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Quotes / Uncanny Valley

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    Anime and Manga 

Get a hold of yourself. That wasn't a body, nor was it a mind or anything. It was just energy. I know that. But this sinking feeling in my stomach means I'm not truly convinced.
Ed expressing frustration that he can't get over those... things attached to Envy's true form, Fullmetal Alchemist

    Fan Fiction 

This being was still human-shaped, still had the pale skin, brown eyes, and dead-white hair of the boy standing next to her [...] but he looked almost... stretched. Too tall and not wide enough, like a badly enlarged photo. His fingers were too long and too much like claws. His skin didn't seem to be quite opaque. If she looked hard, Tea could see the guttering shadows through the outline of his form.

Shapeshifters were by no means rare, but he’d never seen one quite so… inept. Warlock’s lines were too smooth, skin too stiff, and joints too limber. His face appeared human enough but lacked any distinguishing features, closer to a computer-generated compilation than anything naturally occurring.

[Calne Ca] looked disturbingly like Miku — but she wasn't disturbing because of who she looked like. The disturbance was because she didn't quite look like... a person at all — she was frighteningly close, yet imperfect enough to be eerie.

Janeway was not the type of girl to jump on the nearest chair and shriek when faced by a giant rat, but she could not deny a feeling of wrongness, of alienation — the instinctive psychological rejection of a creature that was in the form and manner of a Man, yet was not.


    Film - Live-Action 

I met [Michael Myers] fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no, uh, conscience, no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes, the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil.
Dr. Loomis, Halloween


God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image, but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance.

Everyone who saw her at the police court said she was at once the most beautiful woman and the most repulsive they had ever set eyes on. I have spoken to a man who saw her, and I assure you he positively shuddered as he tried to describe the woman, but he couldn't tell why.

An Eldar looked almost human from a distance: two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose, but everything else was different. An Eldar radiated wrongness, from its huge, liquid eyes to the many jointed, worm-like waving of its fingers. They were disgusting and unnerving, and Alaric hated them.

My misfortune is that I resemble a man too much. I should like to be wholly a beast like that goat.

There certainly is a strange kind of streak in the Innsmouth folks today—I don’t know how to explain it, but it sort of makes you crawl. You’ll notice a little in Sargent if you take his bus. Some of ’em have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain’t quite right. Rough and scabby, and the sides of their necks are all shrivelled or creased up. Get bald, too, very young. The older fellows look the worst—fact is, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a very old chap of that kind. Guess they must die of looking in the glass!
— A Ticket Agent, The Shadow Over Innsmouth

It was impossible to point to any particular motion that was definitely non-human. Ransom had the sense of watching an imitation of living motions which had been very well studied and was technically correct: but somehow it lacked the master touch. And he was chilled with an inarticulate, night-nursery horror of the thing he had to deal with - the managed corpse, the bogey, the Un-man.

The last two Darklings were vampires. They looked human, their eyes and teeth normal. If not for my time as Kimmi, I wouldn't have known what they were. But vampires move too fluidly - like butter across a griddle. Living creatures move with muscles that are under the control of neurons. The neurons work together, all trying to fire in sync, but inevitably they don't. A microsecond here, a millisecond there, and the discrepancies mean our movements are never completely smooth.
Vampires, on the other hand, aren't alive. Their hearts don't beat, and their neurons don't spark. They shouldn't be moving at all; they should be rotting in their graves. But magic lets them walk with perfect precision. A vampire is how a mind moves when it simply ignores its body. Once you notice, it's disturbing - deep in the Uncanny Valley.
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault, by James Alan Garner

Levitt Dunber: You'll have recognised the way that, for instance, a fine sculpture in blue stone looks more lifelike than a shop front automaton. Why is this?
Jon Cavala: This is simply a question of respective craftsmanship.
Levitt Dunber: I disagree. The automaton, in pink plastic, appears to be trying to fool our eyes and our eyes - which are very acute minute verisimilitude of real faces - revolt against faces. But the blue stone makes no pretense to being real, and so we take it as as it is and merely admire the artistry.
Land Of The Headless, by Adam Roberts

There was something very slightly odd about him, but it was difficult to say what it was. Perhaps it was that his eyes didn't seem to blink often enough and when you talked to him for any length of time your eyes began involuntarily to water on his behalf. Perhaps it was that he smiled slightly too broadly and gave people the unnerving impression that he was about to go for their neck.
—A description of Ford Prefect, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Staryk didn't seem so terribly strange at first; that was what made him truly terrible. But as I kept looking slowly his face became something inhuman, shaped out of ice and glass, and his eyes like silver knives.

