9 Motion Capture Software to Bring Your Characters to Life Like Never Before

default image

Hey there! Have you seen those behind-the-scenes clips of actors wearing funny blue suits covered in dots? Or game characters moving so realistically that you feel like you‘re watching a movie?

Well, that‘s all thanks to the magic of motion capture technology!

motion capture software

In this guide, I‘ll be your mocap guru and explain everything you need to know about motion capture software.

We‘ll go over:

  • What exactly is motion capture and how it works
  • The critical role of MC tools in films, games, and animation
  • Top motion capture solutions used by the pros
  • Tips for selecting the right mocap software

And lots more! The goal is to give you a comprehensive overview of the motion capture world so you can make informed decisions.

So tighten those mocap suits, grab some popcorn, and let‘s dive right in!

What is Motion Capture Software?

Motion capture (or mocap) refers to recording the movement of objects and people in the real world and translating it into digital data that can be applied to 3D models.

motion capture process

It starts with an actor wearing a special mocap suit covered in markers or sensors. As they move, cameras track the markers and sensors frame-by-frame.

This performance is captured and the motion data is then cleaned up and mapped onto a digital character rig. The result is a realistic computer-generated animation!

Mocap software sits at the heart of this pipeline – it processes the raw tracking data and converts it into a usable 3D animation.

Commonly used techniques include:

  • Optical: Uses cameras to track reflective markers or LEDs attached to the body.

  • Inertial: Employs IMU sensors with gyroscopes and accelerometers placed on the body.

  • Video-based: Relies on computer vision algorithms to track motions.

So in a nutshell, motion capture software records real performances, processes the data, and allows it to drive 3D animated characters.

The Irreplaceable Role of Mocap in Films and Games

Motion capture technology has completely transformed major industries like films and gaming. Let‘s see how:

Revolutionizing Film Animation

motion capture in films

James Cameron‘s Avatar was a watershed moment for motion capture in Hollywood films.

The extensive use of mocap allowed Cameron to create aliens that moved and emoted realistically. This added enormously to the audience‘s immersion in an alien world.

Since then, mocap has become indispensable for breathing life into CGI creatures and characters in live-action films.

For example, Andy Serkis‘ legendary performances as Gollum and Caesar would not have been possible without motion capture animation.

Mocap suits and head rigs allow filmmakers to capture every minor facial movement and expression of actors. This adds those subtle human touches to the animated characters.

Fun fact – Did you know that even the Hulk in Avengers: Endgame was animated using motion capture? Actor Mark Ruffalo wore a specialized mocap suit to portray the angry green monster!

Mocap is equally important in the pre-production stage for ‘previsualization‘ (previs). It allows filmmakers to create animated storyboards to see how scenes will look before actual filming starts.

Upping the Game in Video Games

motion capture in video games

The gaming industry relies heavily on motion capture to create hyper-realistic worlds inhabited by believable digital humans.

For example, Rockstar Games used extensive mocap to bring the expansive world of Red Dead Redemption 2 to life. Mocap was used not just for cutscenes but also gameplay mechanics like character movements.

Game development studios use mocap suits, facial rigs, and even finger gloves to record a massive library of movements and reactions.

This database of mocap animations allows them to blend and mix-and-match actions seamlessly in response to player inputs.

The result is smooth, natural gameplay with responsive characters that connect emotionally with players. No wonder mocap has become integral to crafting immersive gaming experiences.

Empowering Animators

motion capture for animators

Motion capture data provides a huge assist for 3D animators and speeds up the animation timeline significantly.

Animators can retarget mocap data onto character rigs as a starting point before making adjustments and adding those artistic flourishes.

For example, Pixar built its own mocap system called Premo used in almost all their animation films. It captures not just body movements but also intricate hand and face movements.

Mocap allows animators to focus their effort on creativity rather than monotonously animating every single motion frame-by-frame.

