The monster that is the Uncanny Valley

I mentioned this in a earlier post, and I wanted to talk a little about it, for a few different reasons. First being, I’m not sure how many people have heard of it, even if they’ve seen it, and not realized it. Second being, this is a thing in which I believe, is truly holding back the animation industry as a whole.

This is how Wikipedia explains it. “The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as subjects move toward a healthy, natural human likeness described in a function of a subject’s aesthetic acceptability. Examples can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others.”

Uncanny-valley-picIn the fields of Art, Animation, Robotics, and so on, you can run into this problem. The above picture, just looks weird. We can all understand the concept, of trying to make things look more realistic. The problem though, most of the time, is the same result as the above picture.

I’m not going to talk much about the robotics industry, as I have no experience in it, or do I want to. That includes the creepy looking sex dolls they make lol, only on planet Earth can we see these things. Art is another big one, if you’ve seen anyone first starting out, and learning, you’ve most likely seen some creepy faces. That’s just part of the learning experience though, eventually you get it down.

Since animation is becoming a big thing in my life pretty fast, I understand how easy it is to mess up. Although still learning, I’ve created some characters, that look weird. Even rigged them, and they ended up moving weird. The software is hard to learn, and you have to have patience. Yet, when you look at a industry filled with professionals, that yet still can’t get it down, then you can realize just how hard it can be.

Tin Toy(Tin Toy, a Pixar short Film made in 1988)

Pixar has become a huge studio, their short Tin Toy, is one of the first films to spark talk about the uncanny valley. The baby in a few ways looks weird, and it will when you compare it to a baby. This in turn has made a lot of animation stay away from realism. Why make something realistic, when it creeps out your audience?

Perhaps the most compelling case can be Robert Lee Zemeckis, and three films he has produced. The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Mars Needs Moms, which all have dived into the uncanny valley, and seemed to fail in a lot of people’s eyes.

22ce4e50-48ed-0132-0b18-0eae5eefacd9(Polar Express)

The Polar Express, along with Beowulf are two movies in which I enjoyed a lot. At the time, when both of these movies came out, I had no clue or even knew about the uncanny valley. When I go back and watch these now, I see and realize in different scenes, what people are talking about.

Does it creep me out? Of course not, for one I know its animation, it doesn’t really faze me at all really. Second is video games, I’ve played them all my life, yet I never hear anyone yell uncanny valley. I’m guessing gamers are a lot more concerned with enjoying themselves. Although in plenty of cases, I can think of a game and character, that can fall into this category.

Overtime as technology advances, software gets more advanced, with that, the industry can and will be able to make things look better. Gaming may be a subject of this more in the future. But I question the gaming industry, as they always seem to push things further than animation. Would they be able to pull it off? My bet is yes, I don’t see them letting this hold them back.

d0da9037a89fc7f3298635cbdc03a22d(Mars Needs Moms)

I look at the industry with greats like Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation, and it makes me sad. Sad, that as great as they are, they aren’t willing to push boundaries with what they do and love. They could be afraid, I’m not really sure of the reason. For a majority of films, dealing with simple toys, and animals aren’t cutting it.

Its all about pushing boundaries and barriers in the way, if not well you get the same thing over and over. To say that it is a bad thing is not for me to say, some people enjoy the countless animation films, and never question having something they’ve not had.

The great thing though, is a newer film, that may have or not have beaten the uncanny valley. The Adventures of Tintin, now I’ve never seen the film. So I can’t really talk about it much, but it’s gotten a lot of praise. The film has gotten a lot of good and positive reviews, a long with people and critics talking about how it passed the uncanny valley test.

adventures-of-tintin-movie-image-20 (The Adventures of Tintin)

I’m excited to see how the industry evolves in the future. Who will eventually tackle this problem that seems to stand in the way. I really believe once you tackle the uncanny valley, you will truly see the potential of animation shine. Then again I’m just someone who enjoys messing with animation software, what do I know?

The big thing with this, I think is generational. Older adults, who didn’t grow up with animation and video games, don’t look at it the same way. As time goes on I’m positive animation will pull this off. Eventually even robots, will tackle the problem as things keep advancing.


About crazysnake513

I'm currently 24, I love video games, and animation. I also love to sketch, and write poetry. I plan to maybe start college soon for animation, if all goes well. In the mean time, I'm working on my own animation project.
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2 Responses to The monster that is the Uncanny Valley

  1. Aether says:

    I think the uncanny valley, and what exactly falls into it, is a very individualized thing. Like you, I’m pretty well-adjusted to videogames, and I seem to connect with, or at least be less put off by, a wider range of animated characters than it seems the general public is. Polar Express, for example, didn’t faze me much at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your right, as time goes on I don’t believe any of this will really be an issue. As it stands though, movies such as Polar Express have garnered negative reviews and such, because of it. Seeing how most critiques are up in age, I think it comes down to being closed-minded more than anything.


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