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Uncanny Valley
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This trope is under discussion in the Trope Repair Shop.

Chip: I think we're in the valley...the Uncanny Valley.
Dale: The what?
Chip: Do you remember that weird animation style in the early 2000s where everything looked real, but nothing looked right?
Dale: Oh, yeah...that stuff was creepy.
Chip: Well, I think this is where they ended up.

Sometimes things that aren't realistic look pretty similar to things that are realistic, yet something about them seems wrong in some way and ends up being unsettling.

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While the uncanny valley is usually known to be unintentional, it can also intentionally be used in a work — either for creeping out the characters In-Universe, or for deliberately creeping out the audience. As a result, they can be unsettled by someone or something they think lurks in the uncanny valley, even though the thing or character being encountered may very well be harmless. If it's another character rather than an inanimate object who comes across as unsettling, they may end up wondering why others are afraid of them, especially if they're otherwise good-natured.

See also Unintentional Uncanny Valley, for when the reaction comes from viewers seeing something that wasn't meant to be creepy.

Not to Be Confused with the video game Uncanny Valley or the fifth anniversary Channel Awesome movie The Uncanny Valley, or Uncanny Valley from Miraculous Ladybug.

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Note: In Universe Examples and Intended Audience Reactions only and No Real Life Examples, Please!


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan uses this to absolutely brilliant and chilling degrees, with the designs of the Titans. The majority are deformed humanoids measuring anywhere between 4 — 15 meters in height, with Barbie Doll Anatomy and creepy, cheerful smiles that never waver regardless of being blown apart or in the midst of devouring their victims. This is further used with the unique, deviant types encountered throughout the course of the story. Eren's Titan form has pointed ears and a skull-like face, while Ymir's Titan form looks animalistic with shark-like teeth, claws, Creepily Long Arms, and fur sprouting along its shoulders. As a result, both look more like traditional non-human monsters in a reflection of their being on the side of humanity. The Armored Titan has an almost robotic appearance, due to the armored plating covering its body and is less creepy than the Colossal Titan and the Female Titan, who are essentially skinless but otherwise very human in appearance. This seems to hint towards Reiner's Becoming the Mask, in contrast to the more more ruthless Bertolt and Annie.
  • In Bubblegum Crisis, some characters complain about how creepy the human-like boomers are, such as Nene in Tokyo 2040 regarding the secretary boomer she works for. And that's not counting when they malfunction and transform into Mechanical Monsters. Another example happens in the AD Police Files, where there was a case involving a boomer prostitute going berserk. Turns out there was a brief market for Ridiculously Human Sexbots until this trope kicked in, so now the sex organs from these robots are being illegally recycled in maidbots and waitress bots that weren't designed for them, causing some of them to go insane (due to a combination of hormonal imbalance and traumatic memories that can't be erased).
  • Death Note aims for this with L's design, including his rather unhealthy, pale skintone, huge eyebags under his bulbous eyes and his facial features and expressions overall being drawn in a more exaggerated way than the other characters. Given the numbers of fans L has, this backfired.
  • Mentioned in Medaka Box as the reason of why Medaka's drumming solo failed to elicit any kind of reaction from her audience. Her playing was perfect to the point of coming across as cold and mechanical, lacking human emotion to it. Akune expresses that it's similar to the Uncanny Valley effect although Zenkichi claims it's the opposite: that Medaka is perfect to an inhuman degree, hence why her act came out as off to her listeners.

