In 1988, Pixar screen-tested their recently completed animated short, Tin Toy. The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, winning the Academy Award for best animated short film, but one aspect of the film was heavily criticized: the short’s main human character, a baby named Billy. He was called “creepy” and “disturbing” by many reviewers. His skin looked like plastic, and his mouth looked like a beak.
This was a perfect demonstration of a then little-known concept: the uncanny valley. This concept suggests that if a robot looks almost like a human but not quite there yet, it appears eerie. The animation and CGI (computer-generated imagery) industries have continued to struggle with this since Tin Toy was released, but with advancing technology, have we finally crossed the uncanny valley?
Most evidence points to “yes.” Today’s CGI has mostly become so realistic that it looks like the character belongs in a live action scene. But the uncanny valley still shows up. A recent example is 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, where Peter Cushing was resurrected through CGI to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. While this was technologically groundbreaking in the creation and animation of CGI humans, many criticized the fake human, saying the model was creepy and waxy. Less recent is 2010’s Tron: Legacy, where actor Jeff Bridges was de-aged through CGI to do two things: portray a younger version of himself in a flashback, as well as a digital clone of himself that doesn’t age. This was also criticized for looking fake.
Overall, it looks like we’re still making our way out of the uncanny valley. But with coming advances in CGI, we will likely soon be well past CGI’s biggest problem.
By: Brig Larson
Photo Credits: Discovery News