Still smiling (Bond was to get used to that thin smile), Doctor No came slowly out from behind the desk and moved towards them. He seemed to glide rather than take steps. His knees did not dent the matt, gunmetal sheen of his kimomo and no shoes showed beneath the sweeping hem.
Bond's first impression was of thinness and erectness and height. Doctor No was at least six inches taller than Bond, but the straight immovable poise of his body made him seem still taller. The head also was elongated and tapered from a round, completely bald skull down to a sharp chin so that the impression was of a reversed raindrop — or rather oildrop, for the skin was of a deep almost translucent yellow.
It was impossible to tell Doctor No's age: as far as Bond could see, there were no lines on his face. It was odd to see a forehead as smooth as the top of the polished skull. Even the cavernous indrawn cheeks below the prominent cheekbones looked as smooth as fine ivory. There was something Dali-esque about the eyebrows, which were fine and black and sharply upswept as if they had been painted on as make-up for a conjurer. Below them, slanting jet black eyes stared out of the skull. They were without eyelashes. They looked like the mouths of two small revolvers, direct and unblinking and totally devoid of expression. The thin fine nose ended very close above a wide compressed wound of a mouth which, despite its almost permanent sketch of a smile, showed only cruelty and authority. The chin was indrawn towards the neck. Later Bond was to notice that it rarely moved more than slightly away from centre, giving the impression that the head and the vertebra were in one piece.
The bizarre, gliding figure looked like a giant venomous worm wrapped in grey tin-foil, and Bond would not have been surprised to see the rest of it trailing slimily along the carpet behind.
Dr. No

When Goldfinger had stood up, the first thing that had struck Bond was that everything was out of proportion. Goldfinger was short, not more than five feet tall, and on top of the thick body and blunt, peasant legs was set, almost directly into the shoulders a huge and it seemed exactly round head. It was as if Goldfinger had been put together with bits of other people's bodies. Nothing seemed to belong. Perhaps, Bond thought, it was to conceal his ugliness that Goldfinger made such a fetish about sunburn. Without the red-brown camouflage the pale body would be grotesque.

    Live-Action TV 

Frank: You see, as artificial representations of humans become more and more realistic, they reach a point where they stop being endearing, and become creepy.
Tracy: Tell it to me in Star Wars.
Frank: Alright. We like R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Tracy: They're nice.
Frank: And up here, we have a real person like Han Solo.
Tracy: He acts like he doesn't care, but he does!
Frank: But down here we have a CGI Stormtrooper or Tom Hanks in The Polar Express.
Tracy: I'm scared! Get me out of there!

"Look, I don't know. I just had the CGI team mock-up a furry potato with a corpse's face. Someone smarter than me can figure out if that's nostalgic for people."
John Oliver imagining the thought process behind Sonic's initial design for his movie, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver


This new one's kinda creepy
Makes me shudder inside
With his idiot grin.
He's head-to-toe with muscles and they ripple and slide
Under translucent skin.
Jonathan Coulton, "Todd the T-1000"

I've been thinking about the uncanny valley today – that is, the idea that something alien or unfamiliar produces a mixture of discomfort and pleasure as it gets closer to normal – and it occurred to me that "Hey QT" is exactly that. It's a pop song, a romantic chart pop song, except there's a somewhat unnerving, odd, and thrilling difference to it from what we call pop and, somehow, what we call music. QT's vocals stand in a plane of pop singing very near ours. We can identify the hooks, parse the lyrical sentiment, and understand the beat, but it doesn't come together in what we've been used to calling the right way. We sense that somewhere inaccessible to us, there are a group of people who find this perfectly ordinary, and are writing a review exactly like this one but for Britney Spears.
Epithalamion's review of "Hey QT" by QT, on Rate Your Music

[How] an old man tracked me home and stepped inside
Put his foot inside the door and gave a crooked smile
Something in his eyes, something in his laugh
Something in his voice that made my skin crawl off
Switchfoot, "Faust, Midas, and Myself"

    Tabletop Games 

More disturbing than the unknown is a distortion of the familiar.

