I first learned about motion capture (mocap) in college while watching the Barbie Nutcracker. The animators put a professional ballerina in a mocap suit and recorded her performing the choreography. I had been dancing since I was a very young child, and was at the time dancing with a civic company, and had watched many an animator struggle to show ballet correctly. This being the early days of mocap, the animation and technology weren’t quite there yet, but it was something to watch an animated ballerina actually doing recognizable ballet steps. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to try doing mocap myself.
Really pay attention to Barbie’s bourrées. While not perfect, they’re not that far off.
A couple of months ago, Extra Play offered a playthrough of a dance-based game called Bound. A dance-based game? I had to watch. It became clear very quickly that the game animators had put a trained dancer in a mocap suit and had her perform various choreographies that they then wove together as the player character moves through the world. It’s beautiful in a jarring world.
But twenty years after that Barbie movie, Bound‘s dancing protagonist had a very obvious problem – she couldn’t bourrée correctly. Across six hours of game play, I counted at least five different bourrée animations (one is shown in the video above), four of which would have made any trained ballerina cringe. They did finally get it right late in the game, but I sat there wondering how with advances in animation and technology this protagonist struggled with a simple move that an animated character had accomplished reasonably well two decades earlier. Was the mocap technology just not able to sort out the dancer’s movements? Was it a shortcoming of the animation program? What happened?
Regardless, it’s been fun watching how the presentation of dance has changed across animation over the years.