What is Performance Capture

Performance capture, also known as motion capture, is a technique used to map actors’ movements and facial expressions onto computer-generated (CGI) characters.

This technology helps bring animated or virtual characters to life with a realistic appearance, allowing actors to use their full range of skills in portraying these digital characters. Films and video games often use performance capture to create more engaging and immersive experiences for their audiences.

When recording a performance capture session, an actor’s body movement, voice, and facial expressions are captured simultaneously, providing a comprehensive dataset for animators and game producers to work with. This technology has played an essential role in bringing CGI characters such as King Kong, Gollum, and Caesar to life.

Over the years, the technology has advanced significantly, resulting in more refined and accurate data from the actors’ performances. This, in turn, has led to digital characters appearing even more realistic and true-to-life in movies and video games.

With performance capture’s continued evolution, it is becoming increasingly prevalent in various industries, providing endless possibilities for storytelling and character development.

What Is Performance Capture

Performance capture, also known as motion capture, is a technique used in film and video game production to create realistic-looking characters and animations.

It involves recording the movements, facial expressions, and voices of actors simultaneously to bring an animated or virtual character to life more accurately than ever before.

This technology maps the actor’s movements and expressions onto CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) characters, giving life to memorable roles such as Gollum, King Kong, and Caesar from the Planet of the Apes series.

Performance capture has revolutionised the world of animation and visual effects by enabling the creation of more believable characters and seamless interactions between live-action actors and computer-generated elements.

Differentiating performance capture from motion capture, while motion capture typically records an actor’s body movements, performance capture involves capturing facial expressions as well, thereby providing a more accurate representation of the actor’s interactions and emotions.

This powerful combination of body and facial data significantly advances the believability and depth of digital characters.

History of Performance Capture

Performance capture, an advanced form of motion capture, has evolved significantly over the years. It involves recording detailed movements and expressions of actors while they perform, transcending beyond rotoscoping, a technique previously used in animation.

One of the early instances of performance capture making a breakthrough in the entertainment industry was with the portrayal of Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” series. The actor, Andy Serkis, had to wear a specialised motion capture suit, allowing the technology to record his movements and facial expressions.

This technological leap led to refined and lifelike animation in movies, contributing significantly to the character’s success.

Performance capture has improved over time, enabling filmmakers to record actors’ movements in larger volumes and with greater precision. The introduction of facial capture has played a crucial role in differentiating performance capture from motion capture, as it accurately records actors’ facial expressions, making the characters appear more realistic.

Today, performance capture is widely accepted and used in various projects in the film industry, paving the way for innovative storytelling and visual experiences.

Techniques and Technologies

In the realm of performance capture, various techniques and technologies are employed to capture actors’ movements and expressions accurately. These techniques can be broadly categorised into Optical Motion Capture, Inertial Motion Capture, and Markerless Motion Capture.

Optical Motion Capture

Optical motion capture relies on cameras and reflective markers or active LED markers to record the performer’s movements. The markers are attached to the actor’s body at specific points or worn as a suit, and the cameras are set up to capture their motion.

The data collected by these cameras are used to create a digital skeleton that mimics the movements of the actor, enabling animators to apply those movements to digital characters.

Optical motion capture is widely used in the film and gaming industries due to its high level of accuracy and the ability to create realistic characters and animations.

Inertial Motion Capture

Inertial motion capture, or IMC, uses inertial measurement units (IMUs) that are placed on an actor’s body in strategic locations. These IMUs consist of accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers that measure linear acceleration, angular velocity, and magnetic heading to track an actor’s movement.

IMC provides a more portable and accessible solution compared to optical motion capture as it does not require cameras or complex setups. The data produced using Inertial Motion Capture can be processed in real-time and also used for creating virtual characters with detailed movements and expressions.

Markerless Motion Capture

Markerless motion capture is a technique that does not involve markers or specialised suits worn by actors. Instead, advanced algorithms and computer vision technologies are used to analyse the actor’s movement by processing video or depth-sensor data.

Some common techniques employed in markerless motion capture include multi-view stereo reconstruction and monocular model-based tracking. Although this approach may not be as accurate as the other methods, it offers more flexibility concerning the recording process and can be more cost-effective.

Applications in Entertainment

Performance capture, also known as motion capture, has become a crucial technology in the entertainment industry. By recording body movement, voice, and facial expressions simultaneously, it allows actors and creatives to bring animated or virtual characters to life with remarkable detail and realism.

Film and Television

In film and television, performance capture has significantly influenced the way CGI characters are created and integrated into live-action scenes. It enhances the believability of these characters by capturing the actors’ natural expressions, emotions, and movements.

