Sunday, April 19, 2015

Welcome to the Uncanny Valley... or not?

The uncanny valley is the theory that when we see artificial traits that do not look exactly natural we feel distaste or aversion. This idea applies to examples created in the field of robotics and computer-generated imagery (CGI). 


The reason this theory is called the uncanny valley is because when the data is illustrated the graph plunges downward where data indicates observers feel uneasy looking at the artificial subject.


Here is the graph illustrated by yours truly with images that I think correspond with the graph:











According to Wikipedia a number of films that use CGI to create characters have been described by reviewers as giving a feeling of "creepiness" as a result of the characters looking too realistic.





Polar Express characters
Wikipedia: CNN.com reviewer Paul Clinton wrote,
 "Those human characters in the film come across as downright... well, creepy..."




However, the 2011 animated movie, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, got great reviews even though it is CGI. Wired Magazine wrote that the film "passed beyond the uncanny valley into the plain of hyperreality."


Praised by reviewers for avoiding the uncanny valley



According to Wikipedia good design can lift CGI entities out of the uncanny valley by adding cartoonish features to the entities that had formerly fallen into the valley. 


David Hanson, a robotics designer, has shown that the uncanny valley can be flattened out by adding cartoonish features to the entities that had formerly fallen into the valley.


Following is a link to an article that explains how Expressive face helps robot bridge 'uncanny valley'.



I don't know, I think her movement looks a little weird.





http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--457_8cYQ--/x2m5jsm2jhfgq3z4dnha.png
I do not get uneasy from the action figure of War Machine (image from gawker.com)



War Machine Joins The Age Of Ultron Merchandise Party
This image from gawker.com shows how artificial the figure is but I do not feel uneasy.



Some people claim the Uncanny Valley does not exist. I would agree that 2D static images do not make me feel uneasy. Instead, I think the uncanny valley happens sometimes when artificial traits are animated. 


For example, I remember seeing the movie Clash of the Titans for the first time as a child and being a bit freaked out by the character of Calibos. I now understand my reaction to Calibos must have belonged in the uncanny valley:




As a kid the stop-motion animated character of Calibos
from Clash of the Titans freaked me out.





However, I am not creeped out by the animated CGI in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer even though their CGI may be pushing the line. Below are three examples where the CGI may be pushing the uncanny line but I do not feel disturbed. 


Am I not disturbed by the image of War Machine and Tom Clancy's Characters because they are so real? Is it because their faces are expressive?





2:40 in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer


3:07 in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer


3:48 in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer
 


Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer




Interestingly, according to Wikipedia the uncanny valley may be generational. Younger generations, more used to CGI, and robots may be less likely to be affected by this hypothesized issue.


Do you think there is an uncanny valley? Do you feel an aversion to some of this CGI?


54 comments:

  1. It must be me - I'm feeling creeped out by most all of this! Interesting though.

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    1. Hey Dixie! Thanks for stopping by!
      I do not think your reaction is unusual. I look at CGI all the time every day, so I think that I am used to it. However, it is good to know that you feel that way. I am always interested in learning the viewer's reaction.

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  2. This is interesting! I must say I feel a little lost not knowing much about the technical aspects of this but I can see the difference. Interesting!

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    1. Hi Caitlin! I'm so glad you could stop by. I really enjoy your blog. Actually, there is a colorful energy about your blog that is very attractive.
      I am always interested in the user experience, so I find myself unconsciously noticing things and I think that you have a knack for design.

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  3. A wee bit creepy, but I carried on reading.
    Great post.
    Yvonne.

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    1. I'm glad it was only a wee bit creepy!
      ;-)
      No, seriously, I want to know people's reaction so thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  4. I never even knew there was such a term. Not sure I ever get creeped out by or figures as I know they aren't real. Even as a kid I never got freaked out by them. Now if I saw a real terminator coming at me, then I'd get freaked out.

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    1. LOL! You are so right. The terminator would freak me out, too-- but only if he is holding a machine gun and saying, "Hasta la vista, baby."

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    2. So... The Cat is afraid of the terminator. Model 101?

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  5. Like several of your commenters who I'm familiar with, I'm an old geezer-boomer too so all this terminology is new to me. But I'm interested in hearing about the uncanny valley. I know I find those CGI figures kinda creepy, although they certainly are getting better all the time. Some day they will look absolutely real. Or maybe we humans will start looking fake by comparison and fall into our own uncanny valleys! Now wouldn't that make an interesting plot premise for some story!

