What is motion capture?

“We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false! “

“Myyyyy Preciousssss!!!!!!!!”

Does this ring any bell? Yes. Gollum! Gollum!

For those of you who don’t know Gollum, I feel sorry for you. He is one of the integral characters from THE LORD OF THE RINGS movie franchise. No, this is not going to be about this single character nor this particular movie. We are too good for that. This is about an ever-growing technology of motion capture, or in short Mo-Cap. It refers to the tech that helps to capture actor’s movements to help create next-to-perfect animations. It also includes capturing facial expressions, which is commonly known as Performance Capture (No, we’re not calling it “Per-Cap”). So, where does Gollum fit in? Gollum is one of the best performances by an actor there has been on-screen using Mo-Cap and also, is the first performance that brought the technology into the mainstream.

How many other characters can you think of that were made using Motion Capture?

The little guy who is set free using a pair of socks, the Loki smashing big green thingy, the “NO” speaking Ape, the rich-gazillionaire fire breathing dragon, the beautiful tentacles face, and countless others (technically, we can count them though. We are just a bit lazy). Recognize all of them? Now, what I want you to do is, imagine those characters played by some actor in a green room, wearing a tight suit with markers all over their body and a camera on their head. Pretty badass ha!

Benedict Cumberbatch playing the fire breathing dragon, Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Benedict Cumberbatch playing the fire breathing dragon, Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

That was a fun little intro, wasn’t it? Were you not entertained! Wasn’t that why you were here? Oh right! That wasn’t why you were here! Right, right the Mo-Cap.

Sit down as we are about to begin a history lesson. This won’t take long. Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1938, the year you weren’t even born in) this little movie used something called Rotoscoping, the first movie at that. What this term vaguely refers to is the practice of drawing over the live-action frames. Yes, that means EVERY single frame of that movie was hand-drawn over by some artist. Take a moment to admire that. Now here is a task for you, replace the hand of the artist and their ability to track the movement of the characters with sophisticated computer software.

Then, we arrive at Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). What these movies did was hire actors and suit them up with a special suit that had markers all over it. The change in position of the markers due to the movement of actors was then captured by multiple cameras. Tracing those markers, the camera creates digital characters. Now we have with us the raw footage of the movement of all the characters. All that is left is for software like XSens MVN system, Autodesk’s MotionBuilder, Vicon Blade, etc. to animate over these movements. And SMASH! We have The Hulk. A lifelike Animated Green Beast with distinct movements and expressions.

Certainly, Motion Capture is not just for the movies. Many video games (GTA V, Call of Duty (Kit Harrington, the guy who knows nothing), Life is Strange) have also used the tech to bring you the best experience playing games. Alright, forget about these heavy-duty, high-performance games that most of us barely get our hands on but we all know SEGA. Did that ring a bell? Yeah! They developed the game using Mo-cap known as “Virtua Fighter KO”. Hope you have played the game if not then, I am not sure what you have played. Ever since 1994, motion capture has come in use in all the arcade games that we have played. During the development of these games, not just the main character but also the irrelevant characters are made using it. In shooting games like COD, you shoot loads of people. Pretty fun to go on a rampage. However, if you have noticed, not all those that you kill, die the same way. Even the deaths, how they fall to the ground are actually played by some actors.

Recently, the games from EA SPORTS (FIFA, NBA, MMA) have started using it to give gamers a realistic experience. Every move that you perform on the game is the prerecorded moves by real players. It is ironic that these players spend all their lives learning the moves and but you, on the other hand, can do it just by clicking some buttons. That sounds like cheating, huh! But since it’s fun, it doesn’t really matter much. Even the mainstream actors like William Defoe (Green Goblin in Spiderman, 2002) and Ellen Page (Shadow Kitty in X-men, 2000) have acted for the game “Beyond: Two Souls”. However, if you have seen Robert De Niro (How can you not know this guy?) in Grudge Match (2013), you should know it’s not easy for the actors as well.

Someone once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility!”


Here is a question for you, what does the likes of the mysterious guy with an ugly face who want all Jedi dead, a dancing singing bear, leader of the Apes, the Lord of the Nazgûl “the chief servant of THE DARK LORD”, the “precious” guy, the Empire State Building climbing 25 feet Godzilla’s counterpart all have in common? The answer, the one freaking guy who plays all these characters. Andy Serkis. A legend when it comes to Motion Capture and performance capture. 53 years of age, he is the cornerstone when it comes to Hollywood’s animated characters. And he alone best describes what Mo-Cap is truly capable of. With the versatility as wide as …. (Well, we found nothing else to compare him to, which just showcases his greatness even more), he alone can display the reach of Mo-Cap.

When done right, Mo-Cap has the potential of creating a whole hoard of characters with each distinct personality through the use of a single performer. That my old friend is the versatility unachievable even by the 24 characters playing Leonardo DiCaprio (Don’t worry if you don’t know about this. The movie isn’t released yet). And you know tech is good when Leo himself cannot even outdo it. Oh, and guess who played the drunk ship captain in Tin-Tin? That’s right, Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles! The guy whose arm Ultron himself cut off, Andy freaking Serkis! Told you he is a god-damn legend.

Well, there’s not always a rainbow in the land of Mo-Cap. There are but characters like Green Lantern (everyone can see all the green guy was a pile of poop… good god, we got Deadpool) and Jar-Jar Binks.

Bijen Mali
Sijan Shrestha
Yaju Rajbhandari

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