A Kindred with low Humanity can put great effort into acting like a living person. He can force himself to breathe and remind himself to blink now and then... but he can't fake that subtle, unconscious dance of nonverbal interaction. Mortals soon pick up on this. They cannot consciously spot the problem, but their instincts tell them that something is very wrong and they should get away.

The result is rather disturbing, but in a way that most people find difficult to place. The subject doesn't seem to be obviously changed, but close examination reveals that he's become a little more idealized, a little more — well, symmetrical. Old scars vanish; even heavy scarring tends to fade just a little. The body effectively stops aging, without so much as a fingernail or hair growing even a millimeter. (Conversely, a haircut or manicure isn't long-last{ing}, as the body quickly reverts to its "true" form.) They're usually quite clean; dirt and lint just don't seem to cling to a Drone the way they do to other folks. In all, the differences tend to be obvious only when you know what you're looking for.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Book Of The Weaver

Theresa named her new "child" Doll with good reason. The imbued's features, made from the preserved skin of dead children, have a fixed and doll-like quality to them. Her mouth moves too slowly into a smile or frown to look natural, and the baby roundness of her cheeks is too perfect, enhancing Doll's appearance of artifice. In repose, her face becomes completely blank and expressionless, and her body unnaturally still. Theresa's handiwork as a seamstress shines in her creation, the tiny stitches barely visible at the edge of Doll's hairline, on her arms, and in any other location where her "mother" had to close the skin. Though a startling facsimile of life, certain key features, such as her often vacant expression and her slightly disjointed way of movement, betray Doll as little more than a flesh Pinocchio who could not quite fulfill her creator's dreams of crafting a real child.

    Video Games 

Seeing myself transformed into that... lurching, waxen nightmare... Do children really respond to this?
Andrew Ryan, describing an animatronic puppet of himself for Rapture's Theme Park/museum, BioShock 2

Connor: Is there anything you'd like to know about me?
Hank: Hell no!...well, yeah. Why do they make you look so goofy and give you that weird voice?
Connor: Cyberlife androids are designed to work harmoniously with humans. Both my appearance and voice were specifically designed to facilitate my integration.
Hank: ...well, they fucked up.

Masks aren't powered by batteries. They're powered by your need to see the face perched on top of a human body as a human face. That's why they're creepy—because they're not human. They're not anything. And the person wearing them could be anybody.
Hiveswap when using batteries on a mask.


The Uncanny Valley is the name given to the idea that as we build robots that look more and more like real people, the more we approach a point where we all say "oh God oh God what is wrong with that robot where did it all go wrong OH GOD"

LifeSkin (tm) artificial dermal coating looks just like the real thing, but not, like, in a creepy way, you know?
Questionable Content, describing how Momo works

    Web Original 

While nothing in Tintin is quite as richly nightmarish as the waxen-faced corpse of Tom Hanks sauntering through The Polar Express or the kinky video game avatar of Angelina Jolie in Beowulf, it's still a bit eye-watering in places. Particularly in the beginning, before one has a chance to really get used to the sight of almost photorealistic people with comic book facial features, which we've never really had in the movies before, and Jesus Christ is it ever something the brain's not really equipped to deal with.

Oh dear God, have we entered the school of the damned here? Why are they all speaking in unison and what's with their eyes?!

If a commercial features children or animals doing things that children or animals are incapable of doing without the help of a computer, I'm almost certain to hate it.
Scott Tobias on a common bane of watching Superbowl ads

The more realistic CGI tries to make its characters, the more creepy and unreal they look. The human eye is nature’s finest bullshit detector.

I think Jack is trying to ramp up the "adorable," but he instead drives full-force into the grotesque.

To me, porcelain dolls seemed like something you only buy when you know you're going to die alone and the only revenge you have left on the world is forcing an unblinking phalanx of $400 toy children to watch your corpse get hollowed out by dusty spiders... Collectible Doll Care taught me more than how long a grown man can sustain one terrified pee. For example, did you know that giving your doll a haircut is important enough to take up 20% of a doll maintenance instructional video? I didn't. I didn't even know that doll hair grew. And by the way, fuck you for that, sorcerers.

