Motion Capture Animation: How To Deliver Great Video Content, Fast
Picture this: You’ve got an exciting new animation project commissioned from one of your dream clients. The timeline is tight (as usual), but you and the team get cracking on concepts, storyboarding, and asset creation. Everything’s going great. Then you bump into a show-stopping problem… the hard work of character animation. The animation you want to do will take you way beyond the deadline. So you’re left with two options; beg your client to give you more time (and budget), or scrap your epic idea and come up with something easier. At least, those would have been your two options in past years. The use of motion capture in the animation process has changed everything. No matter how complex your shot, you can simply throw on a motion capture suit and hit record. Best of all is the rising affordability of such software and hardware.
Let’s dig into motion capture animation and how it works best for creative marketing studios.
What style of animation should you use for short videos
There are five main styles you can use for animated marketing videos:
- Traditional animation (hand-drawn cel animation)
- 2D Vector-based animation
- Stop motion animation
- 3D animation (either using keyframe animation or a mocap system)
All these options have pros and cons, but the direction you end up moving in often has a lot to do with the content’s end purpose. Stylized 2D vector animation is a strong option if you need quick explainer videos. It’s fast to work, relatively cheap to produce, and conveys information in a no-nonsense way. 2D animation is pretty effective at explaining complicated concepts.
If you need to deliver a big impact and “wow” watchers with creative imagery, 3D animation is a clear winner. Whether your animated character is performing on top of real-world footage or in a CGI world, the effect is captivating and engaging. It’s why many music videos opt for 3D artwork instead of 2D animation. CG characters can be excellent storytellers for brands. They capture emotion, can move into fantastical worlds and can convey a nuanced message or feeling through the use of added visual effects, audio, and more.
While building a virtual world for a 3D character to act in is pretty quick, keyframe animation is another story. That’s the exact issue professional studio Elastique faced when building interactive content for BMW’s newest PA release. In the end, the use of mocap enabled them to achieve timely delivery.
Why use motion capture to speed up your workflow?
Motion capture animation (also known as mocap) is the process of tracking a real person's movements, transforming that movement into animation data, and then retargeting that data onto CG characters. Motion capture can be used to track a real actor's movements, do facial capture, and animate fingers. There are two main types of motion capture that you need to know about:
- Optical mocap: Uses special camera equipment and reflective tracking markers to capture movement. A dedicated studio space it also needed.
- Inertial mocap: Uses gyrometric sensors embedded in a wearable motion capture suit. Motion capture data is streamed wirelessly to a nearby computer, and no extra equipment is needed.
You’ll almost always want to opt for a mocap suit that employs inertial technology for a marketing video or advertising content. Here’s why:
- It’s way cheaper with no additional equipment (cameras. receivers etc.) is needed.
- The animation data is much easier to clean up (no data is lost with occlusion) and can be done by anyone experienced in keyframe animation — no special operators required.
- The turnaround time is speedy. You can get mocap suits set up and ready to track a motion in under 5 minutes. Recording usable motion can happen in real-time.
- It’s possible to stream a live performance onto a 3D character. This effect is fantastic for virtual event production or any type of performance where motion data has to be applied in real-time on a custom character.
Optical motion capture is more suited towards hyper-realistic animated films, AAA game development or Hollywood-style feature films due to both higher requirements in mocap accuracy and large available budgets.
How long does it take to record a motion capture performance
Your motion capture workflow looks a little different from the regular animation pipeline. Assuming you’re using a motion capture suit, there are three main phases: Setup, recording, and cleanup.
Your first step is to decide which mocap suit you’d like to use and order it online. Once delivered, setup can usually be completed with the help of user guides or videos. Your suit should come with proprietary software in which you can visualise and record the motion data. Every time you prepare to use the motion capture suit, you’ll need to calibrate it. Calibration time varies from suit to suit but shouldn’t take more than a few minutes (regular users of Rokoko’s Smartsuit Pro, for example, say they can throw on the suit and get recording in 5 minutes, as the calibration step is done in 3 seconds through a simple “i-pose”, also called “straight pose”).
Recording motion capture animation is straightforward and can be done in real-time. You can record facial expressions, body motions, and finger movements concurrently if you choose (something that, as of writing, is unique to Rokoko: it’s the only mocap company that has a product for each of the 3 and that can be tracked simultaneously in the same software, as it’s been designed to be integrated - we call this “full performance capture”). Your workflow can either be:
- Record animation in mocap software -> export to 3D software -> retarget onto character
- Live stream from mocap software to 3D software -> retarget onto character -> record/play animation
In most cases, retargeting the animation data to your character will require that your rig be compatible with the mocap suit. This compatibility is driven by the current industry standard of rigging and requires some IK joints.
The time it takes to clean up the data entirely depends on your system, personal preference, rig quality, and length of performance capture. Minor clipping or rotational issues can be caused by a difference in shape between your live actors and the character design. Animation corrections are usually made on top of the mocap data and require minimal effort. This video goes into more detail.
Using pre-recorded motion capture animation assets
Most assets created by the motion capture industry are made with video games in mind. They tend to focus on looping actions for game characters like walk, jump, and various fighting stances. Depending on your project, it might be possible to find the pre-recorded animation you need. Click here to get 100 free motion capture assets when you download Rokoko Studio. One of the most interesting lessons from how the game industry uses motion capture animation is real-time previs. More and more motion capture studios have been using Unreal Engine to capture live performances for virtual production projects.
What does mocap animation look like in action?
The videos shown below use the Rokoko Smartsuit Pro to record quality animation data and use it in their work as a creative agency. Looking to give motion capture a try? Our team of Product Specialists gives out free advice on nimation pipelines and will show you how Rokoko tools work in real-time over a zoom call. Book a free demo here.
Snooze by Lightfarm Studios. See the making-of here.
When Dulux commissioned Trizz studios to “bring colour to life,” they delivered. See the making-of here.
World renowned creative studio Fustic.Studio has made a mark with its unique digital visual expressions. Read about their creative process and how they added Rokoko mocap tools to their workflows here.
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Product Specialists Francesco and Paulina host Zoom demos from the Copenhagen office