How to make your own motion capture studio

The director of a Star Wars fan film explains how to set up your own mocap studio.

Versus: The Way to Shadow, which you can watch above, is a 41-minute-long Star Wars fan film directed by Nicolas Santini, and he was in charge of all the VFX.

You can find out more about that in the article How to create your own Star Wars movie. But here Santini explains how he went about creating his own motion capture studio for the project...

01. Video based motion capture

There are many low cost motion capture solutions to consider

Using a motion capture studio is expensive, but there are many low cost motion capture solutions on the market.

For this project I used video-based motion capture with four digital cameras, a DIY mocap suit and a fairly large capture area for the actors. These days, most of the matchmoving software available offers these mocap options.

02. Shooting

A grey or black room is best

Some basic principles to follow. Shoot indoors to get a nice light setup, ideally in a grey or black painted room. The mocap suit needs to match the background.

If you're shooting action, HFR cameras are better

High frame rate cameras are better if you shoot fast action. We decided to shoot in a dark environment, the only light sources came from the blue LED under our cameras, or what we called 'infrared cameras of the poor'.

03. Markers placement and size

Place markers on the front and back of your suit

If you have only four cameras, it's important to place your markers on the front and on the back of your mocap suit. This way you'll avoid the mistake of having nothing to analyse once in front of your tracking software.

Choose the trackers' size depending on the camera resolution you use. We had 5cm diameter trackers for our old SD DV cameras.

04. Other solutions

iPisoft DMC is a good low-cost solution

You can't afford a full rig of quality cameras? There are other ways, so don't worry. iPisoft DMC is one of your best options and also it's a markerless solution. It works with PSEye's cameras and offers surprisingly good results if you follow all the rules, like getting the capture area size and the light conditions just right.

05. Depth tracking

You'll have to put up with a restrictive capture area

The other really useful thing about iPisoft DMC is the ability to track motion from one or two Kinect cameras. The only downside is the restrictive capture area, which is definitely not large enough to record long actions like a walk or a run. However, the software allows you to export animations in a wide array of usable file formats.

06. Capture everything

Animals can be tracked too!

The great thing about video-based motion capture is you're not restricted by capturing your motion separately from shooting your film, you can do that task on set!

You need to find hiding places for your tracking cameras

Be sure to use visible enough trackers and find places to hide your 'tracking cameras'. Of course, you're not forced to settle for tracking the human body alone – it also works on animals!

Words: Nicolas Brunet

Nicolas Brunet is a self-taught 3D and VFX artist who has previously created CG commercials and shorts, and is now focusing on becoming a director. This article originally appeared in 3D World magazine.

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