Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, December 3, 2004 1:42 pm

“The Uncanny Valley”

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 1:42 pm

Via Chip, here’s a phenomenon that I hadn’t been aware of: Apparently, as computer-generated animation, robots, etc., get closer to being perfectly lifelike, they hit a stage at which they’re so close, but yet still so noticeably off, that the effect is off-putting, even creepy. Animators even have a name for it: The Uncanny Valley. (The name comes from a chart that accompanies the link; once you see it, you’ll see why it’s so fitting.) The example cited is in the comparison between the movies “The Incredibles,” which cost roughly $92 million to make and had grossed $214M domestically as of this past weekend, and “The Polar Express,” which cost an estimated $150M to make and had grossed barely $80M as of this past weekend, its second in release. Yes, the animated Tom Hanks in “The Polar Express” is more lifelike than any character in “The Incredibles,” but because the animators/computer artists didn’t get the eyes and mouth right, Hanks’ character comes across as somehow creepy. (Victoria, who’s 6, saw “The Polar Express” the day before Thanksgiving and already has volunteered that she had that reaction to him.)

The moral of the story seems to be, if you’re going to try to make your animation (or your robots) lifelike, they have to be perfectly lifelike; otherwise, you’re better off making them stylized, stylish, even warm ‘n’ fuzzy.

And on the bright side, if when the aliens come and start turning us into pod people, The Uncanny Valley may be one way we can save ourselves.

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