Imagine you're at home firing up your video game console. Tonight's selection? Boxing. But instead of seeing Oscar de la Hoya punching away at Evander Holyfield, it's your face on your TV screen. And instead of using a joystick or a wand to become a boxing champion, all you do is punch and block in the air while the on-screen figure — your figure — mimics your moves in real time.
While this situation isn't exactly reality yet, Organic Motion, a Manhattan-based startup, is trying to make it one. The company is single-handedly changing the face of motion capture, traditionally a tedious process involving a complicated, latex suit used to create 3-D animated figures in films like "Beowulf." The startup has developed a way to capture movement without the motion-capture suit, allowing the technology to be moved from the animator's studio into doctor's offices, sporting goods stores and even your home.
"What if the computer could just see you? There's no paddles. There's no attached devices. There's nothing like that," Organic Motion CEO Andrew Tschesnok told ABCNEWS.com. "So the idea is that the next gaming system is going to place a few cameras and that'd be the controller. You simply get into your living room and you're in the game; you're the boxer. It's not about learning how to manipulate the controllers, you're just yourself. You're doing the boxing or you're running in place. … You're ducking and moving."
Motion capture technology is nothing new. Since the 1980s, movie directors and video game developers have used motion capture to create 3-D animated figures. With the help of video cameras, computers "read" markers (usually resembling ping pong balls) that dot a performer wearing a difficult-to-don latex suit. The computer then interprets the markers' movements into the movements of a human body, in effect animating a digital figure. For example, if a marker on a person's left hand moves up and down, the computer moves an animated figure's hand up and down.
The more traditional process, however, is fraught with problems; computers can "misread" the markers, moving the figure in unintended and unnatural ways. But the biggest hurdle is the suit. Typically, putting on the suit and placing the markers correctly takes about two hours; the suits and markers are expensive and a performer has to be paid to fill them.
The same complications apply for motion capture's use in the medical world — currently about 50 percent of the market, according to Tschesnok. Motion capture is one of the most accurate ways to measure movement in patients, for example those who have cerebral palsy or have suffered a stroke. But getting a suit on a patient, especially one with impaired motor skills, is difficult, if not humiliating.
Organic Motion's technology, however, removes these obstacles. Instead of reading markers, cameras read and render the actual movements of the person being recorded — no suits required — combining 2-D images to create a 3-D digital image on a computer screen.
That means animation can be done faster, more patients can be served in the same amount of time and the applications of the technology can be easily expanded to your mall's video arcade, sporting goods store, or your home — really almost anywhere.
"[Our system] really has applications everywhere in life that deal with motion," Tschesnok said.