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    1. Interesting. Thank you for telling me your reaction and coming up with that scenario! It is a very interesting plot because this is what I have been reading about in the news lately-- how Computers Will be as Smart as Humans by 2030. I guess if that happens, then you are correct because the computers would become the observers.

      However, I do not buy it. I do not think that computers will be as smart as humans. This is because we have never been able to invent artificial consciousness. I think consciousness is what will always distinguish human intelligence from artificial intelligence.

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  6. What a fascinating post! I agree with the examples you shared and this was my first time hearing of the uncanny valley. I think it exists because sometimes I feel that that some CGI figures are kind of creepy. :) I can see how it could be a generational thing too!

    Lots to think about.
    ~Jess

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    1. Thanks, Jess. I guess it goes to show that renders of fictional characters can back fire despite a good plot (such as The Polar Express). It's amazing how important the viewer's psychological response is to a subject and we as story tellers should be aware.

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  7. I never thought what to call what was annoying me about some CGI but now I do.

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    1. Yeah, I know what you mean. Even if "creepy" is too much to call it, there is a subtle little annoyance about CGI that might raise an eyebrow.
      Now you have something to call it! The Uncanny Valley.

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  8. I've never heard of the uncanny valley...how interesting! I don't know if things like this ever bothered me...what does that say about me? I'm 39 btw.
    Katie @TheCyborgMom

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    1. It means that you are a cyborg!

      LOL, just kidding ;-)

      However, there is some truth to that statement. You may have had enough exposure to GCI that you have a comfort level. People in their 30s certainly are young enough to know CGI most of their life.

      Here is an interesting Wikipedia article with the Timeline of CGI in Television and Film. It looks like it peaked in the 90s.

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  9. Wow! Now I'm thinking what if--uncanny valley?

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    1. Yeah, the plots that can emerge from the psychology behind the Uncanny Valley are so interesting. It is like a battle between Man and Nature, Artificial and Natural.

      Where will computers take us next... or at least where will they take our imagination.

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  10. I get a more creepy vibe from Tintin than Polar Express, though I've not actually sat down and watched Tintin (I've just seen the trailer) whereas I have watched Polar Express.

    I definitely agree that things look weirder when you see them moving. That model you posted is a little bit creepy when you see the head next to the body, but that's more because of the disembodied head, rather than the level of detail.

    Cait @ Click's Clan

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    1. Thanks for your input Cait!

      I have not seen the movies either and actually, I think that is what may instil the feelings of uneasiness. I notice it is the animation of artificial traits that really brings out the creepiness.

      I agree that the disembodied head is a bit disturbing. It brings a new meaning to the idiom "lose your head" ;-)

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  11. Hey Lauren, thanks for stopping by my blog. Been here before but didn't really understand a word. Lol. Could relate with today's post though. I watch a lot of movies and animated movies, now I understand a little bit more of what goes on. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Dr. Keren! I've been peaking around your blog and I must say it is all very interesting. It is interesting for several reasons. Learning about life in Nigeria is fascinating, and I especially enjoyed reading about your wedding. You looked so beautiful! I also love the photo of you on the about page. Love the purple hair. You definitely have great fashion sense, but your medical posts are so intriguing, also! I love that you have a houzz page!

      One of the many reasons I am into game design is for the power of visualization. This applies to more than just "gaming." You see, I have created 3D models of interior design spaces and put the 3D models into a game engine so that my clients can walk through the space before we build it in real life.

      I did a kitchen design for a client and when I took the model into a game engine I quickly put a subway tile on an entire wall instead of just the backsplash because I was running out of time and that was the fatest!! My client then walked through the space and LOVED the entire wall made of subway tile and so we built the kitchen with the entire wall tiled.

      Another powerful use for visualization is in medicine. I have read so much about the power of using visualization and guided imagery to help alleviate symptoms, stimulate healing responses in the body, modify health endangering behaviors, and provide effective motivation for making positive life changes.

      Apparently, imagery is the world's oldest and most powerful healing resource and my goal as a game designer is to make a game that helps people visualize their own health.

      I have read articles on how to combine conventional, alternative and spiritual healing for cancer treatment. One popular way to use imagery in treatment is to visualize diseased cells being attacked and destroyed. Then mind takes over matter and the visualization actually positively effects the patient's body. Much like a sports athlete visualizing a win before the big game and then winning an impossible game...

      I believe there are even examples of this with monks visualizing impossible feats that they accomplish after visualization despite the "impossibility."

      .... that was a long comment! Anyway, thanks for stopping by and I hope to see you more.

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  12. Fascinating. Just fascinating.

