Why Modern-Day Motion Capture Is A Lot Harder Than it Looks

There is no "animate" button, it turns out.
Holy Motors Mo Cap

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at why motion capture is way harder than it looks.


I’ll be straight with you: there are very few instances where I prefer motion capture to practical effects. I will take a craggy, foam latex monstrosity over a digital creation any day. And yet, I have mad respect for the artists who bring CGI creations to life. I think practical effects heads have a tendency to dismiss CGI as a shortcut. But, as the video essay astutely notes, there isn’t an “animate” button waiting in the wings to immediately turn a live performance into a digital one.

The entire reason there’s a debate about who deserves the credit for mo-cap performances (the actor or the animators) is that there’s a degree of artistry involved. From tweaking the unnatural gait that comes with optical tracking to reorganizing limbs and appendages in post-production, creating a mo-cap performance is a lot more involved than laymen like me might expect.

Does this automatically mean that all motion capture should be put on a pedestal? Of course not. Just as there’s bad practical character work, there’s bad mo-cap character work. And because artists at large studios (especially the one that rhymes with Bisney) are intent on creating CGI characters that look photo-realistic, the job of the artists is that much more difficult. This means that their failures are that much easier to notice, and their achievements are that much more impressive.

Watch “Why motion capture is harder than it looks”:


Who made this?

This video about how modern motion capture involves more artistry than you’d expect is by Vox, an American news website owned by Vox Media, founded in 2014. Vox produces videos on news, culture, and everything in between. This video was produced and animated by Phil Edwards with art direction by Dion Lee and story editing by Bridgett Henwood. You can subscribe to Vox on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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    Meg Shields: Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).