CGI humans & why they never quite look genuine.

The technology of today is advancing constantly, despite this, no matter how powerful computers are and how knowledgeable people have gotten one thing still remains; CGI humans are never quite realistic enough. No matter how much money, time and effort studios and companies pour into making their computer generated characters seem life-like, they can never quite match the liveliness of a real life human being. Why is this? What makes CGI people so uncanny? And will CGI ever be able to seamlessly morph a human being?

CGI characters are often identified as “uncanny” or “creepy”, this amongst scientists and psychologists is described as a simultaneous feeling of familiarity and peculiarity. In terms of CGI, this comes down to the familiarity of a human face and the peculiarity of the motion graphics behind it. Through these feelings, the brain is overworked into a minor fight or flight response thus triggering emotions of fear and mistrust. Ever since the invention of puppets, androids and especially hyper-realistic CGI humans, there has been a hypothetical gap developing between what is perceived as living and what is imitating life. This gap is termed “The Uncanny Valley”.

The theory of The Uncanny Valley was hypothesised by Japanese robotics engineer Masahiro Mori. Mori discovered that humans react positively towards his robots who are somewhat capable of human behaviour, despite this, people reacted with immense negativity when it came to between the lines of ultra-realistic and real human behaviour/ looks. This ‘grey area’ Mori coined as The Uncanny Valley. With the advancement of technology and therefore hyper-realistic CGI humans, this theory becomes especially relevant. For example, during a test screening in the incredibly successful animated film Disney’s Shrek (2001), a protagonist character known as Princess Fiona was found to be upsetting and distressing children who were present in the audience. This was later found to be due to the hyper-realistic way the character was animated, therefore triggering a case of the uncanny valley. Disney later realised this and solved the problem through simply making the character seem more cartoon like.

Through the theory of the Uncanny Valley we can determine that the human eye is actually immensely more powerful than we generally imagine. It has evolved through the course of 200,000 years to not only detect but also recognise threats, foreign objects, imperfections and unusual behaviour. It is due to this that humans so easily detect CGI characters, often without even the slightest amount of effort. Perhaps one day, technology will outsmart evolution through replicating impeccable human like qualities and visuals. However, till that day arrives The Uncanny Valley will continue to plague CGI adaptations of human beings.