I chose to revise my post on the Uncanny Valley, because the initial graph and the initial explanation didn’t do a sufficient job. I would like to point your attention to this graph here:
This image is more objective and thorough, although actual visual examples are always handy. It’s difficult to read a chart sometimes.
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. The same thing can be applied towards animations; as we are able to create more realistic animations, we ooh and aah over the effects, until that moment when they look human, except for that too-stiff hand, those soulless eyes.
You’ll notice that the Valley rises steadily for moving creations, before dropping suddenly. This is an important part of the psychology of the Valley.
It takes a moment to become unsettled by the sight of it. You don’t realize, right away, what’s wrong, just that you know that something is wrong. That’s why the realism has to build up.
It’s been theorized that the Uncanny Valley comes from an 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.
This graph of the Uncanny Valley is a random internet person’s version of the Valley. That person is probably a nerd (I speak as one). This graph uses entirely live-action examples.
Industrial Robots- perhaps you might find the sharp parts scary to be around, but they don’t inspire the same fear that Uncanny creatures do.
C-3PO- appears to be based on humans, but is clearly not; the stiff and awkward gait and movements make the robot more endearing, and more like it could use an upgrade, and less like a killer robot.
Michael Jackson- The dip in the Uncanny Valley is completely subjective. It’s very odd that a real human enters the Valley, and it’s generally through plastic surgery.
To be fair, Jenna Jameson always was part of the Valley
Boomer- I forgot who this was. I actually thought Boomer was a dude! Boomer is a “chick”, from Battlestar Galactica. She’s a Cylon, so she’s an incredibly human-appearing robot. Played by a human. Who is not made to look anything less than human.
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.