Creating hyper-realistic animations with motion capture: an animation technique for video games and for animated movies. As a serious game studio, we sometimes get asked what we use motion capture for. From our experience with motion capture for serious games, we want to address some questions. When is it useful? And is it interesting for small game or film studios?
What can you do with motion capture?
Motion capture is an animation technique that can be used to create 3D animations. In a motion capture studio, you record an author and measure all his movements via sensors or cameras. Motion capture is a useful technique when the goal is to make 3D animations as realistic and authentic as possible.
Motion capture is commonly used in the film, animation and game industries. The technique is useful for animating:
- Movements in a game that are used a lot and need to be played in a ‘loop’. Think of the repetitive motion of leg movement when walking. This movement does not need to change all the time.
- Movements in (game) cinematics such as acting out a scene that is later used for a digital character. Think of Gollum in Lord of the Rings or Nathan Drake’s cutscenes in Uncharted.
- Exercises for sports or rehabilitation, where it is important that the movement is animated very accurately. Think of yoga, boxing, or balance exercises for rehabilitation.
- Simulations of specific actions. For example, it is possible to have an actor mimic the movements of a gorilla (even though it is obviously difficult).
Is motion capture interesting for small studios?
Reputable game, film and animation studios have their own motion capture studio and have all the expertise to make their own recordings. In addition, they have a large network of actors at their disposal, enabling them to produce animations in real-time. For large studios, it is therefore So motion capture is definitely interesting in large studios.
For a small studio, the technology itself is just as interesting. What makes it less interesting for small studios:
- The process from recording to complete animation takes a lot of time to set up.
- The hardware required for an in-house motion capture studio is pricey compared to the value it can bring to a small studio in the long term.
- ‘Cleaning’ data is a time-consuming process. Also, current motion capture software and hardware are sometimes unable to quickly process lesser-known movements.
- Finding and hiring the right actors with motion capture experience leads to high costs.
In short, it depends heavily on the type of jobs the studio has, the size of those jobs and how often motion capture is needed. Animating yourself also takes a lot of time. If you compare that cost (in hours) with the investment cost for a motion capture studio, it may be a good investment after all. Also, note that renting a motion capture studio is a possibility.
How much time does motion capture take?
Which is faster: motion capture or manual animation? Whatever animation technique you use, time investment makes no difference. In terms of organization and intensity, motion capture requires more attention. You need a team with an actor, operator, and director. Ideally, you should also gather people from other roles to watch what?. Animating yourself (with the classic method) can be done with one animator and sometimes an art director, and is, therefore, a lot less complicated organizationally.
Furthermore, the director will have to prepare a script and a schedule to ensure that the motion capture shots run smoothly. Objects (such as a fake sword or gun) may be needed for the filming, and several actors may need to be shot simultaneously. After the motion capture recordings, the data must be processed and exported. From that point on, the process takes as much time as that of a “normal” animation.
Can you merge or edit motion capture recordings?
In principle, it is possible to merge motion capture recordings, but it is not always easy or desirable. One challenge with merging motion capture recordings is that the start and finishing positions can be very different for each animation, making them difficult to merge.
For example: you want to merge a crawling and running animation so that with two recordings, you have three different animations: ‘running’, ‘crawling’ and ‘crawling running’. If you then make another recording of ‘looking around’, with 3 animations, you can already make 6 different variations. In principle this is possible, and it saves a lot of time, but sometimes it can give a strange and unnatural result if the start and finishing positions do not match. Then it is better to re-record the ‘crawling run’ animation.
Editing motion capture footage is also tricky. The power of motion capture is precisely that it is realistic. Any editing afterwards means that you remove a piece of realism. There is a lot of subtlety and small nuances in the different movements. Therefore, it is better to make a separate recording for each animation.
The data is editable after recording. In fact, this is often necessary, for example, to remove digital noise that makes certain movements jerky. However, it is still important to set up the recordings so that editing afterwards is minimal.
What about reusing motion capture recordings?
Especially in games, some movements occur a lot. Walking, jumping, crawling: these are common movements that you do not necessarily need to record over and over again. Even better: There are databases with standard motions recorded with motion capture. You can use these to save time.
However, it is wise to check carefully whether the animations fit. This depends on the purpose of the animation. Suppose you want the actor’s loop animation to be clumsy, it is better to record it yourself. After all, the power of motion capture is to capture the subtle nuances.
Getting started with motion capture
In this article, you’ve read about when you can use motion capture, how to use it and what to look out for. Motion capture is a powerful technique for creating hyper-realistic animations. Relative to animating yourself, it is an intensive process to organize, and the costs can be relatively high in the beginning. It is, therefore, useful to consider whether this will be beneficial in the longer term.
Grendel Games has a professional motion capture studio in Leeuwarden to record game animations. Are you curious how a motion capture recording works and what is involved? We would like to tell you more in this article.
Want to know more about motion capture, need help with your recordings, or want to hire our motion capture studio? Please feel free to contact Tim Laning to discuss it: