Meet The Little-Known Shadow Motion MoCap System

Last week we attended Immersed 2017 in Toronto, where we met professionals from a variety of disciplines in the immersive technology field, including graphics experts, software designers, and hardware makers. One of those people was Erik Bakke, co-founder of Seattle-based Motion Workshop, and he took the time to speak with us about his company’s portable motion capture system called Shadow Motion.

We thought we were aware of all the portable motion capture options on the market, such as Noitom’s Perception Neuron and the Rokoko SmartSuit Pro, but as it turns out, Motion Workshop has been lurking in the shadows for years. (Pun intended.) Shadow Motion isn’t a new product. In fact, Motion Workshop has already been selling the system to developers and video production studios for three years. The company doesn’t spend money on its marketing efforts, which is why Shadow Motion isn’t well known outside of the motion capture industry.

The Shadow Motion MoCap system offers the same sort of capability as the Perception Neuron and SmartSuit Pro products. The hardware features an array of IMU sensors that you mount to your body to capture the movements of your limbs and joints. Motion Workshop’s system features 17 points of tracking to capture an accurate recreation of your skeletal movements, which puts it on par with its competition. Rokoko’s SmartSuit Pro features 19 sensors, and the basic full-body Perception Neuron system includes 18.  

The Shadow Motion system offers some compelling features that separate it from its competitors. Motion Workshop adapted its technology to pair with SteamVR so you can easily integrate the Shadow Motion system into a VR development workflow. The Shadow Motion system works well on its own for character animation, but if you add a Vive tracker to your body, the system can be used for live avatar animation or in-VR acting.

The Shadow Motion system is primarily meant for developers and digital content creators, and the platform is compatible with a variety of popular animation tools such as Maya, 3DStudio Max, Cinema4D, and other apps. (You can find the full list of compatible software here.)

Bakke said that the Shadow Motion system isn’t currently offered as a consumer product, and therefore the drivers aren’t integrated into any games. However, the capability is there if someone wanted to do it. Motion Workshop offers plugins for Unreal Engine, Unity, and Lumberyard

Motion Workshop didn’t add Vive compatibility to the Shadow Motion system for live avatar animation, though. The company added support for Vive trackers so that you could use the Shadow Motion platform to capture the movement of the actors for game production. Cloudhead Games put together a similar system with a Perception Neuron kit to capture the actors for The Gallery: Call of the Starseed.

Unless you integrate the hardware with a Vive Tracker, Shadow Motion doesn’t rely on external sensors or cameras, which allows you to use it anywhere. The hardware includes internal storage, which enables you to capture movements all day long and offload the data to a computer later. It’s also compatible with iOS and Android mobile devices to enable livestreaming of the animation data over Wi-Fi. 

New Stuff On The Horizon

Motion Workshop attended the Immersed 2017 conference to promote the Shadow Motion system. However, Bakke said the company is working on a new product that should be available in 2018. Motion Workshop sees a lot of potential in the location-based VR entertainment business, and it’s developing a hardware platform that would be better suited for such use cases. You could use the current Shadow Motion system for full body avatar tracking in an experience like The Void or Zero Latency, but the Shadow Motion sensors are too complicated to put on and calibrate for a high-throughput customer experience. Bakke said that Motion Workshop is building a solution that would better solve that problem. The company is also developing a warehouse scale tracking system that would compete against enterprise solutions from Vicon and OptiTrak.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Motion Workshop Shadow Motion MoCap System
Sensors17 precision inertial measurement units
Row 1 - Cell 0 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer
Row 2 - Cell 0 2 pairs pressure insoles
Sample rate100, 200, or 400Hz output data rate
Row 4 - Cell 0 1,000Hz internal update rate
OrientationDrift free, 3D rotation
Row 6 - Cell 0 0.5° static accuracy
Row 7 - Cell 0 2° dynamic accuracy
Size33 x 18 x 6mm miniature sensors
Row 9 - Cell 0 Row 9 - Cell 1
Weight1.1kg (2.4lbs) wearable
Row 11 - Cell 0 6.5kg (14.3lbs) travel case
Battery8 hours
Row 13 - Cell 0 10 Ah capacity
Row 14 - Cell 0 2 packs and dual charger
WirelessWi-Fi 802.11n
Row 16 - Cell 0 Indoor Range 32m (105ft)
Row 17 - Cell 0 Outdoor Range 95m (310ft)
Controller16 GB storage
Row 19 - Cell 0 Status LED
Latency20ms wireless (Wi-Fi)
Row 21 - Cell 0 5ms wired (USB)

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years.