Karen Moltenbrey Chief Editor
In the 1980s, researchers began using a burgeoning technology called “motion capture” for biomechanics analysis. The technology was extremely complex, and the uses (as well as the users) scientific in orientation. Eventually, the technology found its way into other areas, from education to sports, thanks to the patience and persistence of the early mocap manufacturers and adopters.
Today, mocap is used for a wide range of cutting-edge applications. To highlight these achievements—and this vital technology—Computer Graphics World last month began a two-part series dedicated to motion capture. In Part 1, we focused on uses outside the realm of entertainment: industrial, educational, manufacturing/design, biomedical, biomechanical, engineering, and more. For instance, Ford Motor Company is using motion capture during its vehicle design process. On the cover last month, we featured a 3D image of the Ford Flex, which will be introduced next summer. Motion capture was used to view, record, and analyze three-dimensional movements of a person and apply them to a virtual human in a simulated driving environment. This evaluation helped determine placement of controls and displays within the vehicle.
This month, we are examining the technology from a Hollywood perspective. While the CG community has been using this tool for more than a decade, most of the general public first heard the words “motion capture” about three years ago when Robert Zemeckis and Sony Pictures Imageworks applied mocap data to an all-CG cast in The Polar Express. In this groundbreaking movie, motion capture took center stage. Since then, mocap has gained momentum, and moviegoers have seen the technology advance through toe-tapping penguins, a crew of gnarly pirates, a “scary” house that comes to life, a king-size gorilla, and more.
And it is not by happenstance that we have chosen this issue to focus on entertainment-related mocap applications. This month, another film is placing the technology in the public spotlight, thanks again to the efforts of Zemeckis and Imageworks. This time they are using mocap to create stylized digital humans for the all-CG movie, Beowulf, the current crown jewel of mocap and our cover story (see “Heroic Effects,” pg. 16). The melding of CG and motion capture lend an ethereal, mythical look to the legendary tale—something that could not have been done using live action.
While blockbuster movies are providing a hotbed of activity for mocap, it may be surprising to learn that for many motion-capture vendors, their biggest user base is the game industry. With the power of the new game platforms, expect this area to grow by leaps and bounds as developers use the technology to create realistic movements for realistic-looking characters. Players want, and demand, to be immersed in these virtual worlds. They want their baseball player to look like David Ortiz and hit like David Ortiz. They also want their movie-based characters to look and act like their real-life counterparts in the game world. To this end, mocap played a major role when Chow Yun-Fat’s character, Tequila, from John Woo’s movie Hard Boiled, resumed his role in Midway’s Stranglehold, which is featured on page 22 of this issue.
The world of motion capture is vast and appears to be growing every day. The technology is evolving, from tethered systems, to optical systems, to markerless systems, all geared for a specific environment and use. Similarly, there are expensive systems and inexpensive, and those in between. Clearly, the need for “men in motion” will continue for years to come. The question is, what will they do next?