    Comic Books 
  • If you have ever wondered why certain characters e.g Batman have the irisless white eyes in their masks, it's actually meant to invoke this. Dating back to Lee Falk the artist behind the The Phantom who claimed he was inspired to give The Phantom white eyes thanks to looking at Greek statues. Falk said there was a "inhuman" effect which suited a masked vigilante. Ironically this trend has stuck so well, that it's actually more uncanny to see the likes of Batman having normal eyes.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers has an Animated Actors neighborhood named Uncanny Valley, consisting of Turn of the Millennium 3D characters that looked realistic but seemed very off. The most prominent of them, Bob the Dwarf, is introduced right away with the title characters complaining his design makes it hard to know if he's making eye contact.
  • I, Robot: Detective Spooner (Will Smith) asks why Doctor Calvin strives to make the robots so human, adding that people wouldn't trust them otherwise. He also adds that he finds the new models having faces makes them creepy.
  • In-Universe example in Mean Girls. Cady finds Mrs. George to fall deep into the Valley, thanks to her plastic surgery. The sight of her fake breasts approaching Cady is met with "Psycho" Strings, and Cady is clearly unnerved by her lack of reaction to her little chihuahua gnawing on her tit.
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    Literature 
  • In Dan Abnett's Bequin, Beta finds the Blackwards dolls deeply unsettling due to how highly detailed and lifelike they are, such as the girl doll having a wig of actual human hair. She finds them even more unsettling when they come to life and attack her.
  • Chronicles of Narnia: invoked Discussed in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, not as a vague feeling of uneasiness, but as a general moral rule in-universe:
    Mr. Beaver: There may be two views about Humans (meaning no offense to the present company). But there's no two views about things that look like Humans and aren't.
    Mrs. Beaver: I've known good dwarfs.
    Mr. Beaver: So've I, now you come to speak of it, but precious few, and they were the ones least like men. But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be Human and isn't yet, or used to be Human once and isn't now, or ought to be Human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.
  • In Frankenstein the title character explains that he had to make his creature 8 feet tall to successfully construct the tiniest parts of him. The result is a monster that everyone is scared of at first glance, including the creature itself. The monster was constructed to be Tall, Dark, and Handsome, and despite the beauty; upon the Monster's rejuvenation, Victor was repulsed because of this trope.
  • Mr. Hyde in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is always described by other characters as looking "deformed" somehow, despite having no outwardly noticeable disfigurements, and express a violent loathing of him at first sight despite being unable to find a particular point of disagreement.
  • Sector General: One of the series's main alien cultures is the Kelgians, who are human-sized furry mammalian caterpillars, with constantly mobile fur that expresses their emotions. In one of the later novels, a character is introduced from a different species, which has a similar body plan but black, immobile fur. Apparently he looks to Kelgians like their equivalent of a Humanoid Abomination.
  • Serdra in The Silent War . She is an immortal in her 130s, with a youthful face yet somehow radiates age. Her nearly emotionless demeanour and constantly intense gaze disturbs people, and she tends to let her pupil do the talking to muggles.
  • In William Saroyan's The Human Comedy Mr. Mechano, who advertises a particular brand of patent medicine in a drugstore window, frightens Ulysses so badly that he runs through the streets calling for his family.
    The man moved like a piece of machinery, although he was a human being. He looked, however, as if he had been made of wax instead of flesh. He seemed inhuman and in fact he looked like nothing so much as an upright, unburied corpse still capable of moving. The man was the most incredible thing Ulysses had seen in all of his four years of life in the world.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffyverse:
    • The three creepiest characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are generally considered to be Gnarl, the Gentlemen, and Sid. The first two by virtue of exaggerated and odd movement, and the last due to being a self-animating ventriloquist's dummy.
      • The "lead" Gentleman, played by Doug Jones, famous for his equally creepy performances as "The Pale Man" (also known as 'the creepy guy with eyes on his hands') and the faun in Pan's Labyrinth. Also the creepy "Angel of Death" (also known as 'the creepy guy with eyes on his wings'. is there a pattern here?) and much less creepy Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies. As a trained mime and body artist, he clearly excels at placing himself smack in the middle of the Uncanny Valley.
    • April the Robot from "I Was Made To Love You". She's an in-universe example, as the main characters all slowly realize there is something wrong with the super-cheery way she talks, the way she walks, and eventually her huge amounts of strength.
    • Played with with Warren's second creation, the Buffybot. Though it has the same problems as April, her friends fail to realize they're talking to a robot, merely thinking that their friend that they've known for years is behaving oddly for some reason, until Buffy herself shows up.
  • The mascot from Community falls under this trope. Having been designed to have no ethically distinguishing features, it ended up being an androgynous White Mask of Doom.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Robots of Death", the Doctor describes how, in a society rife with humanlike servant robots, the total lack of body language from them results in some people developing a chronic form of this trope called "robophobia" or "Grimwade's Syndrome" (after a BBC staffer who kept winding up working on robot-centric Who stories), where the robots come off as "walking, talking dead men." One character suffers from robophobia, and slowly grows increasingly unstable as a result of the the murders of his crewmen by modified robots. The main villain of the story, meanwhile, was raised solely by robots, and finds humans to be the uncanny ones.

