Revisiting the Uncanny Valley

CG Emily

The UK Times got duped into running an article about one company’s claims that their animation has leapt the Uncanny Valley. The video sample accompanying the piece however fits so comfortably into Uncanny Valley territory that it makes one wonder why the Times felt this was worthy of media attention. The best response about the unconvincing human quality of the animated female comes from this MetaFilter discussion in which one user commented, “Yeah, not getting a boner over here. Fail.”

It’s also worth noting that only the face of the character is CG; the hair and body are those of a live-action actor (shown at left in the image above). There’s also an extended, higher-res version of the facial animation on AWNtv. While this piece of animation misses the mark, the reality is that sooner or later somebody’s going to come up with believable photorealistic animation. Time will tell though whether anybody will actually use the technology towards an artistic end or if photorealistic animation will remain the cost-cutting measure for entertainment producers that is driving its current development.

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  • The Animator

    Interesting though its pretty easy to tell the difference, still a unique advancement in CGI.

  • Ridgecity

    I think they reduced the skin gloss too much, trying to make it real sometimes you overlook we actually have flaws like oily skin. And the teeth are casting shadows on each other, while in the real girl they appear to have a glow…

    The hair and body are easy to make. the tiny details of the face are what makes you take a second glance. That’s why games look like toys talking (Beuwulf) animating a CGI face can take as much as animating a whole scene, that’s why Pixar also doesn’t mess with real humans, since they can lose their magic, but as this video it can be given away by a tiny flaw during render.

  • Duze

    Yeah, definitely getting closer. Still just … off a bit. I will say it’s better than most stuff that’s been out there. Give this technology another 5-10 years maybe. Still waiting for the day I’m totally fooled.
    What excites me about this sort of technology – Bringing back the dead for roles – or characters like Gollum who have physical properties that just can’t be achieved with a live actor.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    No, I think if that were mixed in with a bunch of other youtube vids it would not be spotted as fake. I didnt’ bother with the hi-res version, that might be more telling.

    For me, Paul Kangas is the most egregious example of uncanny valley on TV… and he’s an actual human being.

  • Oliver

    “Bringing back the dead for roles…”

    With whose permission? The whole idea is as creepy as bereaved parents being allowed to clone their dead kids.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    If I had stumbled over the video online, and its description didn’t mention animation, I wouldn’t have paid enough attention to it to have noticed anything fake. So it’s successful, I guess.

    Watching it while being informed as to its nature, I see tracking errors. The face drifts. The skin is a little weird. The technique will probably be refined and used for propaganda of various sorts, and maybe to bring Orville back to life again, this time without scaring children.

  • Karl Wilcox

    I thought the box office failure of “Final Fantasy” put an end to this
    so-called “advancement” in animation. Wishful thinking. I wasn’t
    impressed either with the motion-capture process used in “Polar
    Express.” Why use animation to replicate live-action in the first place?
    It never made sense to me. It seems to me that it would be more
    time-consuming and expensive than just filming in live-action in the
    first place.

  • http://eggheadcheesybird.co.uk Alex

    To be fair, it does look a lot better than Beowulf.
    I’m kind of looking forward to decent motion capture technology, if only because I want there to be a new Dr Phibes movie.

  • Paul Spector

    Re the artistic and/or cost-cutting aspects.

    Undoubtedly, filmakers will try to employ the technology in artistic ways, but isn’t it always the economic factors that really drive these sorts of things? Relatedly — except for a very few — I’m already tired of “famous actors” even just voicing major CGI films. I don’t really care if Jack Black and Cameron Diaz voice the parts. I’d rather dispense with them and have the ticket price knocked down a few quarters.

  • http://www.timothyhodge.com Tim Hodge

    Bringing back deceased actors creeps me out. After all, I enjoy, say, Humphrey Bogart’s performances, not just because of his appearance, but as his choices as an actor. Now we’ll be able to watch a marionette played out by who knows? Some punk kid out of tech school?

