Markerless motion capture hits the UK

Motion capture without the ping pong balls
Motion capture without the ping pong balls

When you think of motion capture, images of poor ol' Andy Serkis immediately spring to mind, covered in ping pong balls, sweating and acting ape-like for King Kong.

My how things have changed! TechRadar has just got back from an exclusive demonstration of the world's first markerless motion capture technology that's just landed in the UK.

Made by Organic Motion, a New York-based company, the new system takes the strain out of motion capture.

Essentially, you don't have to wear a special suit, add markers to your models or calibrate flashing dots. All your model has to do is enter the specially created set – completed with 14 LED-based cameras on a rig – and away you go. There's not a ping pong ball in sight.

Andrew Tschesnok, the CEO of Organic Motion, who was in London for the demonstration spoke to TechRadar about his revolutionary product.

"I started writing the software for it back in 2002. But it was in 2007 that industries started to come around to the idea of markerless mocap (motion capture).

"We first started using the process in 2007 in the medical industry. Here it was revelatory, as it was being used on children with cerebral palsy.

"Our system BioStage took the hard work out of motion capture, meaning that you didn't need to go through the laborious process of attaching markers to what are poorly children.

"BioStage meant that doctors could get instant scans of a child to analyse and evaluate."

This Stage play world

Organic Motion has taken its system to the next level. Called Stage, the markerless mocap can be used anywhere from sports shops to film production companies.

Studio 7 is the first UK company to get its hands on Stage, and it was in its office that the demonstration took place.

Studio 7 is an offshoot of Atticus Finch, a production company based in London that has worked on music videos for the likes of Depeche Mode and commercials for artists such as Goldfrapp, Richard Hawley and Moby.

Managing Director of Studio 7 Chris Richmond explained to TechRadar why he was interested in operating a Stage setup in the UK.

"I was in an airport waiting to go on a flight and I read an article about what Organic Motion were doing and wanted to be a part of it.

"So I met up with Andrew and his team in New York and we sorted out a deal.

"It's fantastic that we've got the first Stage system in the UK, in fact, Europe. The technology means that smaller production companies who thought that motion capture was out of their price bracket can come and utilise the system."

Watching Stage work is impressive. The ease of use is remarkable. A special white cloth is draped over 256sq ft of space in the studio, and 14 specialised 2D cameras – rigged with highly sensitive LEDs – are set up on a rig.

The data output from each camera is fed into a vision processor (essentially a big black box) that maps every pixel of information and triangulates the location of the subject by seeing where the various camera images intersect.

All this is done in real-time and the precision of the detail is said to be down to a millimetre.

The demo we were shown was of one of Organics Motion's staff jumping up and down, spinning around and 'dancing'. This info was fed continuously into Autodesk Motion Builder (motion capture software), while essentially controlling six avatars simultaneously.

Richmond thinks that Stage will completely change the way pre-visualisation in the film and TV industry will work: "For me, this system has opened up a whole new revenue stream.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.