According to veteran animator Will Becher, mocap data was extensively used by Aardman in stop-motion films like Shaun the Sheep. It helped them maintain fluidity in the movements, especially for elaborate dance and action sequences.

As you can see, motion capture has become indispensable across films, games, and animation. It makes the previously painstaking art of character animation infinitely more achievable.

Next, let‘s break down exactly how mocap software manages to work its magic.

How Motion Capture Software Works Its Magic

The core function of mocap software is to process volumes of movement data and convert it into an animated character performance. Here‘s how it achieves this:

Capturing the Performance

The first step is recording the live performance through cameras, sensors, and markers as the actor moves.

This could use techniques like:

  • Optical mocap rigs consisting of multiple cameras surrounding the volume.

  • Inertial mocap suits containing wireless motion sensors.

  • Video-based solutions relying on normal cameras and computer vision.

motion capture recording

These systems capture the markers or sensors in 3D space over time as the performance happens.

Processing the Data

The recorded camera and sensor data contains noise and gaps that need to be cleaned up.

motion capture data processing

The mocap software analyses the thousands of data frames, filters noise, labels markers, and creates clean motion trajectories for each part of the body.

Advanced algorithms identify human biomechanics to precisely extract the movement of joints like elbows, knees, fingers etc.

Retargeting to Characters

The cleaned motion data is then retargeted onto a digital character rig with matching proportions and skeletal structure.

motion capture retargeting

Mocap software allows customizing the retargeting to map the actor‘s performance accurately onto varied character designs.

The result is a high-quality computer animation that imports the nuances and style of the real performance.

Editing and Enhancing

Once retargeted, the animation can be further refined and edited in the mocap software suite.

editing mocap data

Tools allow removing unwanted motions, smoothing out artifacts, editing animation curves, or enhancing motions using physics engines.

This provides animators extensive control over incorporating the mocap data into their pipelines.

So in summary, mocap software handles the complex behind-the-scenes process to map real movement onto digital characters.

Next up, we‘ll explore some of the leading mocap solutions used in the media and entertainment industries.

Top Motion Capture Software Solutions

There are a variety of motion capture tools out there – from free apps to sophisticated enterprise-grade suites.

Let‘s look at some popular options:

Rokoko Studio

Rokoko Studio is a user-friendly mocap and animation suite optimized for Rokoko‘s motion capture devices.

It provides a seamless workflow to record, clean up, and export high-quality animations for use in third-party 3D pipelines.

Key Features

  • Real-time streaming support for apps like Blender, Maya, Unity.

  • Library of ready-made animation assets.

  • Intuitive editor to refine motions and fix artifacts.

Rokoko Studio makes quality markerless mocap accessible for a wide range of professionals and indie creators.

Motive by OptiTrack

Motive is designed for high-end optical mocap pipelines using OptiTrack‘s camera systems. It‘s capable of tracking a high number of markers with low latency.

Motive also integrates specialized tools for biomechanics and sports analysis applications.

Key Features

  • Robust reconstruction for complex markersets.

  • Extensive integrations with force plates and peripherals.

  • Powerful labeling, switching, and skeleton solving.

Motive delivers professional-grade optical motion capture capabilities for research and VFX use.

Wonder Dynamics Studio

Wonder Studio

Wonder Studio utilizes AI technology to realistically integrate CG characters into live-action plates. It automates complex matchmoving and integration tasks.

Simply provide your character asset and backing plate, and Wonder Studio handles the rest!

Key Features

  • AI-powered character tracking and compositing.

  • Advanced retargeting capabilities.

  • Extensive character animation library.

By automating compositing complexity, Wonder Studio allows filmmakers to focus on creative storytelling.

MotionBuilder by Autodesk

Autodesk MotionBuilder

MotionBuilder is a professional animation tool specialized for virtual production and mocap workflows.

It offers powerful real-time animation editing capabilities making it ideal for on-set live previsualization.

Key Features

  • Real-time playback and editing.

