Posts Tagged ‘Uncanny valley’

Betty or Wilma?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011


In cartoon land, with very few exceptions, the young are eternally young and the old never die. Celluloid images fade in color, but never in form; the zeros and ones of a JPEG keep their youthful appearance for as long as the files stay uncorrupted.

We tend to like the iconic images of our youth untarnished, unaffected by the natural cycle of decay. I suspect that aging cartoons would ruin the nostalgia felt by some, and that the added layer of realism gives others the queasy feeling of staring into the uncanny valley.

For my own part, I would love to see an explosion in artwork depicting aged versions of cartoon characters, to compliment the untooning phenomenon.

Supposing that Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble were 25 years old when The Flintstones made their TV debut in 1960, and if time and gravity took its normal course, they would turn 76 this year and no doubt look just like illustrator Matthias Seifarth portrays them.

I fake it so real, I am beyond fake

Friday, September 25th, 2009


Siberian artist Marina Bychkova takes the inherent creepiness of realistic dolls to a whole new level with her tiny porcelain creations. Her “Enchanted Dolls” feature ball-joints and tattoos and anatomically correct private parts.

There be monsters

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009


Somewhere, buried deep within our brains, is a huge pull towards recognizing things as human. We see a crater with a line and some rock piles on mars and immediately the face is apparent to us. We love cartoon animals that act like humans: expressing love, fear, excitement and playfulness. These animals don’t have to look realistic to be compelling, just like we can fall in love with Betty Rubble, even if her proportions are far from correct. Our brains are able to understand her drawing as a caricature, a suggestion of what a human being might be like. The red perky lips, the alluring smile, the short dress. There’s an entire genre of cartooning which places the 2D characters from The Simpsons and Futurama into erotic poses so pleasurable to look at that websites can hide the full collections behind pay walls…


Untooned roundup

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009


Art has been about re-mixes for centuries. Retelling of famous stories, painting and repainting what is essentially the same bouquet of flowers or bountiful still life of food, the same battles, over and over. Another trick is to take an icon from one context and put it into another. Paint a sculpture, sculpt a painting, create an opera from a talk show.

Read on for more…


The not-so-uncanny valley

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

There’s a theory about human perception of almost-human figures that goes this this: if the representations are crude, or clearly just symbolic, we have no problem with that. Think about cartoons like Scooby doo. We often find these representations, which one would never confuse for actual human beings, cute.

On the other hand, as you get closer and closer to a representing an acutall human being, but before your picture looks “real”, you enter the “uncanny vally”. In this range, images of humans looks suprisingly lifelike, but we can tell they are fake, or not-quite-human. This is deeply disturbing to us. Zombies fall into this category. Our brains can tell right away that something’s not quite right, and this bothers us.

Look one more time at the first image in this post. I have my own theory about near-human looking art. I beleive that when we look at half-human creatures like those in Jenny Bird Alcantara’s “Daughter of Icarus”, we keep trying to make the images human. Our brains look for ways that it could be a human being, just like we try to see faces everywhere. We do a mental inventory of human parts: legs, torso, arms. But wait! What kind of feet are those? And what’s with the giant eye? We want to see these images as human, but we can’t. And disturbs and intrigues us, since we spend a good part of our cognitive time trying to fit things in categories. When that doesn’t work, we don’t give up easily. They end result can be creepy and compelling.