Crossing The Uncanny Valley
The BBC tackles the photo realistic challenge facing video game developers dubbed “The Uncanny Valley”: that uncomfortable feeling one gets from looking at a digital recreation of a human being that looks almost human.
Does that mean that just because we can create realistic CGI we should? Does that also mean that all animation or CGI work that doesn't fall above The Uncanny Valley should be considered a failure? Later on I will conduct an experiment to test that theory but for now I will leave you with the words of Thomas Kang (USC) and Ralph Eggleston (Toy Story 1995, The Incredibles, 2004) in response to the release of the big budget CGI Film, “Beowulf”
“In my opinion it's always been a fallacy, the notion that human characters have to look photo-realistic in CG. You can do so much more with stylized human characters. Audiences innately know how humans move and gravity works, so if a human character doesn't feel right, they'll feel something's wrong. But if the weight works for stylized characters, the audience doesn't question it.”
Ralph Eggleston, USC Seminar December 1, 2007
“Okay, so maybe I'm just a geek cinephile but it totally looks like CGI to me - it's the lack of emotion in the eyes, the stiff appendages and the rubberized body motions that give it away so easily.”
Submitted by tarrabbit on July 27, 2007 - 3:36pm
“I hate this type of lazy film making. It gets big stars on the cheap so they don't have to work too many days. Then a computer does the rest. No real investment in actors at least trying to get into character (any wrong expression can be fixed by the computer guy) and no real sets. It's lazy and an insult to one's intelligence.”
Submitted by Tara T on August 25, 2007 - 4:41pm
“Animated Angelina HOT…But. She's also animated, which defeats the purpose of daydreaming in my book. Why go thru all the trouble for the animation technique when you can just shoot live-action. Obviously it's cheaper, but it kind of takes the magic out of the movies.”
Submitted by Beth on July 29, 2007 - 10:55pm
I waited almost a year to see The Polar Express , doubting that I even had a reason to see it. The most credible reviewers, like Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal , were not encouraging, and the film's vaunted motion-capture technology, which permitted Tom Hanks to play multiple roles, looked like no improvement over the kind of mo-cap that made Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within so painful to watch in 2001. http://www.metacritic.com/video/titles/polarexpress
It seemed inevitable, then, that Polar Express would fall into what animators call “The Uncanny Valley", that is, the characters would closely resemble real people, but they would be just different enough that audiences could not help but notice the difference and be made feel uncomfortable by it.
In his illuminating audio commentary on the DVD of Disney's Pollyanna , 1960 the director David Swift says, in effect, that animation can't reproduce the eye contact: the sense that the actors are in one another's presence and responding to one another that gives live action much of its vitality. I don't think that is true of good character animation in general, but in Polar Express , certainly, the failure to establish eye contact is a continuing liability, and a particularly heavy one near the end of the film, where the three principal child characters look half-finished.
A project was conducted by Brad Bird from Pixar when he was directing the Pixar animation “The Incredibles”, (Pixar, 2005) which was at the time the most successful animation to date, that achieved the highest ranking. The film animation also was closest to achieving a human-like response from its audience within the graph of “The Uncanny Valley”. He presented these findings at Hybrid living in paradox , 6/9 2005 ARS Electronica 2005
Continue to Chapter 2.1 - Character Design & Character Sheet