Seeing the awesome motion capture work in movies like “Prometheus” and “Avatar,” I wanted to find out where the journey we call “motion capture” all started. Doing some research on the web, I was surprised to find that the history of motion capture started with rotoscoping! For those of you not familiar with rotoscoping, think back to the original Max Fleisher “Superman” cartoons. This process requires the capturing of live actors onto film and tracing over the projected film; thus, replacing the live footage with an animated sequence.
Walt Disney employed the rotoscoping technique in 1937, for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” “Cinderella” became the first feature film that was filmed in live-action prior to animation! Ralph Bakshi also employed the rotoscoping technique in his animated adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Before the 80’s, rotoscoping was a painstaking process done by hand. Rotoscope animators had to hand-draw, frame-by-frame, every sequence that employed this technique. With the surging popularity of rotoscoped animation in the ’80s, animators and scientists alike were hungry for an automated approach to speed up the process. Bob Sabiston, a veteran of the MIT Media Lab, developed a computer-assisted “interpolated rotoscoping” process which he used to make his award-winning animated short “Snack and Drink.” Richard Linklater subsequently employed Sabiston’s software in his films “Waking Life” in 2001 and “A Scanner Darkly” in 2006.
Once the rotoscoping process was streamlined with the aid of computers, it was only a matter of time before motion capture technology would be implemented to aid the 3D animation pipeline. I came across an interesting article that David Sturman wrote for Siggraph. He goes through the history of motion capture for computer animation. You can check it out here: “A Brief History of Motion Capture for Computer Animation.”
It’s really interesting to watch the behind the scenes footage of movies like “Avatar.” Seeing these cinematographers capture not only human motion, but emotion really shows how far this technology has come.
I wonder what the future holds for this technology. How do you think motion capture technology will be used in the future?