Motion Capture


Motion Capture Setup Using a Green Screen in the Video Studio

The term “Motion Capture” means different things to people using it for unique purposes. At the UM3D Lab:

Motion Capture is the recording of movement in 3D space.

Many people have heard of motion capture from its use in creating animated characters for movies and video games. At the 3D lab, we are applying this technology to projects in other fields such as kinesiology, anthropology, and even aerospace. If you want to capture and study motion in 3D space, we can provide you with the guidance and expertise to see if motion capture can benefit your project and help you through the steps.

  • Types of Motion Capture

  • How to Get Started

  • Available Technologies

  • Other Resources

Types of Motion Capture

The data captured during a motion capture session can be used for many different purposes including:

Computer Body Interaction

Using motion capture to understand the movements made by the human body. This can be applied to medicine, sports science, cultural preservation, or motion research purposes.


This field applies to man-made objects that are tracked to test their function. The 3D Lab has captured the movement of a vehicles and robots, including Tubman College’s Kuka Robot.


The use of motion capture to create life-like animated characters in the entertainment industry has revolutionized this field. From video game characters to realistic CGI effects in blockbusters like “Avatar”, the 3D Lab makes use of the same technology utilized in Hollywood.

These categories show some of the ways motion capture can applied to various fields. If your project does not fall into any of these categories it does not mean that it cannot be captured. Create an outline of your project while keeping these key questions in mind.

  • What is the motion you are trying to capture?
  • What range does this motion require?
  • What data/information do you need to get from the motion?
  • How will the data be presented or shared?

We can help you work through these questions regardless of where you are in your project’s life-cycle and what skills you have available to you.

How to Get Started

As there are many different kinds of motion capture, you can learn more about it and get comfortable with it in a few ways.

  • Consultation Session

    After you have decided who or what you want to motion capture and what you want out of it, it is time to schedule a consultation with our group. Steffen Heise, our Motion Capture Specialist, can help you figure out the project details, describe the technology used in our lab, and set up a time schedule to get started. Additionally, you may want to also think about how the data you collect will be presented at the end of the capturing.
  • Workshops

    Starting in the Fall, students will be able to acquire digital “badges” in Motion Capture by taking hands-on motion capture workshops. Whether you are trying to earn the digital badge or just want to learn more about it, you may attend one of the workshops to learn more about capabilities of motion capture and the software used.

  • Experiment

    There are a few ways to experiment on your own without involving the 3D lab. One option is renting out the Leap Motion system from the information desk located on the second floor of the Duderstadt. Another is trying out a Kinect system on your own. These systems require less expertise and preparation to use but are also less accurate.

  • Schedule a Session

    Once you have met with an expert and decided on your course of action, it’s time to get started and capture data. The setup is done by our staff so all you need to do is bring your subject and come prepared to start learning the Blade software, which is used to polish the resulting data.

Available Technologies

Different projects require various kinds of capture systems and software. Below we have listed the those available to use at our lab.




If the motion is captured by the Vicon system, there are often a few mistakes in each take where the camera did not have direct view of one of the markers or mixed up two of them. We then use Blade software to manually edit the clips and gather the correct data. This is usually the longest part of the project since it takes time to become familiar with the software and correct all of the blunders.


After the data is initially edited on Blade, it can be further refined on Motionbuilder. This software uses the data provided from Blade to create a 3D animation which can be fit to a certain character or kept as a neural plasticman. Separate takes can also be combined into one clip on Motionbuilder. This is where the data actually becomes an animation.




The Kinect was created by Microsoft to use with the Xbox gaming system. It is easy to use and setup, widely available and affordable. However, the Kinect can only track humans and that too only when they are facing the camera. Since it only has one camera, it is not very accurate. In our lab we applied the Kinect to create 3D spaces that can easily be manipulated by anyone with simple instructions.


The Vicon system uses a ring of eight cameras that tract the location of reflective markers in space. If the motion of a human is being recorded, the person has to wear a black suit that then has markers attached to it. Although more prior preparation required, this system is highly accurate and gives the subject freedom to move in any direction. It can record more than one person at a time, a person with an object, or any moving object alone. As long as it has a marker on it, its movement can be recorded.


If your project only needs to capture hand and finger movements than the Leap system is for you. As it only tracts hand movements, this hardware is usually used to make interaction with the computer easier and seamless.

Other Resources

  • Ann Arbor News: Motion Capture
    Ann Arbor News: Motion Capture
  • Exploring Motion with Peter Sparling
    Exploring Motion with Peter Sparling