Reading 2: Amplying the Uncanny

Pursuit of Realism

Uncanny valley is the obstacle that CGI artists have to break through. Mashiro Mori introduced that as a humanoid robot’s representation approaches a great closeness to human form, it induces negative responses. Only past a certain degree of human likeness and familiarity, then a robotic form will induce positive responses. It means that on this scale of human likeness, there is a section before peak familiarity, that human CGI will look creepy and unfamiliar.

In the pursuit to make CGI or graphics in movies realistic, there will come a point where it reaches the uncanny valley. It sort of becomes an obstacle as they near the start of the uncanny valley, the graphics are well received by the viewers. However, in the uncanny valley, the more the artist improves on the realism of the graphics, the more audiences will feel unfamiliarity and not respond well to it. One of the most prominent examples is the film Final Fantasy: The Spirits within. The film featured more CGI animation than had ever been attempted in 2013. The main character was composed of over 400,000 rendered polygons and 60,000 fully rendered and animated hairs. Despite this meticulous attention to detail, the film failed. It’s failure is mainly attributed to the uncanny valley which was a major source of criticism from film goers.

Film/game makers strive to create something visually appealing, which following the uncanny valley graph, they strive for it to be at the peaks before or after. Designing such characters require a lot of details. Take a FIFA game for example. When a player scores a goal, the emotions it needs to portray needs to be shown in the facial expressions, the winning pose, angle of how the body bends, even the voice tone of the in-game commentators. It takes a lot of resources, money and advanced technology to get out of the uncanny valley. Each of it must be spot on to make it seamlessly human-like. If just a few of those details are missing or off, a viewer straight away sees the unhuman-like it is, and it just tumbles back down into the valley.

This brought me to think, is it actually worth it trying to reach the peak after the uncanny valley? Human-like visuals may seem familiar and allow for more realistic looking games/films that may not have a realistic story. However, it also limits aesthetic variety. Human-like characters will have to have human-like actions and expressions. Pre-uncanny valley peak visuals however, are more cartoonish and are able to act unrealistically and have exaggerated reactions. It allows creators to go for any kind style. Retro, illustrations, painterly style etc.

Reflection Essay – Closed systems: Generative art and Software Abstraction

Watz states “Inspiration taken from processes found in nature is common, with the tension between organic and mechanical forms every present.” I personally find this statement about generative art interesting. The way nature acts is dependent on many different factors of varying level of influence, with each factor holding a certain probability.

For example, in a controlled environment of a fish tank, the amount of ammonia, which is harmful to fish, in the water at a given time is largely dependent on waste produced by fish (more fish = more ammonia), and the ammonia to nitrate conversion (harmful ammonia becomes harmless nitrate) by bacteria. Bacteria growth depends on oxygen levels, which depend on respiration rate of water plants, which depends on light intensity. Even in a controlled environment, there are already so many factors, which will take a lot of time to calculate by hand.

Thus, an algorithm can be used to consider all these factors, and simulate the ammonia levels in the fish tank. Since there is a probability attached to each factor, the end result becomes unpredictable to an extent.

Watz also states that “Programming errors can lead to serendipitous discoveries, and one does well to embrace one’s mistakes.” I agree with this statement. When reverse engineering to produce a desired result (e.g., to create a computer simulation of something in nature), there are many trial and errors one will face. As one tries to head towards their goal, the errors are unpredictable and to goal-oriented individuals, they are seem as a step backwards and unwanted. However, it’s only through such processes where one can stumble on a discovery.

In conclusion, GA is largely inspired by the unpredictability of nature and to appreciate GA, one must be able to embrace instability and errors.

Generative Art: Generative Design

Part of being an engineering student is thinking of new technologies to make systems/products more efficient/less costly. Generative Design uses an algorithm and constraints (such as cost, weight and material) set by a user. The computer then processes the algorithm and produces many different designs that fit the constraints. The results are often unpredictable.

It is interesting to me as it shows how algorithm-based art can be applied in the real world to solve issues. This process massively cuts down time for analysis which is traditionally done by people. It also results in new, innovative ideas.

One such example highlighted in the video is the design a part of an Airbus plane. The new design was half as heavy but as strong as the previous design. This helped reduce the overall weight of the plane, fuel usage and cost for the operating airline.

This semester, I’m taking a module on product development and design. Products are designed with a set of rules in mind. However, as humans, we usually think and act base on our past experience. Thus limiting our ideas. This will be useful in designing a unique products.