Blog Post 6a: Uncanny Valley   7 comments

Uncanny Valley is a term originally created by a Japanese scientist to explain human reaction to robots. As we create more and more human-like robots, we will find their humanness more and more endearing, until the moment that they are almost, but not quite, human.

It’s based on a simple evolutionary tool. Our instincts tell us to shun that which is not quite right, because back then, what was not quite right was probably a sick person who could infect us.

My original image search came up with nothing but Japanese people and Japanese robots, and I decided not to be racist, although wait, do robots count as a race?

As computer animation has gotten more and more advanced, we’ve managed to sink into Uncanny Valley several times.

Skin textures, fur, the subtle, dramatic shading of a few pieces of hair against the sun — we can do all that. But somehow, we can’t quite make them human, unless we make them look less human.

When did my eyes get blue?!?!?

This is Pixar’s Tin Toy, a very, very early short. It won an Academy Award for Best Animated Film (short subject), although lord knows why, considering that baby’s jerky movements and frightening rendition. A baby, apparently long abandoned by its mother (considering the state of the diaper and the fact that she never appears), sits on a hardwood floor and jerks its little baby legs around, spitting things that do not look like spit. It grabs baby toys and sucks on them, which frightens the titular Tin Toy. The baby chases after the Tin Toy, who runs away. The baby falls during the pursuit. The Toy has a change of heart and allows the baby to suck on it — only to get dropped in favor of the Toy’s own box.

After you’ve watched it a few times (which I have, sadly), you can start to see where the animators were coming from, in terms of rendering the baby. The folds of the skin, the proportions of the body. In an actual human, with human fluff and soul and roundness, this baby would be less terrifying. But like most Uncanny things, this baby has no soul, and instead the proportions become all wrong.

This is part of the reason why Pixar chose to do Toy Story as its first big commercial feature-length film. Most of the action was on non-humans, and generally the humans were depicted as arms and legs, speeding quickly through the screen. It wasn’t until The Incredibles that they learned how to stylize humans.

Posted March 6, 2012 by agentksilver in animation

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7 responses to “Blog Post 6a: Uncanny Valley

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  1. Very, very interesting post. I cannot agree with you more on your analysis. Humans definitely want all non-human representations to be made in their likeness. In regards to robots, there is a strong connection between cloning and producing robots. Humans, by nature, fear death. By developing a being that can remind us of our loved one (who has assumedly passed away) we can continue to live as we did before. I think about various anime such as Ghost in the Shell or Chobits and in cinema Blade Runner. The idea of robots and their integration into the real world seems to be possible (and accepted) in such portrayals. Likewise, I wonder how much further technology can go in mastering the human before there is an endpoint at which one design is accepted for all representations.

    Bryan Clark - HIST 389
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  3. First i want to say that i love the graph, hilarious. I think there is a fine line between what makes an animation cute and what makes it creepy. The baby in the video; super creepy, the baby from the Incredibles; adorable. But it’s really interesting to see how lifelike animation has become yet how inappropriate it can be to utilize that style. With the robots, they look real but because we can’t make it perfect there is something about them that freaks us out. same goes for characters from the more 3d animations like the Final Fantasy movie. Really interesting topic to bring up.

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