Skip to main content

Scientists build a real Panopticon that captures your every move in 3D

Scientists build a real Panopticon that captures your every move in 3D


The Panoptic Studio captures video from 480 cameras arranged in a giant sphere

Share this story

Motion capture technology has come a long way in the past few decades. Just take a look at Gollum actor Andy Serkis's incredibly expressive performance as a computer-generated simian in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. That role, like most other motion capture appearances of late, required sticking hundreds of tiny markers on the human actor's body in order to track his movements and create an accurate digital replica.

But what if you could capture motion accurately without those annoying little markers? Scientists at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh have done it with a system reminiscent of the 360-degree cameras used to film the "bullet time" sequences in The Matrix. The new technique utilizes enormous spherical dome called the Panoptic Studio, which is outfitted with 480 video cameras pointing inward. The cameras track the movement of any people or objects in the center of the dome — even something as diffuse as confetti floating from the ceiling — in extraordinary detail.

Not all 480 cameras are activated all the time, however. Instead, the system relies on software to highlight a single moving target and figure out where the best viewing angles are for capturing its motion. The software then actives only a few relevant groups of cameras at a time. Though it's still early days for the new system, the early results have been extremely promising. Researchers have been able to get the Panoptic Studio to retrace over 100,000 different points without markers over hundreds of video frames, and with greater accuracy than other motion capture techniques. The number of cameras and the need for an enormous dome may keep their method from coming to your own phone camera anytime soon, but Hollywood is certain to be very interested in the idea.