MoCap Cleanup (MC)

A valuable tool for animation, though some performers can present special challenges. (from:

MoCap Cleanup (MC)

Please refer to FOL for assignment weighting and due date

MoCap Cleanup (MC) For this assignment, you will start with an animation scene where motion capture data has been baked to the main animation controls of the character. By making use of animation layers and other techniques demonstrated in class, you will revise the performance to match directorial feedback.

The clip length must be 3-6 sec long (72-144 frames) and run at 24fps. The character should have some movement around the stage space at least a step or two - please no characters standing still, seated and un-moving. Be sure to create a shot camera within the scene that shows the entire character. You will get some 'directors notes' which you must apply successfully. Write down the feedback and make sure you understand it.

Hand-in file parameters:
  • Movie file type must be .MOV  or .MP4
  • Either H.264 or MPEG4 compression
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution 
  • Animation controls, resolution gate hidden
  • Frame counter (current frame) visible
  • File size must be less than <250 MB
  • File must be named as follows:
       <Your last name>_<Your first name>_<assignment code>.<file type>

no Maya file required. No zip files please

What I'll be grading on this assignment:
  • Staging + Does your work preserve the original performance of the motion capture?
  • Are there good principals of posing evident in your revisions?
  • Are there solid ground contacts and smooth transitions?
  • Have you animated the face and hands to augment the performance?
  • Do you follow directorial notes carefully and address all requested changes?

Motion capture or 'MoCap' is an oft-maligned tool of CG production. Frequently it features in funny stories of misinformed producers and filmmakers ("we're going to MoCap all the dragons"). Occasionally it is touted as a replacement for animation entirely, though it is typically useless without the intervention of animators. The fact is, motion capture is just another tool in our kit for quickly generating performances. Used properly, it allows us to tell stories that would otherwise be impractical to attempt. The following quote summarizes the limits of Mocap, and offers guidance for it's appropriate practical application;

"Animating very cartoony motion with lots of squash and stretch on a realistic looking object may not look believable, as would realistic motion on a caricatured object. This is the pitfall of using motion capture devices to create final animation. Motion capture from human actors will always look realistic... for a human. But apply that motion to a chicken and it will look like a human in a chicken suit. You can use the motion capture data as a starting place, tweak the timing and poses to make it more caricatured, then apply it to the chicken and the motion will match the design of the character."
- John Lasseter
from his Siggraph paper; 'Tricks to Animating Characters with a Computer''1994.

It is almost inevitable that you will be called upon to interact with MoCap at some point in your professional career (especially in film/VFX animation), so it's a good idea to get a little more familiar with this sometimes controversial cousin of the key frame.

Original Mocap Data


This fun little assignment gives you a chance to work with MoCap data in a typical production scenario. We'll be working with this for a bit. Prior to the start of this section, we'll go over baking animation data, snapping objects and using animation layers so that you are familiar with the tools you'll need for this assignment. Three important things to note:
  1. The key is always to preserve the spirit and quality of the original captured performance. We don't want to loose any of the nuance or subtlety that motion capture gives us so quickly. Our ambition is to take the core data and improve upon it.
  2. The purpose of this exercise is to give you some exposure to a typical production environment. Class feedback will be a true dailies process. Fellow student may offer suggestions, but your instructor (acting as the director in this scenario) will be giving you dailies notes. These are specific action items that you are expected to accomplish. Your ability to take notes and execute them effectively is part of this assignment. Be sure to write down everything you're told to do and make sure you understand the direction.
  3. Planning is still at the heart of what we do as animators - even with MoCap. Before you do anything, go carefully through the scene and make your list of action notes along with sketches and frame numbers. Working with MoCap can be very time-consuming and overwhelming so having a careful plan is more important than ever.
There are some basic things that you'll need to do right off the start. These first two will be dealt with on the base animation layer:

Clean-up pops, hitches and ticks. Any place where you see obvious transcription errors or aberrant data, you'll need to smooth things out to match what was likely to be the original performance. Examples may be 180 degree flips, hypertension, or any sudden change that occurs in one frame.

If you delete a keyframe on the root of the character, be sure to also delete the same keyframe on the torso, head/neck and arms. Those controls are animating based on the position/rotation of the root. If you leave those keys in place, you'll create a pop/hitch where none was previously. 

Lock down feet and hands. Motion capture is typically collected on soft flexible mats, which means hands and feet drift up and down when in contact with the ground. We want our interactions with the floor to be crisp and deliberate, with slipping and sliding appearing only where intended.

