The Motion Capture Society details the history of motion capture and the various things that influenced it right back to 1774 when Johann Heinrich Lambert developed “spatial resection”.
Motion capture first began through rotoscoping where footage of a live actor or actress would traced over so the animated characters would have more fluidity. Rotoscoping was devised by Max Fleischer in 1915 and used in his series Out of the Inkwell. Walt Disney adopted this method using it in the 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since the method was so successful in this film, Disney continued to use it in other features like Peter Pan (1953), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Sleeping Beauty (1959).
Rotoscoping is still used in the industry today. One of the most famous examples in recent times comes from A Scanner Darkly (2006), Richard Linklater’s feature based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name.
Motion capture for computer character animation began in the 1970s. It works by recording details of body movement, most commonly with humans, and then transferring those details onto a computer animated character. Gollum from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was created this way, as was Davy Jones from the second and third instalments of Pirates of the Caribbean.