14 thoughts on “uncanny valley

  1. Stick

    Who thinks up this stuff?

    I prefer my humaniod robots to have a little giveaway twich or obvious marking so I can tell them from the real thing.

    Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe Mike is a robot! Yes… it all makes sense now.

  2. Kyle

    It makes sense to me – I find the “humans” depicted in Pixar films like Toy Story to be grotesque. But not as as bad as the animated family in those Duracell ads 10-15 years ago.

  3. Chad

    It’s called Motion Capture, or MoCap if you’re hip like that. It was first made viable cinematically with a little dude named Gollum, althought it’s been in use for years before that. Everything you see in the trailer is totally CGI. The actors do their acting in a massive, green studio, with hundreds of sensors on their bodies and faces. The cameras record the movement of the sensors which are then imported into the computer.

    I actually found myself having a conversation with a dude (I can’t remember his name, it was at one of Zack’s notorious Christmas parties… who knows what shape I was in…) who was working in Zemeckis’ office when they were working on The Polar Express, which was the first fully MoCap film released. He said they were having creative paralysis because once the “Performance” is captured, and the sets and costumes and lighting and everything is rendered, they can basically replay every scene in the film over and over again. There are literally limitless options in camera placement and moves available to the filmmakers.

    Sometimes too many choices is not a good thing.

    As for the “why?” I dunno. I think it’s cheaper to make a fully CGI MoCap film then actually building sets, paying a crew on location, etc. Word on the street is that Beowulf is more lifelike then Polar Express, which was indeed entertaining, but suffered from the wooden faced syndrome. I think there’s actually a tongue in cheek note buried in the credits for Ratatouille, saying something like, no MoCap machines were injured during the making of this film, because traditional CG animators (and let’s just pause and chew over that little phrase) frown on MoCap. There’s something about a human tweaking the facial “muscles” frame by frame that somehow makes Remy the Rat more human than a MoCapped Anthony Hopkins.

    All that said, Beowulf is getting pretty solid reviews, and I hear the 3D presentation alone is worth seeing. It’s worth noting that this IS indeed the future of movies, as James Cameron’s next massive endeavour will be a live action MoCap hybrid film called “Avatar,” shown exclusively in digital 3D. Having recently caught The Nightmare Before Christmas in this format (just down at the local multiplex here in town) I can testify that it is indeed a totally enjoyable experience.

    Of course… gee whiz and super slick are worth zip without a decent script. One only needs to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again to understand that FX are just the icing on the cake. Good story is good story is good story is good story.

    Have a look at one of the early Pixar films. It’s startling to see how far their visuals have come in 10 years. Toy Story looks pretty hokey next to Ratatouille or Cars, but Buzz and Woody’s story is as compelling as ever, because good story is good story is good story.

    Are you listening, suits? VIVA STRIKE!

  4. jeremy

    Geez…..I could go on and on about this topic for days…

    Chad your post was fairly accurate with a few things missing..First off the first all CG motion capture film was done years before Polar Express and was called Final Fantasy. There were moments of complete photorealism with fully cg people. The only problem was that the lip sync was horrible, ruining any level of realism. Couple that with a very hard to follow Japanese anime story line and suffice it to say, it wasn’t a huge success.

    And these movies are not necessarily cheap to make. Pixar movies cost over 100 mil and I think the Beowulf movie cost something like 70-100mil. But i suppose the bang for your buck is interesting to studios.

    As for why Zemeckis wants to make movies like this I have no idea. To prove he can do it I would expect is one reason. Personally having a cg version of Tom Hanks on a train is stupid. Just have Tom Hanks.

    But bottom line is aesthetics and this is where this Uncanny valley becomes interesting when your are discussing movies like this. Mocap i think is very obvious and “unnatural” looking when applied to realistic cg models. There is something that your brain just won’t connect. I think the Uncanny theory is good at explaining a possible why.

    Which is why I think Pixar goes out of it’s way to say they don’t use mocap. There is a quality to their animation that adds a life to it that cant be achieved with motion capture. Plus they are pompous. Deservedly so.

    I think mocap will come into it’s own once a totally convincing CG human is possible. And we are very very close. Things in recent years like sub surface scattering and other very technical (and boring) render computations make it more and more possible. Couple that with real human motion and you will have something that is indestiguishable from real people. I plan to use mocap very heavily for a personal project. Primarily for pre visualisation as it will enable me to choreograph ahead of time some very complex camera moves.

    I have witnessed this happen with other things that we take for granted. For example there are a TON of car commercials that have no real cars or real environments in them. The only way you would know is if you were shown a wire frame rendering of it. This was not possible when I got into the business. They could look pretty good but a discerning eye could always point it out.

    So it’s only a matter of time until the same is possible with people. Basically we have cracked the problem with everything other than people. I think its because the human brain is so wired to tell a human from the rest of the noise that its a harder nut to crack. But it WILL be possible. Very soon is my guess….

    And I’ve heard rumblings of Avatar…know people who have been on set… chopped a 4k charity tournament top prize with the executive producer. That movie is going to be ground breaking…..

  5. Chad

    Our whole family actually saw Final Fantasy… I can’t believe I forgot that!

    It really sucked!

    Yeah… what Jeremy just said. Sheesh. Post more dude! Good stuff.

  6. aly hawkins

    I feel all cool and stuff, because our buddy Chris has been a production assistant (now “executive”) for Zemeckis for several years. He worked on Polar Express and on Beowulf. Ash and I were actually up at the studio in Carpinteria about 5 weeks ago and saw everybody scrambling to finish the flick, complete with a lo-fi storyboard made out of slips of paper labeled with each shot stuck with pins on the wall. (Sometimes technology is a hindrance, I guess.)

    According to Chris, for Bob (as he calls Zemeckis), MoCap isn’t about cheap or not cheap, it’s about Because He Can. He’s fascinated by new technology and how it informs how we tell stories. “The medium is the message” and all that.

  7. michael lee Post author

    [quote comment="139693"]The medium is the message” and all that.[/quote]

    I think that’s what’s creepy to me about doing entire films this way. I can’t articulate it very well, but it seems both artificial and real in the opposite ways which you expect something to be. I can handle something unreal being used to portray something real, but this is just … odd. Maybe that’s the best descriptor I can use. Odd.

    It makes that critical audience “suspension of disbelief” all but impossible.

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