    Music 
  • David Bowie: Purposely invoked via makeup and image manipulation with the photos of the various characters in the liner notes for 1. Outside, as well as on the album itself with their spoken-word "segues" between songs, which are digitally tweaked to vary the voices further. It doesn't take long to realize Bowie is playing all of them, including the women; the low point of the valley here is Baby Grace Blue, the 14-year-old girl whose murder kicks off the story.
  • The Caretaker:
    • The heavily sample-based music is designed to evoke this, quietly distorting the originals in ways meant to be atmospheric ambience, yet always subtly off by way of low quality, vinyl scratching sounds, and inappropriate looping and inconsistent track-by-track flow. His more conceptual albums like An Empty Bliss Beyond This World and Everywhere at the End of Time are meant to be musical illustrations of the headspace of those suffering from mental disorders like Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and become even more unsettlingly warped and disturbing over time in a way that evokes losing your mind.
    • In a more visual sense of this, the accompanying album cover illustrations by Ivan Seal also count. While his paintings never depict human subjects, the inanimate sculptures he does depict are nevertheless very ambiguous, unidentifiable, and quietly impossible, behaving in ways that wouldn't make sense in real life. There's something "real" in them, but garbled under twisted abstraction.
  • The genre of hyperpop feeds off of this trope. All of the over-repetitiveness of some phrases, bright poppy colors and a background whine in some songs make you feel just a little off. Not to mention the vocals being pitched just a little higher than usual and the utter vapidity of some songs. A proper example of this trope and a big part of the genre, GFOTY really lives up to this, or Lipgloss Twins who just don't feel right in this song are true to this trope.
    • SOPHIE, one of the genre's popularizers (if not originator) is a master at this, taking a step further by designing all her sounds from scratch, designing bizarre synths comparable to rubber/plastic/elastic using waveforms and chaotically integrating them in her tracks. The end results resemble songs inspired by hyper-polished 2000s-era bubblegum pop, but as if entirely created by "hyperkinetic" aliens.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Many a mythical creature in human guise falls under this category, most notably changeling children and Biblical angels. Though usually said to be beautiful, these disguised beings are also claimed to have something off about them that the human witnessing them can't quite pin down until they learn their true identity.
  • Examples abound in various mythologies: Pygmalion's creation of the most beautiful sculpture, who the Gods cause to become human, a woman made from stone; or the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, a beautiful woman fashioned originally from flowers who has no conception of what it is to actually be human. She is later transformed into an owl - a night bird considered to be a non-worldly thing of the Otherworld - for her failings whilst trying to be human.

    Radio 
  • The NPR series On the Media did a segment on the Uncanny Valley phenomenon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: In-universe, Blanks, people who are born without a soul. While they look and act like completely regular people, other people are subconsciously aware of their lack of a soul, and the sheer unnaturalness of it causes them to instinctively hate and fear Blanks. Even if being a Blank makes you immune to the Warp, it won't do much good when you get lynched by an angry mob.

