Top 8 Most Popular Motion Capture and Animation Software
There’s a slight misconception of what gets classified as motion capture software and what software is simply used for animation (mocap animation included!). To keep things simple in this article, we’ve categorized mocap software into two distinct groups:
- Specialty software to record and edit motion capture, that is directly influenced by which of the mocap tools you choose (e.g., if you choose Rokoko’s Smartsuit Pro, you’ll need to work with Rokoko Studio).
- 3D content creation software or game engines to import, edit, animate, and render motion capture
In this article, we’ll focus on the various workflows you can use to import your motion capture data into multiple types of 3D software, falling into the second category. Each option has its own strengths and weaknesses, though most animation artists tend to favor a specific software with time.
What is motion capture technology?
Motion capture is the tracking and recording of human movements into animation software. You can use motion capture for 3D or CG projects that need realistic character movements. The primary benefit of motion capture is the speed of animation. Instead of laying out hundreds of keyframes and spending a long time tweaking animation, you can throw on a motion capture suit and record the animation you need in 15 minutes flat. This shaves hours from any animator’s timeline. Common applications include:
- Character animation for games
- Previs for live-action, animation, or events
- Animation for films or videos of any length
- Virtual reality projects
Motion Capture Pipeline Options
There are three distinct workflows for mocap, and each suits different types of productions. Which one you choose depends on your resources and your output requirements. You also need to understand that motion data is recorded in multiple files, sometimes coming from different applications that have different export or streaming standards. For example, if you record facial expressions using motion capture, you’ll need to import that animation data separate from the human body motions.
Workflow #1: Use existing motion assets
You don’t have to buy a mocap suit to use motion capture animation in your scene. Identify the type of animation you need for your character and download a pre-made motion capture asset. You can export the motion capture to the 3D software of your choice and quickly retarget the animation onto your rig. You can download pre-recorded motion capture animation assets from Rokoko’s Motion Library. It’s the largest resource of existing motion capture and is frequently updated by professional creators. Get 100 assets for free when you sign up and $3-$6 per asset after that.
Workflow #2: Record custom animations and import them into your software of choice
For this workflow, you’ll need a mocap suit such as Rokoko Smartsuit Pro and the accompanying motion capture software called Rokoko Studio. Record the animation to the supplied armature and export as an fbx file or compatible file type. Import the animation into your scene and retarget it to your rigged character mesh. And just like that, your mocap is applied.
Workflow #3: Live stream mocap data directly into your 3D scene
This workflow is mainly similar to the workflow above, but instead of recording and exporting, you link your mocap software to your 3D software instead of recording and exporting. When done correctly, it should live stream directly into your scene for recording or rendering. If you use a 3D engine that’s capable of real-time rendering like Unreal Engine, you can stream your animation directly to social media (see VTubing).
What software should you use for your 3D animation project?
Good question! If you currently use one of the software listed below and are happy with its performance, I recommend skipping down and checking out the accompanying mocap tutorial. If you’re not currently invested in one of the software solutions below, give a read-through of the pros and cons to decide which one you should get started with. There’s no real wrong answer — it comes down to the requirements of your project and your personal preference and willingness to learn tools with different learning curves. Each listed software integrates with Rokoko’s motion capture system and can apply facial movement, live performances, and finger tracking to your animated character.
Free open-source software that’s widely used on indie projects of all types. Thanks to its reliable integrations, it’s one of the most popular software to use with any mocap system. Learn more about using Blender for motion capture here.
- Widely used by individual creators
- Totally free (and will be forever)
- Free retargeting plugin available for mocap animation
- Quite a steep learning curve compared to other programs (even if you have experience with other 3D software)
- Not often used by studios of 3+ people
The animation software is primarily taught in higher education. It’s considered to be the industry standard for animation studios. Maya costs $1,700 per year, but there are significant discounts for students. Learn more about using Maya for motion capture here.
- Widely used by all professionals
- Extensive library of user-made tutorials
- Great toolset for high-end productions
- Considered the best software for character animation
- Can be overwhelming for beginners
- Not a great option for low-polygon models
- Resource-hungry on your computer
Unreal Engine used to be just for video games, but it’s evolved into something so much more. Thanks to its real time rendering and live streaming capabilities, it’s being used extensively for virtual production and virtual event previsualization. Learn more about using Unreal Engine for motion capture here.
- Built for game development
- Great real time rendering
- Excellent virtual production solution
- Free until you surpass $3k in revenue per quarter for a game
- Not built for super high polygon scenes
- Limited flow effects
Unity is much like Unreal Engine in that it’s primarily built for game design and development. Learn more about using Unity for motion capture here.
- Similar to unreal
- Focused mainly on gaming
- Can do 2D and 3D visuals
- Free version
- Limited to games and low polygon scenes
- Free version is limited (Pro version costs $150 per month)
Cinema 4D is Rokoko’s founder’s favorite software, thanks to its famous ease of use. It’s affordable and contains all the functionality you need on indie productions. C4D costs around $720 per year. Learn more about using Cinema 4D for motion capture here.
- Simple animation toolset
- Gentle learning curve with a great UI
- Good FX system
- Not as well known as Maya
- Not as in-demand at big production houses
Another industry standard, but more for visual effects that require fluid calculations such as smoke, water, fire, explosions, and more. Learn more about using Houdini for motion capture here.
- Excellent for VFX
- Used widely in the industry (though not for characters)
- Loved by creative agencies for motion FX
- Versatile node-based workflow
- Limited free version
- Integrates with game engines like Unreal and Unity
- Not the greatest at modeling
- Steep learning curve
3D software that focuses on real-time animation and naturally lends itself to motion capture for film previs, games, and general content development. Learn more about using iClone 7 for motion capture here.
- Built with motion capture in mind
- Affordable at $149
- Integrates with Cartoon Animator 4
- Not that well known
- Mostly used on low-end productions
Cartoon 4 is 2D animation software used extensively for games and TV series. It has powerful tools to apply 3D motion capture animations to 2D characters. Learn more about using Cartoon Animator 4 for motion capture here.
- Perfect for 2D animation projects
- Relatively easy to use
- Simple rigging
- Versatile for sprite development and videos
- Affordable at $139
- Only for 2D animations
Motion capture software is there to simplify the animation process
While motion capture animation doesn't altogether remove the need for animation, it dramatically simplifies the character animation process. Easy to use tools like Rokoko’s Smartsuit Pro are what you should look for if you’re aiming to record animation, apply it to your character, and render your scene all in one day’s worth of work. Book a free one-on-one online demo and consultation with our Product Specialist to see Rokoko tools in action and a chance to get insights or all your animation questions answered for your next project.