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.