    Video Games 
  • The Working Joes from Alien: Isolation provide an in-universe example. The company that makes them is suggested to be far behind Weyland-Yutani technologically and can't produce the like-humans-but-not-quite-there synthetic androids the setting is known for, so they produce robots that look like bad crash test dummies cheaply for the mass market and use their less-than-perfect appearance as a marketing spin. Of course, they're still terrifying as they shrug off your firepower and give you False Reassurance while doing the The Slow Walk towards you and intending to strangle you. Not even setting them on fire slows them down.
  • BioShock:
    • The first game seems to make intentional use of this phenomenon - the grotesque, ex-human Splicers are even more unnerving for how human they still look. The first ghost you encounter subtly lampshades this: "I'm too spliced up! I'm too spliced up! Now nobody's gonna want me...." The Little Sisters are also examples of the trope.
    • BioShock 2 has redesigned the Little Sisters to make them cuter and more cartoony because the player character's viewpoint is a Big Daddy, who cares for them more than anything else; he doesn't find them creepy, neither should the player. Splicers, on the other hand, are still in the valley, because the PC sees them as threats to his Little Sisters. BioShock 2 brings up the valley when a journal of Andrew Ryan describes an animatronic replica of him built for a theme park as a "lurching, waxen nightmare" and wonders how children are supposed to respond to that. Indeed, the first time one of the animatronics is encountered can be startling because it appears to be a slightly less than normal human sitting completely still. Then you attack it and it breaks apart completely.
    • It's brought up again in BioShock Infinite as intentional on the developers' part for the Motorized Patriot who was in fact based on a nightmare of Ken Levine's when he was a child of the porcelain dolls his grandparents had.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Played for Laughs with the tiny, harmless little rodents known as nugs. They are absolutely unable to hurt anything, totally docile, and most typically just kind of walk around in circles aimlessly looking for food until they hit a wall. Yet there are still several characters and codex entries that find them creepy because instead of rodentlike limbs, their limbs end in weirdly humanlike hands. Hands.
    • Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening:
      • Justice falls right into the Uncanny Valley... because he's an animated corpse possessed by a spirit from the Fade. Of course he'll look like a corpse!
      • The Architect is much more human-looking then other darkspawn, which just makes it creepier when you notice that his hat is actually part of his head, and that when he takes his mask off you can see that his eyes are misaligned.
    • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, this is done deliberately with the companion Cole - a Spirit of Compassion who has taken the appearance of a mage he previously met and comforted as the man was dying. Spirit!Cole looks malnourished and has bags under his eyes because Mage!Cole was dying from starvation after being locked in a jail cell by an abusive Templar guard. The issue is more pronounced because of his strange mannerisms as a spirit while still looking human, which only Solas can understand, or the fact he doesn't need to eat, drink or even sleep. Also, due to his spirit nature he can read a person's mind and can immediately know their deepest secrets, or know how past events in their life could have gone had they chosen differently, which they naturally find uncomfortable. If you side with Varric on his personal quest, he becomes more human... and starts complaining about how much he dislikes having to eat.
  • Fallout 4 plays with this. To the people of the New England Commonwealth, the Institute's 1st- and 2nd-generation Synths, which look like Skele Bots and Murderous Mannequins respectively, are pure Nightmare Fuel because of this trope. 3rd-generation Synths, which can pass for human, are pure Paranoia Fuel. But potential companion Nick Valentine averts Uncanny Valley, since he's a discarded prototype with obviously-fake "skin" and enough wear and tear to have his robot parts showing. As a result, he looks (and acts) human enough to be reassuring, but still obviously a robot instead of an infiltrator, and so is tolerated in Diamond City and even able to work as a private investigator.
  • Final Fantasy:
  • This is invoked with the Manikins in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. In-universe, it is discussed that they are not human, and even though they do look a lot like them, the characters just think there's something... off. In the game, their tendencies to do random spasms, their mostly expressionless faces and pale skin (pale even by Megaten standards) are unsettling at best. They are usually friendly, however.
  • Fire Emblem: The Elibe duology invokes this as part of its Artificial Humans theme. A few things that both war dragons and morphs have in common are that they're both described as hardly feeling sentient, being produced in masses by the games' respective final bosses, and a majority of them lacking any proper intelligence, which results in them looking very "off" compared to the two species (Manaketes and Humans respectively) they're modeled after. They also tend to lack emotions, though in the case of Blazing Blade, Kishuna is capable of displaying them.
  • Used liberally in Five Nights at Freddy's and all five of its sequels to make the animatronics more disturbing. Nothing more charming than pulling up a camera and seeing a robot that wasn't there before and now looking back at you to make you feel all nice and cozy at night. Of note is the history behind the characters: Scott Cawthon originally developed kid-friendly games, but one such game, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co., was criticized for having characters that look like creepy animatronics. After a Creator Breakdown, Scott decided to turn this flaw into an advantage by creating a horror game about creepy animatronics.
    • Special mention goes to Toy Chica of the second game, who is the very incarnation of Fanservice gone horribly wrong. A yellow chicken-girl robot wearing attire that leaves very little to the imagination is slightly unsettling in and of its own, but when she starts roaming, she takes it above and beyond because her eyes and beak somehow disappear, leaving her with a very freaky Game Face.
  • The final boss of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Fecto Forgo, looks a lot like a human embryo and has uncannily photorealistic and detailed eyes, which is especially apparent when they dramatically open their eyes and deliver their threat to consume everything. Their true form as Fecto Elfilis also has this trait, as while they have a humanoid, angelic design, they also have disproportionately large hands, Creepy Long Fingers, and digitigrade legs, which adds to their appearance as an Angelic Abomination. Both are clearly meant to look otherworldly and just plain wrong, since they are an invader not native to this world, and plan on subsuming the entire planet for their own purposes.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • The Blue Badger. He's only a battery-powered wooden panel of a mascot, but his vacant eyes, perma-smile, and jerky movements make him creepy to many characters. Phoenix mentions that if a child saw it, they'd probably have nightmares. It's a 3D model in a mostly 2D game. And Edgeworth... well, he sums it up pretty nicely.
    "What the HELL is that wriggling piece of plywood?!"
    • Calisto Yew from Ace Attorney Investigations falls into the trope because of how she behaves in the courtroom. She frequently bursts into laughter, even while talking about serious subjects like murder and her own past, and does it when she takes a hostage during the case she shows up in. Edgeworth himself finds her to be creepy.
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies's Video Game 3D Leap gives it, of course, the chance to play this intentionally. Two examples come to mind: Aristotle Means and that goddamn smile, and the phantom and his loose mask.
      • Speaking of the phantom from the final case, their entire character seems to have been an intentional example of this. For context, the phantom is a Master of Disguise who does not feel anything, yet can convey facial expressions as if he does. When Phoenix and company start to corner him, his facial expressions start to mismatch his statements, such as smiling when he's trying to sound angry. When Athena runs her Mood Matrix on him, she finds that there is zero emotion in his voice whatsoever, despite the way he's gesturing with each line; in a subsequent testimony, his emotions start fluctuating all over the place in an attempt to keep in control of himself. It's a very disturbing effect that makes the player wonder if he's even human anymore.

