Creativity: Full-performance motion capture also enables creative freedom for actors and animators to experiment with performances.
Limitations of full-performance motion capture include:
- Cost: The technology and equipment required for full-performance motion capture can be expensive if studios choose to use optical tracking systems.
- Complexity: The process can be complex on and off the screen since teams need to capture and integrate both body and facial movements.
- Technical Challenges: There can be technical challenges in synchronizing body and facial movements accurately.
Facial Motion Capture
Facial motion capture tracks the movements of even the smallest facial muscles, including facial expressions and lip sync. It’s often used in films, video games, and virtual reality experiences to make characters seem more “alive”.
As people become more aware of how motion capture can make productions better, they’re starting to pay more attention to facial capture.
Now production teams use facial motion capture in movies to create realistic facial animations for computer-generated characters. Facial mocap is also popular in video games since creating emotional and engaging experiences is much tougher than it may seem.
Here are a few examples of projects that employed the facial motion capture technology to create more lively characters:
- Facial motion capture was used in the video game “L.A. Noire” to create realistic facial animations and lip sync for the characters.
- Live interactive shows like The Otter Chat also use facial motion capture systems to interact with audiences in real-time.
Advantages & Limitations
Advantages of facial motion capture include:
- Emotional Depth: Facial motion capture adds emotional depth and expressiveness to characters.
- Lip Sync: This technology allows for accurate lip sync and voice synchronization for characters in films and games.
- Realism: Remember all those mind-blowing video game graphics that had you questioning whether you’re watching a movie or really playing a game? Well, facial motion capture enhances the realism of characters immensely by capturing subtle facial expressions and nuances.
- Creativity: Facial motion capture also enables animators and directors to experiment with different facial expressions and performances.
- Low cost and equipment: Compared to all other motion capture techniques, facial mocap requires only a few pieces of equipment and software to easily run. Naturally, the cost for it is also lower than full-body or full-performance mocap.
- Versatility: As you read above, facial motion capture can virtually be used for anything from films, games, live events, and more.
- Cost: As with any other motion-capture method, the technology and equipment required for facial motion capture can be expensive if you opt for optical systems.
- Marker Placement: Marker-based systems require precise placement of markers on the face, which can be time-consuming.
Motion Capture Technology in 2023
There are several techniques for facial motion capture, including marker-based systems, markerless systems, and hybrid systems.
As the name implies, marker-based systems use markers placed on the body and face to track movement. This is while markerless systems use cameras and software to analyze movements and facial expressions.
To break it down, let’s start with the two main stage actors capturing movement for motion capture systems:
- Markers or trackers
Cameras (either infrared cameras or light-emitting markers) record and monitor movements happening in front of them. Then, the data received by the camera are integrated into any capture software for you to view the final animation results.
Note that motion capture sensors can follow movement in space AND analyze the space and motions’ depth.
The same happens with the second motion capture method, markers.
Motion capture suits are special, lightweight suits actors put on based on the type of motion capture the project needs. And yes, the trackers (or Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)) are on the suit. Then, these sensors transmit data wirelessly to a computer or smart device.
A third hybrid option also exists, but it’s rather complex and needs more setup and equipment than the first two.
With that basic introduction, let’s now get into the details of each technique:
Optical Motion Capture System
Optical systems use high-end cameras to track markers placed on the actor’s body. An optical setup is often used in big-budget productions (like AAA games)that need high-quality animation data.
Take, for example, PDI, which used optical motion capture to create a computer-generated Batman stuntman for the movie “Batman Forever.” They collected the performance of a gymnast who was doing flips and other cool moves on stage.
It’s a great way to make sure every movement is captured perfectly since optical motion capture rarely misses any details. But only a specialist animator can use the software without any problem. Others would probably need some training first.
Inertial Motion Capture System
Inertial systems rely on accelerometers and gyroscopes. Inertial motion capture is significantly more affordable and easier to use than optical systems.
Plus, getting everything ready to go is a breeze, and even a mid-level 3D artist can get the hang of it in just a few hours! Not to mention that online inertial mocap sessions have made it increasingly easy for small companies and startups to use mocap on a budget.
Hybrid Motion Capture Systems
Hybrid trackers are pretty amazing in how they function—they collect both optical and inertial data. This means you’re combining the strengths of optical tracking with the advantages of inertial data to create a powerful system.
Inertial motion capture is like the camera for human moves, catching every twist and turn. Meanwhile, optical motion capture is like the detective for objects in the scene, keeping track of everything from props to pieces of the environment. Plus, optical mocap adds an additional layer of accuracy and precision to the whole process.
Motion capture systems are transformative tools for professionals across various fields, enabling them to digitize and analyze movements. These systems give valuable insights to boost performance AND they help create life-like characters and and visually stunning visual effects (VFX) for entertainment content.
Now, it’s clear that motion capture technology has come a long way since its inception, and it continues to play a bold role in creating realistic experiences for all industries. Whether you’re creating a video game, an animated series, or an interactive media experience, understanding the differences between full-body, full-performance, and facial motion capture helps you choose the right one for your project.
At Picotion, we will be more than happy to help you out in picking the best type of motion capture for your project and estimate a realistic cost. In case you didn’t know, we also have remote motion-capture technology available to carry out your projects from wherever you are.
Drop us a line and we’ll do the rest.