  • Specialized tools for cleaning mocap data.

  • Intuitive body/face rigging workflow.

MotionBuilder is relied upon by leading animation studios for its specialized mocap toolset.



FreeMoCap is a free, open source markerless motion capture tool. It uses computer vision algorithms to extract motions from video footage.

Freemocap provides an easy entry point into mocap without expensive hardware requirements.

Key Features

  • Free webcam-based motion tracking.

  • Clean UI with minimal learning curve.

  • Integration with Blender using MDD format.

It allows anyone to start experimenting with motion capture at zero cost.

iPi Motion Capture

iPi Motion Capture is an affordable markerless solution that uses RGB and depth cameras for high-quality body motion capture.

Despite the low cost, it provides professional grade tracking comparable to expensive mocap systems.

Key Features

  • Markerless full body motion capture.

  • Support for multiple character templates.

  • Extensive format support for easy integration.

iPi enables pro-quality animation without the high costs associated with mocap.

Xsens MVN Animate

Xsens MVN

Xsens MVN is a leading inertial mocap system using wireless motion trackers. It‘s used widely for animation, biomechanics, and sports.

Xsens provides unrestrained capture volumes without line-of-sight requirements, making it highly versatile.

Key Features

  • Wireless performance capture.

  • Dedicated solver for real-time streaming.

  • Robust integration support across industry pipelines.

MVN enables high-quality animation capture in obstructed and outdoor environments.

This covers some of the most popular mocap software solutions used in professional studios and by independent creators. But how do you pick the right one for your needs?

Choosing the Right Motion Capture Software

Here are some key factors to consider when selecting mocap software:

  • Budget – Prices range from free apps to enterprise-grade systems costing over $10K. Assess how much you can invest.

  • Quality – Optical systems tend to provide higher accuracy than video-based solutions. But it also depends on the specific product capabilities.

  • Capabilities – Do you need just basic tracking or more advanced editing and processing tools?

  • Hardware – Some software options like Rokoko and OptiTrack require their own mocap hardware setups.

  • Learning curve – Solutions like iPi Soft are more beginner-friendly compared to advanced tools like Motive.

  • Integration – Ensure the mocap data output is compatible with your animation pipeline.

Also, evaluate free trials before purchase so you can test the workflow first-hand.

For indie devs, free tools like Blender‘s mocap add-on or FreeMoCap are a good starting point. Professionals may need more sophisticated software like Motive or XSens to meet project requirements.

The Future of Motion Capture

Motion capture technology has come a long way from its humble beginnings over 50 years ago. Some exciting developments on the horizon:

  • AI-assisted mocap – Machine learning will enable real-time processing and clean up of tracking data.

  • Cloud mocap – Cloud platforms will allow easy sharing and streaming of mocap data across teams.

  • Real-time avatars – Mocap combined with AR/VR can enable interactable digital humans for virtual meetings and live events.

  • Democratization – Consumer-level depth sensors and computer vision will make high-quality mocap accessible to everyone.

In the future, expect mocap to become far more pervasive across applications like telepresence, biomechanics, sports training, and of course, entertainment.

The journey has only just begun – let‘s see what magic mocap conjures up next!

Wrap Up

And that brings us to the end of our epic mocap adventure!

We went on a thrilling ride covering everything from mocap‘s humble beginnings to how it works its magic to leading software tools.

I hope all this helps provide valuable insight into the world of motion capture technology. The key takeaways:

  • Mocap provides a shortcut for animators to bring realistic movements to digital characters.

  • It has become integral to crafting immersive stories and experiences in films, games, and beyond.

  • Mocap software sits at the core, converting tracked movement into useable animation data.

  • Solutions range from free apps for beginners to sophisticated enterprise-level tools.

Mocap has opened up incredible possibilities for storytellers to connect with audiences in new ways. And with tech advancements, the best is yet to come.

So go out there and start mocapping to bring your wildest character creations to life! Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.