As wonderful as motion capture is, it isn’t easy. It’s been around for quite a while, but it evolves so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up with. So, how do you weigh its pros and cons to see if you should go through with it? We have you covered! (You can check our motion capture services for yourself. We have an extensive background.)
This post is the first in a series looking to provide a close-up view into professional motion capture. Without further ado, here’s why motion capture is part of the future of graphics and why it’s not the way to go for many projects.
Mocap Pro #1: It’s More Realistic
The idea behind motion capture is simple: capture a real actor’s movements and apply them to 3D characters. This also happens to be its biggest selling point. From processing videos to using special markers to sophisticated bodysuits and cameras, the technique has come a long way to produce more lifelike animations. To fully appreciate this benefit, let’s take a look at our other options.
Traditional alternatives to mocap include computer-generated imagery or GCI animation (think Wall-E), stop motion (like in Shaun the Sheep), and limited animation (as in Spirited Away). Compared to motion capture, these techniques and their subtypes are awfully manual and, so, less realistic in terms of movement.
Mocap Pro #2: It’s More Efficient
Let’s circle back to Computer-Generated Imagery animation, stop motion, and limited animation for a second. As we mentioned, they’re all valid alternatives to motion capture, but they’re also rather manual. In stop motion, you need to move your characters at least once a second. In limited animation, too, you should have a minimum of one drawing per second.
Computer-generated imagery is more efficient than the other two. In this method, artists create 3D models, move them to a new stance on the screen using a digital pen, assign a keyframe to this new stance, then move it again for the next keyframe. This goes on for a while, and then the 3D model starts to make the same moves at the exact keyframes. It’s a rather lengthy process.
Now for motion capture. An actor comes in and performs the actions, we capture the actor’s performance using special methods, clean up the data, then map it on the character’s 3D model. Most of this entire process is computer-assisted, too. The cleaning-up step can be the longest, but it’s still shorter than keyframing. Plus, animating complex or subtle movements are exceptionally easier with motion capture. (Think of parkour or a slight twitch in a character’s face.)
Mocap Pro #3: It’s More Creative
A huge plus to motion capture is that it allows for more creativity in the performance and expression of the characters. It gives actors the freedom to bring their own skills and personality to their roles. They can simply act! (Compare this to traditional animation methods, which take place before or after voiceovers, not during.)
Motion capture also gives animators more flexibility to enhance and refine the captured data. The bulk of movements is generated before it goes to the animators, so they will always have more time and space to add subtle details and nuances.
Mocap also fosters innovation among everyone else involved. We’ve already mentioned how motion capture results come in comparatively faster. Actors, directors, animators, and producers all get to see their work in real-time or shortly after the shooting. This pace means quicker and more efficient feedback loops. When done right, a mocap set is no different than a movie set. You can take a look at Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us for a popular motion capture project!
Mocap Con #1: It’s (Still) More Realistic
The fact that motion capture is extremely realistic is both a pro and a con, depending on where you’re using it. Imagine Minecraft Legends or Rick and Morty with exceedingly accurate, mocap-generated movements! You’ll find that you can’t, or it just doesn’t feel right. That’s because many of today’s video games and animations deliberately rely on fantasy, whimsical graphics. That’s the charm!
To rephrase, motion capture is suitable only when you’re going for hyperreal graphics. Some genres, namely fantasy, horror, and comedy may very well benefit from exaggerated, stylized graphics to create a distinct mood or feeling.
Let’s also note that video games with hyperreal graphics usually require more computing power and storage space, which we don’t always have or want to use. As a result, most of today’s casual or web-based games go for 2D graphics or 3D animation techniques other than motion capture.
Mocap Con #2: It Might Be More Expensive
While motion capture pays off in terms of time and energy, it generally costs more upfront than traditional methods. There’s no dramatic difference between the number of people involved in a keyframe-based animation and those in a motion capture animation. The difference is in the facilities, equipment, and required software.
Traditional animations can be done virtually anywhere and with a number of high-level tablets and PCs that handle everything. On the other hand, motion capture needs a certain space to act in, suits to capture movements, a stable high-speed network to transmit the data, corresponding software to interpret the raw feed, and considerable computing power for everything.
Note that this is for the markerless mocap we do in Picotion. Many companies still use less advanced suits, motion capture markers, and more cameras to track those markers’ colors, which adds equipment to the mix. (Many are also going for AI-powered mocap!) Don’t worry if you don’t have the equipment or the space. You can partner up with us from anywhere in the world for remote motion capture and unleash your potential.
Mocap Con #3: It Has Space Restrictions
Motion capture requires a studio, a controlled space where the actors can perform without interference from external factors. The studio needs enough room, proper lighting, and suitable equipment. We just mentioned how remote motion capture is always on the table, so this is not the hard part. The hard part is when, possibly, your project features many outdoor scenes, complex terrains, or large-scale interactions.
Remember that motion capture adheres to the laws of physics, which is a plus for hyperreal projects. However, the same project might also feature a tornado, a quicksand, or an interplanetary conflict. Although physically or theoretically possible, such terrains and movements are difficult to recreate in the studio.
Of course, difficult doesn’t always mean impossible. Mocap actors are always exceptionally talented and we have extensive experience, so everything can be feasible. We also have props and artificial intelligence to rely on. Still, not every scenario in the book can be created using motion capture alone.
What’s the Verdict? Should I Use Motion Capture?
Here’s a table of the pros and cons we covered.
|It’s exceedingly realistic.||Not every project needs to be realistic.|
|It’s faster and more efficient.||It’s probably more expensive.|
|It’s more creative.||It has space limitations.|
Here’s the quick rundown: Motion capture is your best option if you have a project with realistic graphics. It’s faster, easier, and amplifies everyone’s creativity. Do keep in mind that it might also be out of scope for your project in terms of vision and budget. Plus, if you have difficult terrain and unusual environments in your storyboard, run them by your mocap people before you decide to shoot them.
Final Word: Motion Capture is a Niche
We’ll leave you with a final thought. Microwaves and motion capture suits were first developed in the 1950s. Everyone knows how to use a microwave now, but it’s not the case with mocap suits! Motion capture has changed a lot since then, but it remains a niche technique. Unprofessional motion capture can cancel out all the presumed advantages, especially when cleaning up the raw data. When opting for motion capture, also opt for motion capture professionals.
Have a question? Contact us here and we’ll get back to you with the answer.