Mac is one of the ugliest, most off-putting characters I have ever seen in a kid's movie. The armored rape goblin from the Alien series is less terrifying than Mac and his sallow rubber plague mask. It isn't hard to make a movie about space that delights little children — the only way to screw that up would be to film their parents putting on spacesuits and telling them they're getting a divorce. Or, apparently, making Mac and Me.

Danny: Ugh, I don’t really like the way Apple looks. Those flat blinky eyes and that 80’s damaged-perm hair. It’s a great Kathy Mullen voice, but I don’t like looking at her. Is there a way for me to watch this special and not look directly at Apple?
Kynan: I was just thinking that myself, but then she did this really adorable thing where she put her hands on her hips. But yeah, she does have an Alien Doll Head, which is a problem.

Oh my god... OH MY GOD, it's the invasion of the army of PLASTIC WHORES!

GEE, BEASTIES! LOOK AT HIS ARM!!! Look, if you can't make muscles properly contract and extend, then simplify the forms! Do I really have to tell you this?!
ShogunGin0 reacting to the awful human models in the 2007 CGI movie The Ten Commandments

Whether it's in loading screens or pause screens, some games just love to make us stare at some gormless fuckwit's face twitching and gurning for ages, and I hate it. I hate it because they're trying to show how great-looking and natural these faces are, but they overanimate the shit out of them trying to replicate a "lifelike appearance" and end up going in the opposite direction, giving us rubber-mouthed aliens that contort and twist with facial tics that just make my feeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrking skin crawl. (groans)

In drawing, you can get away with leaving certain things out, like upper-lips per say; they would look like wrinkles if you put them in a drawing. But in real life, it looks fucking scary. The reason Cindy Lou was the only cute character in The Grinch was because she was the only one allowed to have an upper-lip. Everyone else looks like a demon-possessed Hungry Hungry Hippo! And these two look like The Shining girls if Bozo the Clown gave them lager bombs!

5: Make sure your characters look as dead-eyed and zombie-like as possible. Make sure their skin has that special plastic texture to it, so the audience feels like they're staring at undead Barbie dolls.
6: Congratulations, you now have your walking abominations. Now ensure they mug to the camera in order to terrify your audience. If your audience is not crapping their pants, then continue to practise.
[7 doesn't fall under the trope; it falls under Squick]
8: All movement should be unnatural, highly disturbing, and make your audience envision the dancing demons of hell.

Mr. Plinkett of RedLetterMedia, on a character in The Phantom Menace

The entire film was created inside a computer. How does it look? Cool. Buildings, sets pieces, vehicles, and aliens all look amazingly cool. People look really cool when they stand still and face away from us.

You'd think I'd be into life-size, realistic robots, but that thing makes me wanna barf up my earlier energy drink into the one I'm currently drinking.
Sci Fi Greg, Teen Girl Squad Issue 15

Lune Zoldark: So, what do you guys think?
Aaron: ...Looks more human than I expected.
Lune: Well, my dad customized the Valsione for me.
Aaron: I can see that. It just looks... really, really uncanny for a reason I can't put my finger on.
Lune: Ah. She looks too human, right?
Aaron: Yeah. That's the thing.

Chun, what the fuck did they do to you?!
Game Care Network, Everything Wrong With E3 2017, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite segment

Seriously, does he have a disease or something that makes him look like some kind of Neil Gaiman creature made manifest? Just looking at him makes me want to rub my eyes and then wash my hands with harsh soap until my skin turns pink.

This is terrifying. This isn't Snow White. This is more like evil porcelain dolls come to life!
The Angry Video Game Nerd on the Snow White and the Seven Clever Boys cover art.

I mean, under normal circumstances I'd say that this looks like a gross bastardization of God's law, it looks like something that was made in a lab by Germans, it looks like... fucking Frankenstein's beast, the ultimate culmination of man's hubris given unholy flesh, but hey, what do I know?

Cats is a film seated so firmly at the bottom of the Uncanny Valley that it has set up residences, sown and harvested wheat, raised children, and developed its own system of divine mathematics.

