New motion capture research centre for Bath

Motion capture tech will be used to help improve prosthetic limbs for amputees via new research centre based at University of Bath

The motion capture techniques currently used by the film industry to animate non-human characters, such as Gollum in The Lord of The Rings films, require actors to wear a special spotted motion capture suit. The movement of the spots on the close-fitting suit are tracked by a series of high resolution cameras as the performer moves, transferring the movement of the actor onto the animation.

By contrast, the studio for the new £5 million Centre for the Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research & Applications (CAMERA) based at the University’s Department of Computer Science, features state-of-the-art imaging technology which the research team aims to use to capture detailed motion information without using tracking suits.

The Centre was announced this week as part of a £23 million investment in digital economy research in the Chancellor’s budget. Funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), CAMERA will focus on three areas of research: entertainment; enhancing athlete performance; and helping develop assistive technologies. In addition to research projects planned, the Centre will be the first motion capture studio facility in the South West for commercial use. 

Motion capture technology was first developed by the biomechanics field to help train elite athletes by studying their gait and movement and was later applied by the entertainment industry to make computer animation in films and games more realistic.

Dr Darren Cosker, Royal Society Industry Fellow from the University’s Department of Computer Science, is leading the project in collaboration with the University’s Department for Health. 

He commented: “This is a really exciting project that takes new advances in this technology back to its roots in biomechanics and will use it in a range of new areas from training elite athletes to rehabilitating injured service personnel. We’re aiming to develop this technology further – using advances in computer vision and graphics – so that obtrusive motion capture suits required for accurate human body motion analysis will no longer be required. This will mean that actors can be filmed in costume, athletes’ performance can be assessed in a normal training session, and amputee patients can have clinical physiotherapy assessments in their own homes.”

The research team will be working with current and former members of the armed forces who have undergone amputations and/or are suffering osteoarthritis, analysing their movement with prosthetic limbs and using the information to design better prosthetics and correct adverse movement patterns.

Dr James Bilzon, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology and Head of the University’s Department for Heath, added: “This is a very exciting opportunity to build on our existing research strengths in human biomechanics and exercise-based rehabilitation. Working with colleagues in Computer Science and other external industries, we will develop the evidence-base for new and innovative solutions to complex societal challenges. 

“We have been working in partnership with athletes and sports governing bodies, as well as patients and medical practitioners in the National Health Service and Ministry of Defence, for many years. We all recognise that the next significant step-change in the development of our work will be realised by the strategic integration of multidisciplinary approaches to these issues. CAMERA therefore presents a significant long-term opportunity for us, and our non-academic partners, to reach new heights.”

The new facility will also be used by the Centre for Digital Entertainment (CDE), a doctoral training centre based at the University of Bath and Bournemouth University.

Pictures: Nic Delves-Broughton, University of Bath