Tools of the Trade
Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 11 (Nov 2006)

Tools of the Trade

Commercial mocap offerings track movements for a range of applications 
By Karen Moltenbrey

A number of studios recently have broken new ground in terms of motion capture, as detailed in the feature "Big Moves" on pg. 18. In those instances, studios are advancing the state of the art in motion capture through R&D involving the use of both proprietary and commercial solutions. Sometimes, though, a film studio, game developer, medical team, or industrial design group simply is looking to get a job done—acquire accurate movements and apply the data to digital models, whether it’s a human, a prop, an animal, a creature, or something that’s difficult to categorize. To accomplish this, they turn to commercial hardware and software. Some of these tools are available for purchase, while others are used by vendors offering mocap services. Following is a look at various motion-capture vendors along with a summary of their products/offerings.

Ascension Technology Corp.

MotionStarMotionStar Wireless 2 ReActor 2

Ascension’s three mocap products track the real-time position and orientation of sensors or emitters placed on a performer’s body for animating computer characters. The two DC magnetic trackers, the tethered Motion Star, and the untethered MotionStar Wireless 2. They support the simultaneous, full-body tracking of up to five performers for close interaction without data loss or gaps in coverage. MotionStar now comes with a Data Optimization tool kit that enables users to predetermine the best setup for the system, helping to eliminate distortion and noise in tracker outputs. The active optical ReActor 2 overcomes occlusions and frequent camera calibration issues while delivering clean, real-time data. Its 544 digital detectors are embedded in a rugged 12-bar frame that virtually eliminates occlusion and dropouts. MotionStar ranges in price from $29,000 to $35,000; MotionStar Wireless, $59,000 to $65,000; and ReActor 2, $85,000 to $88,000.

Image Metrics

Facial-capture solution

Image Metrics specializes in performance-driven facial animation. The company’s markerless, patented computer-vision technology is based on performance capture, and can map all of the muscles in the human face, mouth, eyes, tongue, and skin. Additionally, its single-camera motion-capture technology does not require the use of special suits, markers, mocap cameras, or complex stages. The company’s technology has been for some of today’s most popular games, including Grand Theft Auto, Table Tennis, 24: The Game, and more for some of the industry’s leading developers. Pricing is project-dependent.

Immersion Corp.

CyberGlove II Wireless Glove

A standard for high-performance motion capture, the CyberGlove II wireless glove captures hand and finger movements for animation, biomechanics, digital prototyping, simulation/training, and virtual-reality applications. Constructed with stretch fabric for comfort and a mesh palm for ventilation, the fully instrumented glove provides either 18 or 22 high-accuracy joint-angle measurements using proprietary resistive bend-sensing technology. For applications needing position and orientation of the forearm, the CyberGlove II wristband supplies mounting provisions for InterSense, Polhemus, and Ascension six-degrees-of-freedom (DOF) tracking sensors. A software-programmable switch and LED on the wristband supports additional I/O capability. And, the optional VirtualHand SDK streamlines the task of adding hand motion capture, hand interaction, and force feedback to mechanical CAD, R&D, or 3D e-commerce applications. Backed by over 10 years of experience, the basic CyberGlove II system includes one data glove, two batteries, a battery charger, and a USB/Bluetooth technology adaptor with drivers. An 18-sensor system is priced at $12,295, while a 22-sensor system costs $17,795.

Measurand, Inc.


ShapeWrap II

Measurand offers the ShapeHand wireless data glove, which works on its own or integrates with a user’s existing motion-capture system. ShapeHand captures complete hand and finger movement. The offering has separate glove and sensor components, and different gloves use the same ShapeTape-based sensor array, so gloves can be chosen for best fit and can be renewed any time, as the sensor array slips into the glove to capture hand shape and motion. The products can be used for character animation, virtual reality, MRI research, motion analysis, and 3D input applications. The company’s ShapeWrap II self-contained motion-capture system (with no ties to cameras or marker systems) is flexible and portable, making it ideal for schools and teaching environments, as the product captures and translates complete 3D body movement, poses, walking, and orientation in real time using shape-sensing tapes free of occlusion and magnetic distortion. The ShapeWrap II sells for $28,500, while the ShapeHand sells for $9900.