Pro-Tip: Make sure your motion capture data on the legs is baked to the IK feet - otherwise you'll have a tough time getting those feet to lock down any time you adjust the root of the character. Likewise - pay attention to parent space on controls like the head and upper arms.

Ok: looking a bit more pleasant! Now its time to dive into the animation layers. Grab all your blocking controls and create a new additive animation layer with them as members. We'll stick with one layer on top of the MoCap layer to keep things simple.

Get Ready for Dailies!
Play-blast your work from the shot camera view and get ready for the director to come by and give notes. Fortunately this is MoCap, not animation - so you shouldn't be quite as attached to your creation. We'll talk more about the dailies process in class, but here's a couple of tips:
  1. Write down everything you're told. You are on the hook for the changes requested and you definitely don't want to forget something the director asks for - if they ask for it, they will remember and directors seldom like to be disappointed.
  2. Make sure you understand your direction. Read the list back to the director at the end, be sure you know what's working so you don't change those elements that should be preserved
Make some key pose refinements. Pick those moments that you would think of as your animation keys. First look for moments that feel structurally broken: twisted or awkward angles at the head and neck, kinks in the torso, and extreme ankle and wrist angles. Next, pick your major poses and make some notes of how to plus out the line of action, balance and silhouette. The torso tends to be a bit too stiff. Exaggerate the mechanics a bit and broaden the performance. Remember to start by creating a book-end of zero on all your controls. Keep pose changes bracketed with those zero poses. I actually like to grab all my blocking controls, go to each "key" and set a zero pose on every one. Then I go through and edit them.

Animate hands. Paddle hands are neither charming or  pleasing: let's give those hands some love, shall we? A few basic poses to start will suffice, you're animating them from scratch so treat it like any other animation task. You can do this as a separate pass, or as part of your key pose refinements.

Animate the face and eyes. Glassy eyed animated corpses may be what all the cool kids want to watch, but we're going to try for something a bit more appealing. Give your character a soul. The eyes are the place to start. Where do they look, and when? Why do they look there? Use reference of the stage session if it's available, otherwise just think it through and come up with something that makes sense.

At this point you're looking at something that is hopefully a lot more interesting and lively than the original capture and yet it has more subtlety and nuance than you'd typically be able to animate in such a short time frame. MoCap is a time-saving tool, but it's no substitute for animation.

Time for a polish pass. Have a look at how the movement works between your modified keys and make the necessary adjustments. Refine your hand and face animation and take a last look at eye line.

Dailies PART 2: The Re-Daily-ing
Yep, spell-check agrees that's not a real word but Hollywood loves a sequel with a dumb title and so do I. Time to show your finished piece to the director and find out if you plussed out the performance without destroying the subtleties and nuance. Success will be met with hugs and candy. Fail and you will be destroyed. Just kidding...or am I?

Here's the Rubric I'll be using to grade this assignment:

Staging+ Preserves Original Performance 

Nuance and detail still present
Matches well to original capture
Realistic style of movement

Camera is well placed, performance is clearly seen
Sterile movement, no noise or dirt
Significant alteration from original performance
No subtlety in motion; not photo-real
Character is illegible or scene is poorly framed


Stronger lines of action
Clarified paths of action
Balance and weight well depicted
No improvement from raw capture data
Stiff and boring, wild paths of action
Off balance, floating or weightless


Solid ground contacts
No aberrant pops, hitches or ticks 
Good sense of motive forces at work
Feet, hands, knees or elbows sinking or sliding
Evident capture errors still present
No sense of driving force or energy

Face and Hands

Clear emotional performance
Eye line defined and sensible
Hands posed and animated with complexity
Blank emotionless face
Glassy eyed and lifeless
Stiff “paddle” hands

Edited and Refined Mocap - by Andrew West


In the end: it isn't key frame animation but an exotic hybrid creature. With careful application it serves the purpose of the story, blends well with live action and photo-real movement, and is far quicker to produce than straight up key-frame animation. Hopefully you realize you haven't desecrated the alter of the nine old men, died a little inside or lost part of your soul: all you've done is made use of a unjustly maligned gadget in the toolbox to good effect.

Moving on.

Want to know more? Check out these informative links!
An Open Letter to Andy Serkis.
Did you know?...

In Black Panther (2018), Ulysses Klaue was actually played by an ape via motion capture technology