    I too got weirded-out when watching The Polar Express. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and there was something off about their soulless eyes that freaked me out. As CGI technology continues to improve, I feel like artists are getting much better about simulating life.

    And Calibos freaked me out too. Claymation in general is a little creepy.

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    1. Hey Jay, thanks for stopping by!

      You are so correct about the eyes being the window to the soul and I think that is the missing piece to this all.

      In a comment I posted above, I mentioned an article I read about how computers will be as smart as humans by 2030. But I do not buy it for the same reason you got "weirded-out" when watching the Polar Express.

      I think this is because of our soul. I think that our soul or consciousness is what will always distinguish human intelligence from artificial intelligence.... and we may be able to invent "artificial intelligence" but not "artificial souls"... that is probably why the uncanny valley exists.

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  13. Interesting!
    It does depend on what they are trying to do with the CGI. Yes, Polar Express was creepy. To me it was the eyes - so lifeless and black. However, it felt very natural in Avatar

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    1. Yeah, there are examples of CGI working well.

      And I must say, Alex, whoever does the CGI for your book covers knows what they are doing! Great stuff!!

      Now, of course that could be because they are 2D images that do not have the added eeriness of animation, or maybe because they are machines and not humanoid. Nonetheless, well done!!

      Also, I see that Dragon of The Stars gets great reviews on Amazon and it is so soon after release! Congratulations!

      I am excited to read it. As you can see from some of my models posted on this blog, I have a love for Dragons (I am also a Drexel U alum-- Drexel Dragons). I love the rendering of the Dragon ship. No uncanny valley response there!

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  14. Hi Lauren! Thanks for visiting my blog! I had no clue what you were talking about when I started to read this. It's all surreal to me. I've tended to avoid some of the modern movies, and now I understand what was going on. Uncanny Valley! My little MacBook Pro and I have a troubled relationship because I'm "challenged" by technology. I'm going to follow you, just to learn more about an alien world. Have a good evening!

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    1. You and so many others have that relationship with computers. Nothing wrong with that. Especially because it is your reaction to CGI and everything computer that is SO valuable.

      I believe that all technology should be user friendly and that includes CGI characters. Therefore, the reaction of the user or the viewer is invaluable.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. Fascinating blog and yes it can sometimes creep me out.

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    1. Now you know why it creeps you out (uncanny Valley) and that you are not alone!!

      Thanks for stopping by, Sandra!

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  16. they really look great in that Clancy's game

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    1. Yeah, I know!!

      It is quite incredible when you see some of those close ups. I think those characters are so real that they may have passed beyond the uncanny valley into the plain of almost REALITY!!

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    2. Dezzy the Dazzzzling Dezzzzmeister has the same effect on a lot of bloggers. Did you know that, Lauren?

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    3. LOL! I agree that Dezzy Dazzles!

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    4. He's been doing so for ages. Just don't tell him.

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  17. How interesting. It all creeps me out. Someone posted a male who looks female yesterday and I admitted that, though I lived in the San Fran Bay area for 19 years, it still makes me uneasy to see. Then again, I'd love Rosie the Robot to serve me some breakfast. She's awesome.

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    1. Hey Rawknrobyn!!

      Wouldn't we all love a Rosie the Robot!!! I think they are getting there! I mean, look at the roomba. It may not talk and walk on two legs, but it certainly makes life easier!

      Actually, my dad got my mom a roomba for her birthday last year and they named it Rosie! No joke.

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    2. Hahaha, on your mom naming her Rosie. I agree, we are not far off.

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    3. We are not far from robots like Rosie! I need to get myself a Roomba! Too bad I cannot name her Rosie because my parents already did!
      ;-)

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  18. I have never been a fan of CGI, I much prefer stop motion animation.
    Lynne

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    1. It is interesting that you prefer stop animation because to me it looks a little strange. I believe the character of Calibos is stop animation and that freaked me out a bit as a child.

      That is very interesting-- the difference in our preferences. However, I believe your reaction to CGI and my reaction to stop animation are similar because they both belong in the Uncanny Valley!

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  19. Hello dear Lady ... your post does make some good points....
    and we love "Creepy-looking" (One of the reasons that we enjoy today's CGI)....
    ... and the 80's "Clash of the Titans" was "stop-motion animation" not CGI... (for you to have thought it to be such , just shows the great talents of the animator) ...

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    1. Right you are! I was alluding to Calibos as CGI when in reality he is stop-motion animation. I just edited my post and clearly state that under his image.

      However, I do not think this makes a difference when using Calibos as an example that falls in the Uncanny Valley since it is about being creeped out by things like unnatural movement. In fact, in my opinion animation is much more likely to fall in the Uncanny Valley than static 2D images (esp. stop-motion animation- IMHO).