Meta Motion

Ruby Motion Captor System


Standard Deviation




Meta Motion, a mocap distributor, provides motion-capture hardware and software tools and customized mocap solutions, including full-body motion-capture hardware, hand motion-capture tools, face trackers, and more. Some of the company’s newest solutions include: Ruby megapixel high-speed digital cameras for STT’s Motion Captor optical mocap system (priced below $50,000). The Ruby cameras provide large capture volumes, clean data, and dual-person capture from a six-camera system. GypsyGyro-18, by Animazoo, is priced below $80,000 and is now available with a new suit providing easier attachment of its inertial sensors for greater accuracy and ease of use. Standard Deviation’s new Facecap face tracker (prices starting below $10,000) offers a high level of comfort, adjustability, and secure attachment, with accurate registration. Facecap can be integrated with optical systems for simultaneous facial capture. New from RealViz, Movimento (starting at $20,000) is a video-based motion-capture system that can be used with a wide range of video cameras for full-body, facial, or on-set motion capture. Priced below $200, iClone, by Reallusion, is affordable software for applying mocap and animation to 3D characters for previsualization and machinima.

Motion Analysis Corp.



Talon Glove

Virtual Director

Motion Analysis manufactures high-performance optical instrumentation systems that test and measure the movement of objects. The systems combine proprietary hardware, software, and electro-optical techniques with standard computer and video hardware, and are used to evaluate motion in a variety of applications, including animation production, movement analysis, and industrial measurement and control. EVa Real-Time Software (EVaRT) provides a simple interface that enables users, within a single software environment, to set up, calibrate, capture motion in real time, capture motion for post-processing, edit, and save data in a chosen format. Motion Analysis’ Calcium is an accurate skeletal creation, setup, and motion-solving software solution for body, face, and hand capture that is easy to use for solving captured marker data on a skeleton; the whole skeleton is fitted to the cloud of markers at once, allowing actors to walk in and out of the capture area and be identified automatically. The company’s latest product, Talon Glove, is a wireless mocap glove that measures abduction/adduction, flexion/extension, thumb rotation, and pinch events, and can be integrated with the company’s other offerings for simultaneous real-time capture of both the hand and body. Virtual Director, meanwhile, is a unique hardware/software offering that allows a director to utilize motion capture to create a virtual environment of props, set pieces, and characters that can be visualized live in real time. Pricing was unavailable.

Mova, Inc.

Contour Reality Capture

Mova Contour Reality Capture provides markerless, high-resolution, photoreal 3D capture of almost any surface, whether deformable or rigid, including faces, hands, bodies, and cloth. With the service, every subtle detail is captured—wrinkles around the eyes, flared nostrils, pursed lips, billowing fabric—with over 100,000 polygons per frame at up to 120 fps. And Contour provides precise vertex-continuous tracking of any surface mesh that the client’s animation team specifies (or tweaks) at any time, even after the shoot. Performers are made up and costumed as they would for a live performance, thus they have complete freedom of movement within the volume. FDA-approved flesh- or lip-colored phosphorescent makeup is sponged onto skin and lips, and transparent phosphorescent powder is dyed into cloth. For small capture volumes or head-mounted systems, as few as two cameras can be used, or for large volumes with multiple performers, as many as 200 or more cameras can be used. Contour is compatible with many popular animation software and hardware systems, including those by Vicon. Contour data can also be exported as OBJ, C3D, or Autodesk Point Cache 2 files, and synchronized with SMPTE time-code. Contour can be used simultaneously with marker-based capture and/or with live-action shoots under synchronized lighting. 

PhaseSpace, Inc.

Impulse optical motion-capture system

PhaseSpace produces the Impulse optical motion-capture system, an affordable, high-end optical motion-capture technology. With 12-megapixel optical resolution, the Impulse system can track three actors in real time, and allows them to interact, with realistic motions, by using active-marker LEDs. These smart LEDs are controlled by a battery pack that gives each LED a unique digital ID, thereby reducing marker swap and data cleanup requirements by a factor of 10 over older, passive technologies that suffer from low-res, 4-megapixel resolution, at low-speed 160 Hz tracking. So, users are no longer forced to choose between speed and resolution. With eight-camera systems priced starting under $50,000 and 24-camera systems costing under $125,000, PhaseSpace offers three times the speed, three times the resolution, and one-third the price of legacy optical motion capture. This price includes unlimited seats of PhaseSpace Recap motion editing and viewing software, which automatically cleans up most of the remaining data gaps since the IDs of the markers are known. Origami Digital is using the system to push mocap to the next level by doing real-time on-screen animatics, whereby the director can control the virtual characters and scenes live, by interacting with the actors as computer animations with a virtual camera. PhaseSpace also is working with the US Air Force on tracking models in a Mach 15 wind tunnel, as well as with others.