    Even looking at this example, wasn’t it much easier, cheaper and by far better to capture the performance of the real actress than the CG version? I believe animation has its best moments when it creates what we can’t see in reality: Mr. Incredible, Edna Mode, Kung Fu Panda. Or if you’re creating realism, use it to make thousands of pillaging hoards that invade our cineplex each summer (LOTR, etc). Or, for stunt doubles (human & animal).

    But that’s just me.

  • http://tsutpen.blogspot.com Stephen

    Boy, I can’t wait for this technology to get used in the political realm…

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    For actors, this technology could become the equivalent of a prosthesis for an amputee. Imagine an actor is in an accident which leaves them disfigured, or suffers from some sort of illness which makes them unable to physically perform their part. This technology could allow them to still do the voice of their character and star in the role. Something like this was done for the lightsaber battle that Christopher Lee did in the Star Wars films. As with most technology, it’s all in how it is used.

  • Graham

    I guess at some point people will achieve realistic facial and body animation. Then we can get back to doing representational animation, which is what appeals to people anyways.

    Doesn’t surprise me things are going this way though. The entirety of Siggraph this year was pretty much motion capture. Don’t really see how it’s going to make up for bad gameplay or shoddy storytelling…

  • acetate

    Mouth still looks too stiff. Like she just had botox…or a minor stroke.
    Still no point to these exercises when it’s easier, quicker, cheaper, to shoot a real actress.

  • Reader

    I don’t see the point.
    As far as animation goes, it’s terribly dismaying.

  • http://chrisbattleillustration.blogspot.com/ Chris Battle

    … or it can be used for R. Kelly’s next legal defense strategy.

  • tom

    People resist raising the dead in CG for the most part. Remember Orville Redenbacher’s return a while back? That ad campaign ended as soon as it began.

  • http://andrewatteberry.blogspot.com Andrew Lee

    I think that for some….trying to recreate reality via the computer is no more different than someone trying to paint a realistic figure on a canvas.

    One could argue that if your trying to create a realistic figure in the computer….it would be easier make more sense to film it live action; the same argument could be held for someone painting a realistic portrait….wouldn’t it be easier and quicker to take a photo?

    I guess it’s all in how someone perceives their chosen medium and what they are trying to accomplish and convey. Some want to advance the art and create something new and exciting, some just want to do their own thing despite what the trends and popular opinions may be. Who are we to judge what people do with there time and money, right?

    Personally, I don’t get the desire to recreate life as it is, it’s so much more fun to exploit reality and make it something fantastical. But I can respect and appreciate the hard work and efforts of others and their endeavors.

    But that’s just me…..and I eat glue….so…..

  • Angry Anim

    I think we ALL know what this means…

    …a new Star Trek series with the exact original cast.

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    Folks, I’ve been saying this for years, the ultimate goal of so-called Computer Animation is SIMULATION not CARICATURE. We who have spent most of our lives drawing a caricature of life and trying to create believable characters with caricature, have been essentially replaced by computer programs that actually seek to REPLICATE human actors. The current fracas between SAG and the AMPTP is about future media residuals. Actors really should be watching their backs, as the producers pump money into being able to completely replace human actors with simulations so life-like no one can tell the difference. Where will SAG be then? Same place as TAG is today, I suppose, paying health and welfare to the former artists of a once-great medium. It’s too late for human animators, but human ACTORS, watch out!

  • Gerard de Souza

    “Time will tell though whether anybody will actually use the technology towards an artistic end or if photorealistic animation will remain the cost-cutting measure for entertainment producers that is driving its current development.”

    All of the above and more. Stunts, extras, crowds, hosts, anchorpersons and reanimating Marylin Monroe and James Dean.

  • Gerard de Souza

    Lest we forget replacing make-up; making ugly people pretty and pretty people ugly.

  • Jayster

    I get the idea of wanting to do it. But as far as an end result I don’t think it’s very rewarding. It’s hard to do and will undoubtfully impress people but overall I don’t believe the effort is worth the results. As far as tools in a movie makers arsenal I think it’s a very good direction. Someone sitting there and talking is not what the technology is going to be used for but it’s to show off how good it is.