      I know you like creepy things! I would consider you an expert in the Uncanny Valley!

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    2. I came back to re-read this post....
      realized that the reason that I hate the "cartoonish" looking creatures in my Spore game....
      ... and it dawned upon me that I felt the "opposite" of the way you were viewing things.... we prefer our monsters non-cartoonish in design... some real creepy one that we have made to populate the Spore Galaxy...while exterminating the "Cute" creatures that come with the game... Thus, re-shaping the Galaxy with Non-Cute creatures...
      A great day to you dear Lady Lauren...

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  20. Don't like CGI! There is a reason I liked Clash of the Titans. It is too old for CGI. Why CGI, when you can film actors? It's when you CANT film and turn to CGI, when it starts to suck. I saw Final Fantasy at the behest of a friend. Didn't like it for the cheesy death scenes, and the lame storyline that was Japanese white magic ultra light. The movie was a marketing tool to support a line of video games. In that instance CGI for me is an after-thought, and it became all too apparent, when all faces looked BLAND and devoid of expression. When you see thousands of CGI troopers on the battlefield, it doesn't feel grand or immense. Compare any of the CGI Star Was films with the old Alexander Nevsky, a classic, where you HAD a thousand or so TRAINED extras acting the medieval battle scene. You will see where CGI falls short.

    A prime example of all that is wrong with CGI, is a bunch of college dweebs I know, who tried to make money with CGI on-line porn. They did it for the money, but didn't have the balls to actually get people on the bed and start filming them. They invested 2 years or so, got the website online, and failed miserably in the field that's the most profitable right up there with on-line gambling.

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    1. Brooser Bear, I am going to agree with you.

      I think CGI can really take away from the quality of films.

      My example would be the first set of Star Wars movies vs. the more recent Star Wars. The original movies were SO good! In those movies they used special effects produced physically, without computer-generated imagery. I think the second set of movies that used CGI was awful compared to the first movies.

      First Set of Star Wars Movies:
      99% practical effects, models, make-up some digital effects
      A Classic Timeless series

      Second Set of movies
      99% CGI
      Bad (IMHO)

      However, I hear a rumor that the newest Star Wars movies are a combination of CGI and practical effects. Maybe the Star Wars film series can have a come back!!

      I think there is a time and a place for CGI and a also old school special effects. I hope we continue to see them both in the Movies.

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    2. I think that CGI is bad, when it is used as a crutch, and that it can be awesome, when it is done for artistic effect. It is the question of the studios' mindset. With the big production budgets at their disposal, they have access to utilize the latest AI and Supercomputers using the latest in cognitive science and pattern recognition research to do something spectacular, ghostly, demonic, or angelic.

      Picture speaking faces in moving clouds of smoke, leaves rustling in the wind and sunshine sparkling off water. People are fascinated with painting, because landscapes transmits mood to the viewer. You can use CGI to tweak the landscape to bring about the desired emotional state in the viewer, in a quantum leap from subliminal advertising. We can make movies featuring dead actors or the young likenesses of the aged out actors. Anyone for a HD movie featuring Humphrey Bogart of Gary Grant speaking in a modern voice? Imagine a near future, where You Tube will be featuring a CGI doctored footage of Hitler, Stalin, and Bin Ladin, saying things that they never said in real life, in order debunk history for their extremist supporters. Yes, CGI has potential, both good and bad. Things Orwell never dreamed of.

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  21. Lauren all in this poost is amazing !! Love it!!

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  22. I sure think there's an uncanny valley. And that MJ pic always creeps me out.

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  23. Uncanny Valley is a media effect that gets eliminated by contact with the real. MJ was considered an accomplished artist, especially overseas, where people paid more attention to his music and performance, and less to his cult of celebrity, or the MTV context of his music. When you know someone in that way, the uncanny valley falls away in the context of the big picture. There is a suspension of disbelief, that occurs in any good work of fiction, if the rest of it is sufficiently captivating. For instance, in a CRPG game like the Fallout, I did not notice the crude computer animated portrait, because I was lost in the game, and what the game lost in bad animation, it more than made up for with a sound-track that was totally atmospheric for the game.

    The other side of the coin is that uncanny valley effect is proportional to objectification of people and objects, which is the root cause of a lot of societal problems. You look at MJ's post plastic surgery pics, you get the uncanny valley effect, you get to hear the audio of MJ submitting to the forensic exam, you get to hear someone else, and as a consequence of that experience, you will not look at the same pics differently. That is phenomenology for you.

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