10 Best Motion Capture Characters In Movies

Filmmaking technology has come a ridiculously long way since the days of black-and-white features, and that’s still an understatement. Movies have gone from using tiny plastic models, wires, and strings to fully-rendered CGI effects to create landscapes, characters, and even entire planets. With enough budget, the only limit is the filmmaker’s imagination.

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One of the most interesting forms of movie technology is motion capture, where CGI is transfixed onto a live actor during the filming process. Thanks to this technique, audiences have been introduced to a whole legion of fascinating characters and creatures in their favorite films. From robots and aliens to enormous fire-breathing dragons, some of cinema’s most incredible characters come from motion-captured performances.

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Sonny (I, Robot)


Alan Tudyk from I Robot movie

Alan Tudyk is a giant of science fiction, but his talents stretch far beyond the galaxies of Firefly. Tudyk has lent his acting chops to more fantastical and elaborate characters, usually animated. However, I, Robot gave the actor a chance to play with both.

While he definitely has a very creepy face, Sonny is a different make and model from the typical robot character. As Asimov would have wanted, he thinks, feels, and dreams as a human would, and Tudyk’s performance helps further establish that fact.

Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War)


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With all the hype and buildup Marvel put behind his reveal, Marvel could not afford to drop the ball on the cinematic debut of the Mad Titan himself. A villain as large and powerful as Thanos could have easily and understandably been done with CGI alone, but the decision to use motion capture allowed for much better expressions and performance from the character.


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Thanos will forever be a staple of Josh Brolin’s career thanks to the power he put behind his portrayal. Perhaps one of the larger personalities of the MCU, sometimes a little technological wizardry can go a long way.

The Na’vi (Avatar)


James Cameron’s Avatar was a box office smash when it first premiered, and its special effects and vibrant world of Avatar‘s Pandora captured the imagination of countless viewers. With this in mind, nowhere are the awe-inspiring visuals more incredible than with the inhabitants of the planet, the Na’vi.

While most of their appearance is composed of CGI, the motion capture gives them a more human-like element to balance their otherworldly appearance. Without it, fans might not have fallen in love with characters like Netyri, Jake, or any other of the blue, feline members of the Na’vi.


Grendel (Beowulf)


One of the benefits of CGI and motion capture is the ability to get as bombastic and unrealistic as can be, and there are few that represent that better than Grendel. While the technology was still in its developmental stages, the motion capture animation from Robert Zemekis laid the foundation for other films that followed.

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Shockingly, Crispin Glover’s performance is able to stand out from the creature’s various shocking physical attributes as he tears through Hrothgar’s mead hall. What makes this monstrosity so special is the fact that it’s hard to tell just what Grendel is, just as it was in the original Viking text.


Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)


Jim Carrey as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Motion capture can also be used to give characters a more exaggerated yet realistic appearance. Case in point, Ebenezer Scrooge and the rest of the eccentric cast from Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Granted, most of Scrooge’s over-the-top nature comes from the facial contortions of Jim Carrey, but his sharp features and spidery form look like they’re straight from the illustrations from the original novel.

All of the characters in this adaptation have a unique visual style about them, largely thanks to the technique, but Scrooge, in particular, feels about as close to the character as one could possibly get. The animation style might not be for everyone, but it certainly tells the story beautifully.


Davy Jones (Pirates Of The Caribbean Series)


Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean

“Do you fear death?” The makeup effects in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchises are definitely something to write home about, but the magic of motion capture brought fans one of the most fearsome Disney villains to grace the silver screen with Davy Jones.

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With his beard of tentacles and other marine-life features that make up the captain of the Flying Dutchman, it’s easy to understand why he’s such a feared entity on the high seas, especially seeing the power he wields both on deck and in the water.

Rocket Raccoon (Guardians Of The Galaxy)


Guardians Galaxy 2 Trailer Rocket Raccoon

While perhaps not as actor-heavy as someone like Thanos, everyone’s favorite trash panda definitely benefited from some well-crafted motion capture, as well. While Rocket’s voice was provided by Bradley Cooper, his body double was none other than Sean Gunn, who played Kraglin in Guardians of the Galaxy. His form helped the filmmakers give Rocket a more anthropomorphic structure, making him more like his comic book counterpart.


His partner, Groot, might be nearly 100 percent CGI, but a personality as big as Rocket’s deserved something a little extra to bring him to life. The way he stands, walks, emotes, and simply exists needs to be as expressive and vibrant as he is.

King Kong (King Kong)


King Kong loves Ann Darrow in Peter Jackson's King Kong

Andy Serkis goes hand in hand with motion capture, and he’s practically built his career on it. The actor has portrayed several creatures and characters brought to life by the medium, but one of the largest names on his repertoire has to be the legendary Kong himself.

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The version of the great ape in Peter Jackson’s adaptation is more than a few steps up the evolutionary chain than his stop-motion ancestor. With the use of motion capture and CGI animation, Kong is able to look more grounded and real than the versions that came before.


Smaug (The Hobbit)


Smaug turning his head in The Hobbit

Anyone who’s read The Hobbit knows that Peter Jackson could not afford to screw up one of the most famous dragons in all of the fantasy genre. Likewise, the talent behind him had to be equally as legendary as the great wyrm himself, Smaug the Terrible, and fans were bestowed with a fire-breathing treat on both accounts.

Smaug’s design was very reminiscent of the book’s illustrations, but his expressions and voice from Benedict Cumberbatch helped solidify his character. The result was a slow-burning greedy dragon with a blood-red palate and an appetite for fiery destruction.

Gollum (The Hobbit / Lord Of The Rings)


Of course, there’s no getting away from talking about motion capture without mentioning Gollum. Easily one of the finest uses of the medium, the pitiful ring-obsessed creature would not even exist without the technique or performance from Andy Serkis.


If there’s one role that will forever be associated with motion capture, it’s this one. Everything from the way Gollum moves and contorts to the way he sits, crawls, and sprawls across the scenery comes from Serkis’ portrayal. It’s just something that could not be accurately recreated with just CGI alone.

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