I can't even make commentary on this, so I'm not gonna, except why, God, why did they give the mice children's faces?!
Lindsay Ellis, Why is Cats, discussing the "Old Gumby Cat" sequence

"These chitinous Hominid mimics were originally designed to infiltrate remote, untouched colonies of Homo sapiens for covert scientific research, slipping in and out of human domiciles to monitor their most natural, wild behavioral patterns from discrete observation points and harvest unattended, clearly unwanted juveniles for tissue samples. The Lester's facade is further reinforced by its soothing psionic vibrations and pheromone excretions, while its data is protected by corrosive pseudoblood, amnesiatic gas sacs and a devastating self destruct mechanism initiated by the emergency evacuation of its ambulatory brain.

Unexpectedly, all research subjects - even including neonates - consistently identified the foreign nature of Lester agents and responded with alarm or even hostility, presumably detecting some imperceptibly trivial flaw in the monster's camouflage."
Mortasheen entry of "Lester"

I think I know the reason for why people prefer “unrealistic” animation.

For some reason, humans really don’t like things that look like humans but aren’t quite human. Hence why a lot of people are uncomfortable with movies with animation like Monster House and The Polar Express. It looks too realistic to us and sets us off.

Scientists call this the “Uncanny Valley” effect and its thought to be an evolutionary tactic for survival.

The funny part is. No other animals that we know of experience the uncanny valley effect. Only humans. Which leaves the question: what was out there that mimicked humans so well and was so dangerous to us that we evolved to have this as a tactic for survival?
This Tumblr post

    Real Life 

The big problem that one has to face is the fact that everybody in the audience is going to be an expert on how humans move. This makes it pointless to attempt to use rotoscope or any other device to imitate human action. I believe the answer lies somewhere in working out a mode of movement that is edited action, just the way that the animals in Bambi and the dwarfs in Snow White were. An audience will accept any convention, any point of view, as long as it is carried out consistently. I think there is less chance of rejection by this approach than by that of stupidly trying to draw animation with all the complexity of live action. In the first place, it can't be done, and in the first place, why try to recreate the approach of the Hudson River School of painting? It fizzled out like a soggy firecracker. After the viewers marveled at a match head that looked as if it could be picked off the canvas or a torn envelope that uncannily simulated real life, they got bored with it.

Imitation of real life is not art, and art is what we are involved with, despite mutters to the contrary from Madison Avenue and the networks.
— Animator Shamus Culhane discouraging the use of the Rotoscoping process, quoted from his book Animation: From Script to Screen

"To see the snowman is to dislike the snowman. It doesn't look like a snowman, anyway. It looks like a cheap snowman suit. When it moves, it doesn't glide — it walks, but without feet, like it's creeping on its torso. It has anorexic tree limbs for arms, which spin through 360 degrees when it's throwing snowballs. It has a big, wide mouth that moves as if masticating Gummi Bears. And it's this kid's dad."

I think that the closer animation gets to superficial "realism" the faker it looks. Do these look remotely "believable?" Not as believable as if they just shot the actual actors. This has been demonstrated over and over again in our history - going back to Snow White. Everybody (even then) loved the cartoony Dwarfs and noted the complete incongruity and stiffness of Snow White and the Prince. Well animated cartoon characters are far more "believable" than "realistic" mannequins.

These were robots in human form with distorted faces, and they gave my daughter nightmares. When I asked her why she was frightened of the Cybermen but not of the Daleks, she replied that the Cybermen looked like terrible human beings, whereas the Daleks were just Daleks.
Ann Lawrence, writer for The Morning Star on Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen

Very much funfair. There's nothing creepier than something that's supposed to look friendly and human, but doesn't manage either. Oh, dolls, they just shouldn't smile.

Whereas formerly, before the advent of machinery, the commonest article you could pick up had a life and warmth which gave it individual interest, now everything is turned out to such a perfection of deadness that one is driven to pick up and collect, in sheer desperation, the commonest rubbish still surviving from the earlier periods.
Harold Speed, The Practice & Science of Drawing chapter VI: The Academic and Conventional

"I could never look long upon a monkey, without very mortifying reflections."


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