. Actors’ performances are recorded with a head-mounted camera, ensuring accurate mapping of their expressions and body movements onto the CGI characters. This results in highly detailed and realistic digital characters that seamlessly blend with their live-action counterparts.

Some notable examples of performance capture in film and television include:

  • Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies, portrayed by Andy Serkis.
  • Caesar from the “Planet of the Apes” film trilogy, also played by Andy Serkis.
  • Various characters in James Cameron’s “Avatar”, performed by multiple actors.
  • The titular character in “The Adventures of Tintin”, portrayed by Jamie Bell.

Video Games

Video game developers often utilise performance capture technology to create more engaging in-game characters with realistic emotions and movements. This technology allows the actors’ voices, facial expressions, and body movements to be accurately recorded and transferred to the digital characters in the game, enhancing the gameplay experience and making the characters more relatable to players.

Performance capture has become especially crucial in games with rich narrative storylines and cinematic cutscenes. Some examples of popular video games that have benefited from this technology include:

  • The “Uncharted” series, featuring the character Nathan Drake, portrayed by Nolan North.
  • The “Last of Us” series, with its protagonists Joel and Ellie, played by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, respectively.
  • Quantum Break, a game featuring actors like Shawn Ashmore and Aidan Gillen, where their likenesses were used for the in-game characters.
  • The “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, which uses performance capture to create its historical and fictional characters throughout numerous instalments.

Challenges and Limitations

Performance capture, also known as motion capture, is a technology that maps actors’ movements and expressions onto CGI characters, bringing them to life in a realistic manner.

Despite its numerous advantages, this technology also comes with its own set of challenges and limitations.

One significant challenge faced by performance capture is accurately capturing an actor’s facial expressions and subtle movements. This is crucial for conveying emotions and the nuances of a performance, but can be difficult to achieve with the current technology.

Additionally, capturing the fine details of soft tissue, hair, and clothing can prove to be quite complicated.

Another limitation is the need for specialised equipment and environments for capturing performances. Actors are required to wear tight-fitting suits with numerous markers, and perform within a controlled space surrounded by high-resolution cameras. This setup can be costly and time-consuming, affecting the overall production process.

Performance capture also raises concerns related to the physical strain on actors. The technology often requires actors to perform physically demanding actions, sometimes repetitively or for extended periods, which can lead to fatigue and potential injuries.

Lastly, there is the ethical dilemma surrounding the use of performance capture to recreate deceased actors or replicate existing performances. This raises questions about ownership, consent, and the future implications of using technology to resurrect performers without their direct involvement.

Future of Performance Capture

As technology continues to evolve, the future of performance capture is expected to see significant advancements. One of the emerging trends in this field is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance motion capture methods. 

NVIDIA is one example of a company using AI capabilities to make performance capture accessible with any camera, enabling real-time animation of avatars, characters, and artwork.

Another aspect of the future of performance capture revolves around real-time motion capture systems. These systems can streamline the production process by delivering immediate feedback and eliminating the need for lengthy post-processing work.

An important aspect of choosing a performance capture system is to consider factors such as cost and data processing time.

Furthermore, the use of performance capture in various industries is expected to expand. While traditionally associated with film and gaming, performance capture also has the potential to be applied in areas such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and live entertainment.

This technology has the power to create immersive and interactive experiences that push the boundaries of storytelling and entertainment.

In summary, the future of performance capture is predicted to be influenced by advancements in AI, real-time systems, and broader industry applicability. Enhanced technology will undoubtedly lead to increasingly accurate and realistic representations of motion and expressions, benefiting both creators and consumers across multiple sectors.


In summary, performance capture is a powerful technology that has transformed the entertainment industry. By recording body movement, facial expressions, and voice simultaneously, it allows filmmakers and game producers to bring animated or virtual characters to life with astounding realism.

Notable examples include iconic characters such as Gollum, King Kong, and Caesar, which showcase the potential of performance capture in enhancing storytelling and audience immersion.

As the technology evolves, we can expect its impact to extend beyond motion pictures and video games into other fields of art, science, and communication.

Ultimately, performance capture is an exciting development that has raised the bar for visual storytelling and set new creative horizons for artists and creators worldwide.

With continuous advancements, there is no doubt that performance capture will keep pushing the boundaries of imagination and bring even more captivating and engaging experiences to our screens.



I’m the resident head of comms and partnerships here at Draw & Code. I work on strategy, sales, marketing and other vital areas at a studio that was founded on a dream and has spent the intervening decade trying to make that dream come true. I believe that immersive and interactive technologies are impacting on our lives and being in the epicentre of this industry makes every day a thrill.

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