NYU opens city's only motion capture studio

August 14, 2003

New York City's only laboratory dedicated to research in motion capture - a cutting edge technique used to facilitate the study of animation and human movement - was recently opened at NYU through its Center for Advanced Technology (CAT). Located at 719 Broadway, the lab uses optical cameras and other devices to track the movement of reflective markers placed on live subjects, which are then used to help create more realistic computer images of humans and animals.

NYU researchers, led by the mocap lab's director Chris Bregler, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the NYU's Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences, work with dancers from the dance program at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education. Dancers are fitted with special suits containing reflective markers. Movement data is then gathered by tracking and calculating the location of every reflective marker in the camera's view at each frame. Once the set of 3D points is acquired, they are used to determine joint rotations and bone lengths, enabling the "motion" to be applied to any 3D character.

Animators, particularly video game developers, rely on motion capture research because it can achieve very accurate and realistic results in a short amount of time. Bregler, who formerly worked at Stanford University and Disney Feature Animation, currently focuses his research on the animation of human movements, including visual motion capture, human face, speech, and full-body motion analysis and synthesis, as well as artistic aspects of animation.

"Despite their best efforts, computer scientists have struggled with making screen images genuinely lifelike," said Bregler. "Motion capture provides the best possible method for moving us closer to the goal of creating believable human and animal movements digitally. In addition, working with dancers and animators provides a vital perspective that scientists can easily miss - that of the importance of seemingly inconsequential differences in movement and how they can make the difference between a good image and a truly lifelike one."

Laboratory hardware includes a professional, portable, sprung dance floor for dance capture; 10 mounted MCam2 cameras able to operate with a resolution of 1.3 million pixels and up to 1000 fps; Vicon Motion Capture software; and the Vicon 8i datastation, which supports Real Time software and offline recording simultaneously. Internally, V8i supports SMPTE Time Code, which can be genlocked with an external source and can record and sync audio simultaneously with the motion capture data.
In the spring semester, Professor Bregler will offer a graduate course that surveys the history of motion capture, its technical foundations, how it is used in the sciences and arts, and its current limitations and new challenges. A special emphasis will be placed on the use of motion capture for computer animation. More information about the lab can be found at http://mrl.nyu.edu/movement.

The New York University Center for Advanced Technology was founded in 1993 with the goal of accelerating the development and dissemination of multimedia technologies and applications. Designated one of 15 New York State Centers for Advanced Technology by the New York State Office of Science, Technology & Academic Research (NYSTAR), the Center uses its multimedia technology expertise to augment the efforts of faculty, staff, and researchers working in new media. The Center is a focal point for partnerships among NYU faculty, the wider academic community, and leading members of industry. Working with companies and organizations in various fields, the Center develops multimedia technologies, tools, services, and products.

New York University
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