Organic Motion used this week's Game Developers Conference to introduce a new motion-capture system that the company says is significantly less pricey, more powerful and easier to use than systems that have been used in the past. In addition to game developers, the company sees a future in the new technology in film and television, medical research and other markets.

Most motion-capture systems rely on an actor wearing a bodysuit, a dark, tight fitting garment equipped with markers that cameras then record. The computer then translates the position of those markers to create a skeletal frame of the actor in the suit. A game developer can then overlay character meshes and textures onto the wireframe skeleton to create the animation. Many of today's leading games and, in fact, major movies, use such technology to create realistic-looking 3D characters.

These systems present some limitations, however. If an actor passes his arm in front of a marker, for example, that will cause what's called "marker occlusion". The 3D graphics software used to interpret this information can then create abrupt jitters or jumps in the motion — all of this needs to be smoothed out by hand by a computer animator, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

Organic Motion's system, by comparison, doesn't require an actor in a body suit at all. The system uses ten portable high speed cameras which record the actor's position, orientation and motion in 3D space. They're all connected via FireWire to Organic Motion's black box, which analyses the pictures that come in and sends that data out to a client computer. What's more, instead of just creating skeletal bone segments, Organic Motion's system can create mesh data as well, generating a complete 3D model.

"It's like attaching a scanner," explained Andrew Tschesnok, Organic Motion's CEO. "You can send the data by Ethernet to a client machine — a Mac, for example, running Autodesk's Motionbuilder."

Tschesnok said that Organic Motion's results are on par with those you'd get with a body-suit-based system.

The motion data is measured in kilobytes, or if mesh data is included, a few megabytes, so it's not a huge processing load to transfer over the network, said Tschesnok. The 1.0 version, which is coming in September, will support only one motion actor, but the company's development roadmap calls for support for multiple actors further down the road.

Organic Motion's benefits extend beyond creating characters for games and movies, too. Tschesnok said the company is collaborating with a rehabilitation center in the northeastern US, where doctors are using a development version of the system to track children who suffer from cerebral palsy, a debilitating neurological condition.

"Think of this as a measuring tool of human motion," said Tsechsnok.

The system is priced very competitively compared to other motion-capture products used in these high end markets, explained Tschesnok. Organic Motion's system costs about $80,000 — almost half what current systems cost.

GDC marks Organic Motion's debut, and Tschesnok said the event is a natural fit for his company. Game developers checking out a demo of the technology have been thrilled with the results, and the price.