    Web Animation 
  • Extra Credits has mentioned the Uncanny Valley several times. First in an episode specifically about it, then revisited in a Halloween episode and again in an episode about Kinect's controls.
  • going to the store and its sequels invoke this with featureless, unemotive CGI mannequins, their absurd bodily movements, and the remarkably high attention to detail in inserting them into real-world settings.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device mentions in episode 20 that the Salamanders invoke this reaction in the common citizens of the Imperium, as they have jet-black, coal-like skin and glowing red eyes.
  • The RWBY episode "Alone In The Woods" does this on purpose. A ways in, the eyes of some of the characters get seriously, SERIOUSLY dilated pupils and start talking in a tired monotone. That's not the animation — that's the Apathy Grimm eating away at their will to live.
  • Referenced in a Teen Girl Squad cartoon, where Japanese Culture Greg is going to the prom with Chizuko, his robot date.
    Science Fiction Greg: You think I'd be into life-size realistic robots, but that thing makes me want to barf up my earlier energy drink into the one I'm currently drinking.

    Web Comics 
  • Questionable Content:
    • Winslow the AI tries out a prototype android chassis from Hannelore's roboticist father, but his human friends explain that it's creepy for him to look "not quite human enough" (they even specifically mention the valley)... so he pulls his face off to put them at ease.
    • According to Marigold, an android chassis modeled after Jude Law with Exotic Equipment falls solidly in the valley:
      "Only thing creepier than the Uncanny Valley is the Uncanny Valley with a writhing erection."

    Web Original 
  • Hamster's Paradise:
    • A more tragic example happened with the Always Chaotic Evil harmsters and the peaceful but comparatively primitive splinsters. Both of them are furry bipeds with forward facing eyes, long tufted tails and use spears as their primary weapons. However, the splinsters also have long necks and vaguely elephantine faces that the harmsters found disturbing which led to the naturally sadistic species wiping them out.
    • The harmsters had a similar reaction to the ripperoo, the predatory animals that the harmsters originally evolved from. They're large, savage and animalistic but still have an unnerving resemblance to the harmsters, this led to one culture of Matriarch Harmster to view them as monsters to be eradicated while another would go on to see them as death gods and try to placate them with offerings.

    Western Animation 
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: This trope is alluded to, and parodied, in the episode "Frankendoodle." The drawings of the characters that come to life are described in-universe as being "kinda creepy when they move". And Patrick is obviously put off by DoodleBob because he resembles, but never entirely imitates, SpongeBob. In universe, DoodleBob is seen as disturbing, unsettling, and creepy.
  • Xavier: Renegade Angel has a graphical style reminiscent of early 3D games, down to all the imperfections in the models and movement. As a result, everything looks disturbingly alien.

 
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Alan Explains

Alan Resnick explains the Uncanny Valley...in his own way.

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