Dog actors for video games no longer need to wear bulky motion capture suits

18 Jun 2020

Sinéad Kearney adjusts the cameras to collect the motion capture data of a lurcher. Image: University of Bath

New software will allow dog actors to more easily play a character in movies or video games, and could also benefit veterinary science.

No longer will a dog need to don a bulky motion capture suit if movie or game producers want to create a virtual representation of the animal in a film. This follows a recent breakthrough from researchers at the University of Bath, who revealed new motion capture technology that does away with the need for a large suit and uses only one camera.

Motion capture technology is widely used in the entertainment industry, where actors wear a suit dotted with markers that are then precisely tracked in 3D space by multiple cameras taking images from different angles. However, these technologies are particularly difficult to apply to animals, requiring expensive equipment and dozens of markers on the suit.

The researchers said that their new software can digitise the movement of 14 different breeds of dog, from lanky lurchers to squat pugs. Wearing a new, easier-fitting garment to work with the software, a number of dogs were filmed doing a range of movements.

Not just dogs

This data was then used to create a computer model that can accurately predict and replicate the poses of dogs when they’re filmed without wearing the motion capture suits. This allowed for 3D digital information to be captured for new dogs without all of the expensive equipment that comes with traditional motion capture suits.

The footage is recorded using an RGBD camera. Whereas normal digital cameras record the red, green and blue (RGB) colour in each pixel in the image, RGBD cameras also record the distance from the camera for each pixel.

Speaking of the software, PhD researcher Sinéad Kearney said: “This technology allows us to study the movement of animals, which is useful for applications such as detecting lameness in a dog and measuring its recovery over time.

“For the entertainment industry, our research can help produce more authentic movement of virtual animals in films and video games. Dog owners could also use it to make a 3D digital representation of their pet on their computer, which is a lot of fun!”

The researchers are now testing the software with other four-legged animals, including horses, cats, lions and gorillas, with some promising results.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic