FACT CHECK: Weta Did Not Invent Motion Capture

No one turns to the Wall Street Journal for insightful animation coverage, but that’s still no excuse for this egregious error in an article about the use of motion capture on Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

The film, which follows the development of the chimp Caesar from baby to adult, takes advantage of “motion capture,” a technology the visual-effects company Weta Digital Ltd. first developed for the 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” and has evolved one step further.

The sentence is written in such a way as to imply that Weta developed motion capture, which it clearly did not. Motion capture is a major filmmaking technology that has been used in dozens of films and has been utilized for decades. A newspaper claiming that it was invented in 2009 by Weta defies comprehension.


  • Keith

    It also implies “motion capture” was developed just a few years ago instead of MANY years ago.

  • Rufus

    I don’t see the need to lend that sentence any credence of attention – not only does it imply Weta invented it, they also imply it was first used in 2009. Michelle Kung clearly thawed from her cryogenic state right before Avatar came out.

  • John A

    How can she say Weta invented motion capture, when everyone KNOWS it was first used by the Three Stooges?

    • amid

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Thanks Amid!

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com Frank Panucci

    WSJ is a little distracted these days. Heh, heh.

  • http://www.animationguild.org Steve Kaplan

    I think this is getting blown out of proportion. While I won’t argue that the author used incorrect language which sparked Amid’s post, I’m quite certain the reference was for the recording of the facial motion. The camera facing the actor with tracking markers places strategically on their face to record specific muscle and point movement to be translated to mesh deformation on the 3d character.

    At least, that’s the way I read it.

    Steve Kaplan
    Labor Organizer
    The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

    • amid

      Steve, While I understand your point, most readers of the Wall Street Journal who only see what the author of that piece has written would not think, “Oh, she’s obviously referring to the recording of facial motion.” The author has the responsibility to communicate information accurately to a layman, not industry insiders. As a sidenote, Weta didn’t invent facial tracking either, so it would still be inaccurate.

      • http://www.animationguild.org Steve Kaplan

        I see your point, Amid. As I stated, the language was unclear. Have you written the WSJ and informed them of their egregious error in communication?

        That was my point ..

  • Java Junkie

    ” …takes advantage of the new motion capture technology the visual-effects company Weta Digital Ltd. developed for the 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” and has evolved one step further.”

    There. Fixed it.

  • http://robertkohr.com Rob Kohr

    While I feel the use of the term “motion-catpure” was merely a gaff on WSJ’s part I think that if we used another term to describe what they did with Avatar the general public would be befuddled, Steve had a hard time summing it up as well and what he wrote doesn’t read well in the era of sound-bites. While I agree with your indignation I think most of us have come to realize that the general public thinks all animation is 1) easy 2) faster because of computers 3) all done by computers 4) done by thousands of people. Its a thankless art.

  • Brandon Pierce

    James Cameron probably paid WSJ to write that.

  • http://thisisonlya.blogspot.com robcat2075

    @ Brandon Pierce…

    James Cameron didn’t have to pay WSJ to do a gushing write up about “Planet of the Apes”

    20th Century FOX and The Wall Street Journal are both subsidiaries of Rupert Murdoch. One is obligated to promote the other and neither is expected to be factual while doing it.

  • ???

    Is this correction of another news site really worth another post on a site read by people who know that it’s incorrect?

    • amid

      We have always been a watchdog for how this art form is represented elsewhere, as well as for how artists are treated within the industry. These are among the voids in animation media that we are proud to fill, even though we originally didn’t set out to do so.

  • Sat

    Damn, I thought the link to Wikipedia had something about the history of Motion Capture, this could be an interesting read. All I found was a bit too heavy to read.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    How is this egregious?

  • Gerard de Souza

    My first knowledge of motion capture was working at Electronic Arts Canada in the early 90s. They had enlisted a company from California called BioVision to capture motion for a fight game demo. As far as I remember Biovision was originally a comapny to analyze athletes’ motions , like golf swings.
    Over 10 years earier than that when the original Tron came out there was a TV special called Computers Are People too. There was a clip of some university research of what could be called now crude early computer motion capture of what looked like stickman legs dating back to the early 60s IIRC.

  • brad

    I can think of many reasons to justifiably dislike the Wall Street Journal, the fact it doesn’t know much about animation is pretty low down the list.

  • Dale

    Camera-based motion capture for computer animation started in 1983 with Robert Abel’s “Brilliance” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZY5_ZzRdbk
    This “about” clip is dated 1985, but I saw it in 1983.