How Motion-capture technology works in Hollywood. And how it has evolved from 1937 to 2014.

In my last blog, I talked about how motion-capture technology evolved from 1937 to 2014. Now, the main questions are,

What is motion-capture?

Motion-Capture is the system which transfer the movement data into a digital character with the help of specific software such as Autodesk Motion Builder, Maya and others. In this system the cameras collect the movement of reflective markers which are placed on actor’s body.

How does this amazing technology works?

Actually, it’s a process of transferring the movement into a digital character. There are mainly two types of systems, “optical” and “non-optical”. Tracking cameras known as optical system and inertia and mechanical motion known as the non-optical system. Optical system works by recording a motion of particular actor. Optical system classified into an active method and passive method. Active method use for body movement and passive method use for facial expression. In both methods cameras only capture the movements of the markers. (Mainly the motion capture suit and markers both are in contrast color so markers can reflect the light to the cameras and cameras can collect the movement properly).

Furthermore, when we captured the movement, data is converted into a virtual skeleton by software like Autodesk’s Motion Builder, Maya, and many others. And then the result is, animated character move like real-life performance.
It’s very difficult to predict that how the movement will translate so, James Cameron developed new technology for his film Avatar, named virtual cinematography which is often used nowadays. He designed a different cameras call “virtual cameras” which streamed the actor’s movement directly into CGI (computer generated imaginary) which helps him to see a real-time performance, how will their character look like in the film.


Lastly, nothing is cheap when we work with 3D animation. But, as compared to other digital system we can make a simple marker based system at home by Kinect and iPi software for $295. But while talking about the professional system it’s required a huge investment. For example; a new lab of EA uses latest Vicon Blade mo-cap software and 132 cameras. Additionally, a price for two cameras with the license is around $12,500. So, for the small studio, it’s too expensive.

This is all about how motion-capture works and what you required for it. In my next blog we will learn how virtual cinematography works and what is the next version of motion-capture?