Science & Environment

Motion capture improves animation of animals

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Media captionThe team used motion capture technology to record how a horse moves

Motion capture technology is improving the biomechanical accuracy of animals - particularly horses - in films and gaming.

This mixture of biomechanics and computer science originated as a teaching aid for veterinary students.

Researchers from Bradford University presented their work at the British Science Festival.

Collaborations between the group and international film studios are ongoing.

Traditionally, motion capture is only used to record the movement of humans. Animals are created directly by animators, but they can make mistakes if the biomechanics are not fully understood - and it is time consuming work.

This can lead a film audience into an "uncanny valley", where focus is shifted from the story to the inaccuracy in the animation.

Motion capture works by placing cameras with infrared LEDs around an area containing an object, person or animal wearing reflective markers.

The light hits the reflective markers and thus the marker's position is reflected back and recorded.

Image copyright Bradford University
Image caption Markers traced the motion of a horse and its rider

This is not new technology, but the group is using it in a new way.

"We thought, humans have been done a lot - but animals have not. It seemed like a very obvious thing to do," Karl Abson, lecturer in Biomechanical Animation and Motion Capture, told BBC News.

The group at Bradford has attached markers to a horse and captured a range of motion. This biomechanical understanding can then be embedded into animation software.

This significantly reduces the time required to build an animation, and delivers more realistic results. It is also becoming cheaper, as new types of camera are brought to the market. Abson highlighted the cost benefits for film makers.

Image copyright Bradford University
Image caption The motion of a cat was tracked using the same method

"In Avatar six years ago, they placed one or two markers on the animal to track its position. If you're paying for the motion capture system you might as well fully utilise it, rather than tracking the position and then getting an animator to do all the work," he said.

The technique could also be used to build more realistic animations of extinct animals and mythical creatures like dragons and flying horses.

Mr Abson is already working with British, American and Russian film studios, and the gaming company Electronic Arts.

The technique is also proving useful in veterinary science as a teaching aid, which is how the work originated.

Through collection and measurement of data, rather than observation and experience, more accurate diagnoses of animal injuries such as horse lameness can be made.

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