PTI Phoenix Technologies



PTI Phoenix offers a range of advanced, cost-effective, real-time mocap solutions for full-body, hand, and facial capture. Its Visualeyez real-time 3D mocap systems offer professional active-optical mocap solutions. A proprietary technology enables the Visualeyez system to operate at high speed, in spite of the simple one-marker-at-a-time capture method that it uses. After a marker is captured, its data is output to user applications with sub-millisecond delay. This results in a very fast feedback response, allowing users to realize real-time operation. HydraNet, meanwhile, is an optional data composition and distribution network application that allows data captured by one or more Visualeyez systems to be composited and streamed in real time to as many other computers as the user needs. Each application can choose the motion data it needs for its own special purpose. Thus, applications requiring high computing power and/or especially parallel processing can easily be accomplished. The company also offers various software and accessories. Pricing was unavailable.


Liberty LATUS


Polhemus has been providing position and orientation tracking systems for over 35 years. Its newest system, Liberty LATUS (Large Area Tracking Untethered System), purported to be the first, true wireless magnetic tracking system (no body pack needed), offers the benefits of magnetic tracking in a wireless solution. Besides being wireless, LATUS covers a large area that is scalable up to 6400 square feet with one system. For an even larger coverage area, multiple Liberty LATUS systems—ranging in price from $13,000 to $64,000—can be linked together. Each marker is fully self-contained in a compact design for seamless integration. Each marker is tracked in space by a receptor that has a receiving sphere of varying range depending on the level of accuracy required. Up to 16 receptors per system can be connected for thousands of square feet of total coverage. Each marker houses the electromagnetic source, control electronics, and a lithium ion battery. Incorporating the industry’s most advanced hardware and software, the system’s electronic unit processes signals from the receptors to compute the position and orientation in full six degrees of freedom. In addition to motion capture, the LATUS system is being used for military simulation and training ("indoor GPS"), virtual reality, and biomechanics. Recently, Total Immersion used LATUS for an augmented-reality application, as seen on CBS’s 48 Hours. Meanwhile, the standard Liberty offering, a wired tracking system, is fast and accurate, and can track up to 16 sensors at a sample rate of 240hz with an accuracy of less than 0.8mm (0.03 inches). It is widely used for sports motion analysis and motion-capture applications where sample rate and accuracy are critical.


Vicon MXVicon iQ



Academy Award-winning Vicon is the largest supplier of precision motion-tracking systems, serving leading-name customers and CG animation applications in film, visual effects, computer games, and broadcast, as well as engineering and life-science industries. Vicon operates in four offices worldwide, including its Los Angeles-based entertainment headquarters, a 26,000 square-foot facility equipped with three performance-capture stages and 125 Vicon MX40 cameras for Vicon’s service company, House of Moves. Vicon is part of OMG, plc (Oxford Metrics Group), a group of technology companies that produces image-understanding solutions for the entertainment, defense, life-sciences, and engineering markets, and includes Emmy Award-winning 2d3 and newly founded Geospatial Vision, Ltd.

Vicon MX, an advanced optical motion-capture system, delivers a substantial level of precision, performance, and practicality, having been designed to be flexible, expandable, and easy to integrate into a working environment. With a combination of MX system components, users can create any size of system and link it easily to a choice of external devices. The modular design of these components gives MX a completely scaleable architecture, offering the ability to quickly add extra capability when needed. Their compact, ergonomic design allows users to position them where they want: rackmounted, on the desktop, or freestanding. Meanwhile, Vicon iQ provides an intuitive interface with all of the tools needed to manage, automate, capture, and process an entire motion-capture production, offering a complete, real-time environment for setup, calibration, and capture with Vicon’s ultra-high-resolution Vicon MX systems. Vicon iQ dramatically streamlines motion-capture workflow, offering unprecedented precision when tracking complex interaction between multiple actors and significantly reducing the efforts previously required in editing captured information. It will rapidly and easily process the most difficult multiple-character capture scenarios automatically. Using all-new algorithms and a calibrated biomechanical and kinematic model of the actors and props being captured, Vicon iQ solves most of the ambiguities that typically exist with optical motion.

Blade is a new software package combining the best motion-capture functionality based on the systems development and motion-capture service of Vicon and House of Moves. The software, developed following years of real-world production and Academy Award-winning motion-capture systems engineering, provides a single, unified, and future-looking tool set that supports the growing demands of real-time motion capture, full-performance capture, and on-set visualization, and makes processing and applying mocap data for the 3D animation pipeline simpler and more direct. Key enabling capabilities include support for real-time playback of video and motion-captured data, with fully rendered and lit digital characters either side by side with, or composited over, video. The software will also enable customers to replicate the POV of video or reference cameras. The product, along with its pricing, will be available in early 2007. In addition, Vicon offers Diva, a powerful motion-capture editing tool based on the real-world motion-capture production needs of Vicon’s House of Moves. Diva’s features include management of digital mocap assets, batch processing of data, skeletal animation functions, editing functions, and more.