Animal motion capture

Circle. Motion-captured form

spiral out. Motion-captured form

Cross. Motion-captured form


I stand in a motion capture studio and draw a circle, spiral and cross. I draw in thin air with a ball on a stick. Lines that trace my gestures are captured by cameras surrounding the walls.

Views of objects are rendered by motion capture software, imported into the 3D animation programme 3D Studio Max, and exported as stills. Now that the gestures are captured, video sequences can be made to show objects from different viewpoints over time, by changing the virtual camera’s motion path. Objects can be printed as physical objects. Other software can be used to display the lines appearing to draw themselves. I video record gestures with a view to rotoscoping (tracing) by hand.

Next steps are to trace the gestures of a dancer (Caterine Mocciola) and calligrapher (Vikki Quill), artists with different kinds of body knowledge.

I am reading James Gray’s book called How Animals Move (1953). The book brings to life, in clear words and images, six Christmas lectures ‘delivered to a juvenile audience at the Royal Institution’ in 1951. Chapter headings:

1. The Machinery of Animal Movement
2. Swimming
3. Walking and Running
4. Jumping and Creeping
5. Flying Animals
6. Flapping Flight

What stands out to me is the author’s ecocentric view. The human form is described as just one among many animal forms. Primal movement mechanisms are shown to exist within microorganisms and us. I see the mechanisms as primal: they are based the circle, spiral and cross.

Primal mechanisms are described as amoeboid and ciliary.. Amoeba ‘have no proper limbs, but move along by squeezing out blunt processes from the surface of the body. One of these processes attaches itself to the surface of the mud and the rest of the body flows either towards or away from it; then a new process of ‘pseudopodium’ forms, and the cycle is repeated’. The same mechanism can be observed within us, By ‘amoeboid movement the white cells of our blood can flow around and swallow up foreign particles which may have found their way into our bodies’ (p.8). In ciliary motion a body surface of fine hairs known as cilia are in constant motion backward and forward; ‘they sweep backwards like the pliant lash of a whip, but forwards like a stiff rod…cilia work in relays creating an impression of waves passing over the surface of the body like waves passing over a field of corn in a gust of wind’ (pp.8-9). Tracing (rotoscoping) key body part of motion through time reveals circling, spiralling and crossing forms. This knowledge is not new. Soon after the invention of photography Jules-Etienne Marey identified ‘trails’ of primal forms in long film exposures to moving figures (Lawder 1975 p.9). Today we glean data from microscopes and satellites to visualise the circling, spiralling and crossing forms that comprise the global system.

It’s child’s play. Drawing the primal forms brings microbial and oceanic dimensions of life to human scale.


James Gray. How Animals Move (1953) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Standish D. Lawder. The Cubist Cinema (1975) New York: New York University Press
Lisa Roberts. Antarctic Animation: Gestures and lines describe a changing environment (2010) PhD thesis: University of New South Wales

About Lisa Roberts

Project leader
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