What could the future hold for motion capture and its users?

Motion capture is a process in which movement is recorded digitally, using a technique originally developed for military tracking purposes and for biomechanical research in sports looking at the mechanical functionality of the body.

Over the last twenty- five years it has become a technology used in the entertainment industry for games, film and television. It allows animators to produce more realistic computer generated humans and realistic natural movement. When capturing subtle expressions, like in the face or fingers this is often referred to as performance capture. Motion capture only records the actor’s movement, not their visual appearance. The data recorded using the motion capture technology is then mapped on to a 3D model which then moves as the actor moved.

Motion capture in animation was created using and extension of the rotoscoping technique. This technique involves an actor being filmed making movements or gestures while wearing markers on specified points on the body. These markers were then encoded manually into a computer frame by frame. As technology advanced it was then possible to apply and algorithm to the markers and attach them to a 3D object, creating what is now called motion capture.

What’s new with motion capture?

Previously in order to record the movement of an actor, they would have to wear a special suit and have markers added to the body and dots to the face. But a recent development in Motion capture is markerless motion capture form Organic Motion. With this newer form of motion capture all the actor/ model has to do is enter a specially created set with fourteen LED based cameras on a rig. The CEO of Organic Motion, Andrew Tschesnok, said;

“I started writing the software for it back in 2002. But it was in 2007 that industries started to come round to the idea of markerless mocap (motion capture)”

He then goes onto say that the technology was first used in 2007 in the medical industries on children with cerebral palsy. The system, then called Biostage, meant that poorly children did not have to go through the process of attaching makers to them. This meant that doctors could instantly analyze and evaluate the children.

Organic motions have now produced a program called Stage where the markerless technology can now be used in sports shops and in film production.

It is also a cheaper than previous motion capture technology. Studio 7 is the first UK company to use Stage, Managing director of Studio 7 Chris Richmond stated;

“It’s fantastic that we’ve got the first Stage system in the UK, in fact, Europe. The technology means that smaller production companies who thought that motion capture was out of their price bracket can come and utilize the system”

Managing Director of Studio 7 Chris Richmond July 2007

Motion capture and Makeup

“Instead of spending hours in a makeup chair each day, an actor could don a spandex body suit studded with markers that resembled ping-pong balls, step in front of the camera for a scene, then let the costume and makeup get layered on digitally.”

Glenn Derene writer at popular mechanics may 2008

Motion capture allows limitless creative possibilities, one persons captured motion can be transformed into a creature for example. It has also been suggested that past dead personalities could be recreated in animation and given new life with a motion captured performance.

What does motion capture mean for actors?

Looking at some past uses of motion capture in movies, there have been performances captured from actors in the studio but the visual representation of the actor is absent from the final rendered result in the movie. For example Andy Serkis played Gollum in lord of the Rings, a creature that could not be further from Serkis true form. Does this mean actors are beginning to be replaced by a virtual makeup?

“While exaggerated movements are easy for a non-actor to simulate, a more expressive performance still requires a professional”

Alan Lewis, Computer animation Lecturer at Met Film School London, August 2010

Alan Lewis states the difference between performance capture and motion capture and how performance capture is about capturing an emotional response of an actor, something that can only be believable with real life actors.

However sequences can be re-used. Martial artists for example will be recorded to produce a library of predictable move to use and re-use. This saves on time and cost but will this have an effect on job availability, i.e. for stunt men, if studios are re using pre-recorded images?

Kenneth Womack at Rust 3D says “Noting that replacing Hollywood stars with digital counterparts would rob movie fans of one of their favorite pastimes — celebrity gossip.”

This points out that celebrity actors have other sources of lime light than a film performance. Their everyday lives themselves are used as another source of entertainment. Take the actors away and you loose celebrity magazines like Heat and newspaper articles on the new celebrity baby or £100,000 wedding dress. As Womack states, fans would not allow their favorite actors to disappear as buying the latest magazine would ensure that the celebrities keep their notoriety.

“There’s no point in hiring new people for a similar game or re-release when you can map them onto a different character. There’s always a bit of re-scaling or re-adjustment but you can tweak.”

Alan Lewis, computer animation lecturer at Met Film School London, August 2010

Businesses like Motives in Movement, specializes in pre-recorded libraries of individual actors motion captured performances to create a personal catalogue of movement.

So could this mean actors will no longer need to leave the comfort of their own home to audition or even act for a move? That it could be as simple as posting a DVD or file to a film production company of his or hers catalog of movements?

On the other hand Ed Leonard from DreamWorks does not consider Motion capture to be a threat to actors. He says,

“But it will never replace actors – that doesn’t make any sense. Talent is about the expression of that performance.”

Ed Leonard, DreamWorks August 2010

 Conclusion

The lower price bracket on this new motion capture technology could she smaller companies investing in motion capture, making the technology more accessible and wide spread in the future.

From examining the opinions of professional with in the industry the possibility of motion capture making actors redundant is not expected, talent is still needed to give an individual and different performance for each role, an effect you would not achieve from pre rescored movements. However, the appearance of businesses like Motives in Movement could leave, stunt men and extras sort of employment opportunities if a previous motion captured performances are re-used.

Bibliography

Derene, G. (May 21st 2008)  “Motion Capture Ready to Bring Next-Gen Avatars to Gaming, Movies, Medicine, the Military and More” http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/news/4264771?series=6 (Accessed February 11th 20011)

Kleinman, Z. (23rd August 2010) “Can technology replace human actors?” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11025543 (Accessed February 11, 2011)

Hicks, J. (September 25, 2008) “Will digital actors replace humans in Hollywood?” http://www.physorg.com/news141577190.html  (Accessed March 13th 2011)

Ellis, J. (n.d) “what is Motion Capture Techonogly?” http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-motion-capture-technology.htm  (Accessed March 13th 2011)

Author unknown (n.d) “Motion capture” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_capture (Accesed March !3th 2011)

Seymour, M. (June 8th 2007) “Mocap Without the Embarrassing Blue Suits” http://www.fxguide.com/featured/Mocap_Without_the_Embarrassing_Blue_Suits/ (Accessed 13th 2011)

 

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