The Presence of the Uncanny Valley Between Animation and Cinema: A Communication Approach

The Presence of the Uncanny Valley Between Animation and Cinema: A Communication Approach

Rodrigo Assaf (Digital Creativity Centre, School of Arts, Portuguese Catholic University, Portugal), Sahra Kunz (CITAR, School of Arts, Portuguese Catholic University, Portugal) and Luís Teixeira (CITAR, School of Arts, Portuguese Catholic University, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3669-8.ch005

Abstract

Despite all the technological advances in the field of computer graphics, the uncanny valley effect is still an observed phenomenon affecting not only how animated digital characters are developed but also the audience's reaction during a film session. With the emergence of computer-generated images being used in films, this chapter aims at presenting a multidisciplinary approach concerning the uncanny valley topic. This phenomenon is mainly explained by several psychological theories based on human perception; however, this chapter contributes to the discussion presenting a communication perspective based on the uses and gratification theory connected to the genre theory proposed by Daniel Chandler. In addition, the authors discuss how the technological evolution in rendering is helping out artists to cross the valley, which ends up being unveiled only by motion. As a result of this technical evolution, it is proposed a new animation art style category defined as quasi-real.
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Introduction

By exploring the eeriness of dolls and waxworks, the English term ‘uncanny’ was translated from the German word ‘unheimlich’ in Sigmund Freud's work about the strangeness feeling of ordinary things (Freud, 1919). Although the literal translation of the German word is ‘unhomely’ or ‘not native’, Freud explained that the concept of uncanny goes beyond what is not familiar, i.e., not everything that is new is necessarily frightening.

This psychological experience of feeling something strangely familiar is still the subject of many researchers looking to understand and explain this phenomenon. In an attempt to do that, Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, developed a theory in 1970 in which he related human likeness with the perceived feeling of familiarity (Mori & Minato, 1970). He noticed that when more human features were added to objects or robots, the degree of resemblance to a healthy human being started to increase, but, when almost reaching the similarity of a real human, with a certain level of realism, the perceived familiarity inverted, forming the shape of a valley, generating a negative effect on observers reported as uncanniness.

Thus, the Uncanny Valley is referred to as an area when a robot, or an observed object, almost appears like a healthy human being, simulating the individual's complex details from a nearly complete realism. Moreover, it also represents a strange or a negative sensation, perceived by the observer, from realizing the target is not a real human being.

Although Mori's work was developed targeting robots, his Uncanny Valley concept is also applicable to other domains (Kätsyri, Förger, Mäkäräinen & Takala, 2015), such as virtual characters (Tinwell & Grimshaw, 2009) which are generated by artists using specific computer graphics software. These characters, reported as being computer-generated images (CGI), are widely used in films due to the emergence of more accessible computer graphics software technology, the internet as a medium of spreading knowledge, faster graphics cards with graphics processing unit (GPU) for managing complex three-dimensional polygonal scenes and the growth of streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which always demand the development of new content.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quasi-Real: A proposed new artistic style term to aid the classification of the new frontier between real and the almost real details on images generated by computers.

Rendering: The final product, or an image synthesis, generated by the computer software after several calculations are done from a computer graphics file.

Realistic Graphics: A term to defy an art style category in which a rendered image or video attempts to simulate a real-life scene.

Physical-Based Materials: Materials that simulate real physical properties.

GPU: It stands for a graphics processing unit and is located in the computer graphic card. Calculations and final rendered images are generated faster when using GPU.

Subsurface Scattering: It is a mechanism of light transport, depending on the material, where the light penetrates the surface of a translucent object and is scattered leaving it at a different position. It is normally used to simulate human skin.

Live-Action Film: Films that are made using traditional cameras and human actors. It uses mainly photography instead of animation or computer-generated images.

CGI: It stands for computer-generated imagery. The application of computer graphics designed to aid the creation of images, or a sequence of them, for all kinds of media.

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