How Technologies Have Improved Motion Capture


The global entertainments industry is booming. From TV and cinema through to newer media like video games, improving technologies have made the viewing experience more realistic and more enjoyable for consumers worldwide. Motion capture technology is one area in which the improvements in both hardware and software systems have made it possible to experience more satisfying results.

In the animation industry in particular, Organic Motion motion capture software has transformed the way media is composed. Modern systems now save both time and money in the animation process, and are heavily relied upon by creative industries involved in putting together animated creatives. Rather than hand drawing, or even computer rendering frame by frame, the required motion can be synthesized through tracking real human movements, making it a much more effective and cost-efficient process.


Motion capture technology was first made viable in the 1970s, when animators first took to painstaking ‘rotoscoping’ animation. Disney used an early precursor to motion capture technology in several of its feature films. The process would involve animators tracing individual frames over film footage of actors. This created a more realistic synthesis of movement in animation. However, this type of process can take a long time to capture, and animators still needed to trace every individual frame in order to achieve the effect.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that motion capture took its next major leap forward. For the first time, bio-mechanics researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia attached tracking devices to a person. The data output from the technology was converted into digital form, allowing for much speedier, more accurate work. In the early part of the decade, the transition into the computer games industry was much more obvious. Developers were now expressing an interest in using this type of technology to improve the quality and efficiency of game design.


In the 1990s, motion capture technology became increasingly accessible to industry, moving away from the academic sphere. Facial tracking technologies were beginning to become more prevalent, which in turn make a greater degree of realism more possible. The so-called “face waldo” allowed for movements of the facial muscles to be tracked, inputted and analyzed through software technology. The waldo allowed for one actor to animate the entire facial movements of a character, for a real-time animation of highly realistic motion.

The early part of the 2000s saw facial tracking and motion capture technologies reach more advanced stages. Improvements in online communications and in the hardware used for capturing motion made it possible for wireless devices to be used for the first time, in addition to the ever-improving standard of visuals delivered.

Today, motion capture technologies have become even more realistic, and even more effective at transcribing natural motion. Stronger sensors allow for the capture of more slight movements, while the fluidity and flow of the animation is much more smooth as a result. Market-leading technologies are also now becoming more accessible. From the prohibitively expensive systems of a few decades ago, reserved for academics with large research grants, contemporary systems are available on an affordable commercial scale. This has helped increase the possibilities for smaller and independent animators.

It is not just in the field of animation where motion capture has been making a difference. While motion capture technologies have come to dominate film, TV and video game representations, there are other industries which are benefiting from improvements in these technologies. Sports science has emerged as a growing field over the last few decades, leading to more detailed analysis of physical performance. Motion capture technologies are used for athletes of all ages and abilities, helping identify movement problems or weak points in order to promote more effective training.

Or there is the medical profession, where motion capture is being used increasingly in physiotherapy, and in other applications for research, diagnosis and treatment across various conditions. With the technology now more discreet, and more usable than ever before, the full extent of its benefits can now be felt.

Before motion capture technology was such a mainstream thing, its functionality was either painstaking to create or unavailable. In film and entertainment industries, special effects were much more primitive, and much less realistic. Viewing audiences have matured with the improvements in these technologies, as computer games have similarly improved in the realism of the experiences they offer. This has combined to make the latest generation of motion media more fluid and more realistic than ever before.

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