MoCap Now: Another Piece in the Cascadia Immersive Media Puzzle

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MoCap Now’s main motion capture space. Ander Bergstrom with his back to the camera, and Sixr’s Budi Mulyo, looking slightly blurry. I admit this is a pretty lousy photo. Sorry about that.

Anything could hide behind a battered warehouse door in Sodo–trapeze artists, a machine shop, a reprographics facility, an industrial bakery. Last week I pulled aside one such door on Dawson Street and found myself in a motion capture studio called MoCap Now.

Anyone who’s watched a behind-the-scenes featurette for one of the Lord of the Rings movies knows about motion capture. It’s the technology by which movements of real human beings, dressed in form-fitting suits studded with little pellet-sized markers, are captured digitally. These digital files then serve as the basis for animated characters. Andy Serkis’s Gollum is probably the best-known motion capture performance.

MoCap Now represents the vision of two motion capture tech veterans, CJ Markham and Ander Bergstrom. Between them they have extensive credits pioneering this technology for such movies as King Kong and Happy Feet and games like Red Dead Redemption. They’re making a bet that Seattle, with its extensive ecosystem of game companies and growing VR content industry, can sustain their state-of-the-art facility, which includes a huge open space about the size of a basketball court for capturing large-scale movement, as well as a smaller room for capturing facial movement and dialogue. The facility is still somewhat under construction, with a mezzanine in need of railings, but it appears quite close to being fully operational.

The main room is surrounded by sensors that detect markers as small as a sesame seed. I held one such sensor on the tip of my index finger and moved around the space, watching my movement tracked on a nearby monitor. CJ and Ander were excited to show off their tech and their enthusiasm was infectious and got me excited for what such a facility could mean for the Northwest’s immersive media ecosystem.

Here’s what I see happening. All across Western Washington, individuals and teams who are experts at particular technologies are building their labs and facilities. Up in Stanwood, Ron Jones has constructed Sky Muse Studios, where orchestras can record movie soundtracks in the woods. Mechanical Dreams and Sixr are working out of CoMotion Labs, figuring out 360 film content. Sprawly and Viar 360 are developing the tools that will allows us greater degrees of interaction with immersive content. In recent weeks I’ve talked to companies working on volumetric video, photogrammetry, and spatial audio.

The ecosystem is growing, and it’s only going to get stronger and more successful the more all these various elements communicate with each other. I’m the editor of seattlevr.us, the local immersive tech community website, and for the past week I’ve been working on the Ecosystem page, a directory of organizations and companies. (If you don’t see your organization listed, contact me!) The page is very much a work in progress and I want to come up with a better taxonomy. But it’s striking how many diverse companies are popping up and how, collectively, they represent a formidable challenge to any single movie studio or corporate behemoth who endeavors to go it alone in immersive media.

This is what gets me vibrating with excitement. All these specialized pieces are starting to fall into place and communicate with one another. MoCap Now could be such an incredible resource for the Cascadia immersive media ecosystem, which is just now awakening to what’s possible. These are exciting times.