Jun 27, 2013

Uncanny Valley

I've been reading about the "uncanny valley" (thank you, Brandon).  The best way to explain this concept is that if a copy of a real living thing is close to duplicating the real thing but is off in some way, it makes us uneasy.  When a thing is obviously not real and obviously pretending, we can feel empathy for it, think it's cute or charming.  But if a thing is too close to being real but not quite there, we feel unsettled and uncomfortable.  For example, when cgi characters move in jerky or inhuman ways or when the eyes are too high or the skin texture too smooth or Michael Jackson's post-surgery face...  A much better explanation is here in this 7 minute worthwhile video, from Penny Arcade:

So, a stylized human is more "real" than a nearly photographic human... interesting that you have to aim for just before the valley or after the valley.  For a great, short written article, go to Glimpses.
  You've seen this at doll shows probably too:  what about those "newborns"?  Some are so real you expect them to move, others make something inside of you cringe (okay, ALL newborns make me cringe but that's just me) because you unconsciously key into the elements that are not quite right before you can even vocalize what they are.
  And what about soft sculpture?  I think it relates to my art too, in that a stylized critter looks better than a nearly "photo" real critter, where you always see the flaws.  Think of realistic foxes, cats and dogs:  few are "dead on" (those that are take your breath away!) and most have flaws that diminish your appreciation of them FAR more than they should.  It's easier to fall in love with a caricature, an animated but unreal critter, or an entirely fantastic one (because no one can say that dragons' ears aren't exactly where you put them, so there).
   Want to read more?  There's another nice article here in The Journal of Play and a video of come uncanny creations (including newborns) here with a nice write-up.
   NOTE TO HALLOWE'ENERS:  we WANT to get into that uncanny valley, so all those things that are mentioned in the video and articles above are things we should consciously try to achieve!  Offset those eyes just a bit, make the skin just a bit too smooth or too lumpy, etc... and get that creeped-out feeling!

   I have to say, for myself, my uncanny valley includes all those toys with the way too-big eyes and all those real dog breeds where we've bred in what I consider deformities.  I mourn for all those pugs and squished in faces that wheeze and huff by me as I'm out walking... sad, sad, sad.  I mean, if your child was born that way you'd do everything in your power to have it surgically corrected or otherwise make them more comfortable.

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