This paper proposes a motion estimation scheme to reduce the computational complexity of multilayer motion estimation for scalable video coding. Based on the result of the motion estimation of the lower resolution layer referred to as base layer, we developed a new approach for exploring the search range of the enhancement layer with high coding efficiency. This approach is based on the activity defined as the absolute difference between the motion vector predictor and the final motion vector. Based on the correlation of the activities between neighboring layers, an inter-layer activity model was developed using a curve-fitted linear equation to exploit the activity in the base layer for deciding the search center and the search range of the enhancement layer. Each activity pair in the neighboring layers is used to associate the relevant macroblock to one of two groups; boundary region and interior region. The base-layer motion vector predictor is basically selected over all the activity regions; for each activity region, the proposed motion estimation algorithm decides whether to include the median motion vector predictor or not. Minimal sufficient search range is also decided from the inter-layer activity prediction factor that is adjusted to the given sequence. The proposed scheme reduced the execution time of motion estimation by 99.26% at the cost of 1.56% bit-rate increase and 0.048 dB peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR) decrease on average compared with the conventional full-search algorithm. The fast full-search block matching algorithm can also be incorporated to obtain the extra CPU time reduction in the motion estimation process. By adopting the fast full-search block matching algorithm (FFSBMA) in JSVM reference software, the CPU time was reduced by up to 91.84% and the memory bandwidth was reduced by 90% at the sacrifice of 1.27% bit-rate increase and 0.041 dB PSNR decrease on average compared with the FFSBMA only.