For my body of work, I am increasingly using computer-generated characters in my images, this has led me to discover a phenomenon called the Uncanny Valley.

The uncanny valley is used to describe the relationship between the human-like appearance of an object and the emotional response it evokes. In this phenomenon, people feel a sense of unease or even revulsion to humanoid objects that approach a high level of realism.

In 1970 professor Masahiro Mori identified this concept and called it “bukimi no tani genshō (不気味の谷現象)” which translates literally to “Uncanny valley phenomenon”  this translation was first used in 1978 by Jasia Reichardt in the boo Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some observers’ emotional response to the robot becomes increasingly positive and empathetic, until it reaches a point beyond which the response quickly becomes strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot seems overly “strange” to some human beings, produces a feeling of uncanniness, and thus fails to evoke the empathic response required for productive human–robot interaction.

The following pictures are examples of the more extreme reaction of the uncanny valley, the first is a dentist practice dummy and the other two are human likenesses from robotics commonly used to demonstrate the uncanny valley

Relevance to Contextual Studies

The existence of the uncanny valley and the viewer reaction to its effects have d direct effect on my body of work and the way it is likely to be received by the public, my intention is to research the phenomenon and determine what if any tricks and techniques can be applied to my work to make it more acceptable to the wider public.

The 2001  film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, was the first computer-animated feature film took a dive at the box office gaining a Rotten Tomatoes score of 44% which has been attributed to the effect the uncanny valley had on the audience, this was so pronounced that when the animated character of Princess Fiona was shown to children in a test screening she made them cry, Dreamworks took the decision to back off the reality and make her more cartoon-like so that she did not tip into the uncanny valley, a decision that made it a hit with a rotten tomatoes score of 90%.

There are clearly repercussions in computer generating humans and though techniques and technology are advancing rapidly to a point where I can generate a very realistic human on my PC now a process that took hundreds of hours and a room full of rendering computers in the early days of Pixar. It still seems that an understanding of the uncanny valley and what triggers it are a key skill if I am to pull off my body of work.

This also leads me to the debate of how much traditional photography is being replaced by Computer Generated imagery, and the reaction people have to this.

I have recently conducted an experiment at a camera club entering photographic competitions with increasingly less believable people the reaction was interesting and has triggered a debate about what is acceptable in their competition rules, which don’t currently exclude this type of image. To make the argument even more heated the process of creating these images is very similar in every way to taking a photograph so the debate is getting heated.

Initial Draft of Princess Fiona from Shrek

Princess Fiona from the Shrek film