A Look at the Uncanny Valley

In the world of photography, artists pursue the ideal of creating hyper-realistic images which look almost surreal – high contrast HDR images, panoramic images which can be viewed on curved screens to create a sense of immersion, and fast-shutter images, like city illustrations, which capture explosions, water spillages and other “in the moment” happenings which look almost impossible when frozen in time.
Other artists, however, create illustrations that strive to be photo-realistic, and they’re almost there. You can find paintings which are almost indistinguishable from photographs, and 3D models of people so realistic that you can’t tell that they’re computer generated until you see them animated – and even then it’s something minor like lipsynch which gives them away. We are approaching the uncanny valley.

The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley

What is The Uncanny Valley

The uncanny valley is the point at which something that is a replica looks too much like the real thing. When robots were first being built, engineers made them look humanoid – giving them arms and legs, and even a robotic form of a face, because they thought that made people feel more comfortable around them.
As design has become more sophisticated, and replicas have become more realistic, the caring, empathic relationship that people have with the “look alikes” has evaporated. If something looks almost 100% real, but isn’t perfect, the resemblance is “uncanny”.
While the uncanny valley refers mostly to replicas of humans, the same can be said for illustrations – abstract paintings, line drawings and oil on canvas are all things that critics can appreciate, and that stand alone as their own form of art. An “almost photo-realistic” painting that doesn’t quite achieve that goal is usually dismissed as being a good try. The artist gets no points for creativity because they were simply re-creating what they saw.
Now that we’ve reached the uncanny valley, maybe it’s time for more innovation – especially in the world of computer generated art. We can build any virtual world we want – so why replicate the real one?

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