    I think it’s really good and realistic, obviously has small problems but a good step in the next direction. Full CGI movies like Polar Express I think are a waste of time, they’re very akward looking; but live action movies that require scenes that are nearly imposible to create in real time will benefit greatly from this style of technology. I’m glad to see this direction as much as the abstract cartoony style advance, they’re artistic achievments only one provides a less rewarding result.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    I was going to come on here and rant about the pointlessness of this beyond being merely a curiosity. Until I got to Angry Anim’s post:

    “I think we ALL know what this means…

    …a new Star Trek series with the exact original cast.”

    Well, I’m convinced. Bring it on.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Tom – no it didn’t.
    It’s still on air…

  • http://onkelchrispy.livejournal.com/ Onkel Chrispy

    When you have such incredible technology why bother with photorealistic animation? Is the technologically skilled ‘team’ at Image Metrics, or anyone currently doing ‘mo-cap’ that creatively bankrupt and/or lazy? Are people THAT enamored with reality? Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

  • Chuck R.

    Great list Gerard! I agree, and would add faux nude scenes of famous actresses like Angelina Jolie.

    I think it’s a great experiment, and pretty well done. I agree the teeth seem to be the giveaway, which is not what one would expect. Even the teeth in Pixar films always struck me as looking a tad over-accentuated—like bad caps.

    Looking at the success of everything Pixar and the failure of Final Fantasy, I wonder why so many artists are so threatened by this.

  • jE

    What if nintendo will get the rights for all of mocap and the only outlet for this technology will be in Second Life for the Wii…

  • http://www.seezen.net David

    She has dead eyes. Throw up!

  • tgentry

    I was actually a bit surprised at how good it was. I think if a person went in not knowing they were watching a CG face the whole time they would not know. Being fully prepped the way we were means we automatically are looking for those ‘CG’ quality things. I think a better test of the uncanny valley would be to put the video out there to an unsuspecting audience and see who says something. This isn’t really a level testing bed and we certainly aren’t unbiased test subjects.

  • Josh

    So, given everyone’s reaction to this, I’m curious to see what y’all think of the new David Fincher flick, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” LOTS of digital head replacement for an older Brad Pitt. Looks pretty darn good in the trailer, curious to see how it holds up under longer scrutiny.

    http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/thecuriouscaseofbenjaminbutton/

  • http://www.mattmos.com Matt Morris

    Watching Superman Returns the other day reminded me of how much good work went into the all cg superman in several shots – now that did cross the valley, I think, as it went over most people’s heads. They didn’t have to attempt closeup dialogue, but if they had it probably would have been more expressive than the actor…

  • mudsock

    Still not as convincing as Max Headroom

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Reading these comments made me think back to what someone once said 24 years ago in a Disney Channel special when he stated this thought….

    “Imagine yourself in the 21st Century. You’re in the theatre, and you’re about to see a movie. A movie made of sets that never existed, and landscapes that never grew. You’ll listen to dialogue delivered by actors who’ll never drew a breathe of air, and hear them talk in words that are churned out by program that can synthesize the human voice. Sorta makes you wonder… who’s in control?”

    That day is almost here.

  • http://cartoonsonfilm.blogspot.com Tom Stathes

    Disturbing really. The abilities that CGI are achieving as time goes on are impressive in terms of technology but I second what Mark Kausler and others have basically said. It’s all part of a mindset that whether aware (studios wanting to decrease actor residuals) or not (tech graduates toying with technology), feeding too much into replicating human likeness is going to create a situation where technology replaces actual human beings in our most normal and common setting- just as we appear before a camera or walk across a room. I would not want to live in a world where seeing someone else do the same and perceiving them to also be human turns out to be a fake. In short, this is not like trying to mimic reality on a canvas, this is creating lifelike, interactive human likeness. I’m fine with looking at a human in oil on canvas but do not want to speak to a “human” that is not really one.
    Oh well… I guess judging by man’s history all this means is the general population will learn from this potential mistake after it has brought misfortune to the world.