Paper: Realism and the ‘uncanny valley’

Bibliography links etc.

The Uncanny Valley by Masahiro Mori (1970)
Energy, 7(4), pp. 33-35, Translated by Karl F. MacDorman and Takashi Minato is online here

8 Responses to “Paper: Realism and the ‘uncanny valley’”

  1. greg singh Says:

    I have just read Mori’s piece on the Uncanny Valley, and Brenton et al’s response to the various discussions within robotics and VR. Having not read this before, I find myself split in a reaction of both fascination and ‘what is all the fuss about’. This is because psychoanalysis has been dealing with this issue for the best part of a century now, and that most applications, especially of Ernest Jones commentaries, within film studies have neglected some of the more interesting implications of Freud’s work.

    My reaction in itself is rather uncanny, because I delivered a paper only last Friday at JAM, University of Reading, where I discussed the affective responses and emotional investments made by spectators who consume films largely made up of CGI spectacles. Although many arguments have been made for increasingly humanoid simulations and their discomforting effects, I make a general statement about contemporary CGI in Hollywood, and its essential disavowal of the simulational/spectacular either/or dichotomy that Pierson identified in early 90s cinema, back in 1999. The way in which CGI has taken on a role to produce simulation and spectacle as a dialectical struggle, signifying mastery over both technological means and of its audience, is itself, one could argue, an alienating function. Here I am using Marx’s take on alienation to push forward the description of the uncanny into the realm of fetishism and disavowal afforded by the commodity form.

    To my mind, the uncanny is Freud’s most dialectical moment. After all, in his (and Ernest Jones tends towards this idea) piece ‘The Uncanny’: something has to be added to what is novel and familiar to make it uncanny. We can assume that heimlich can be translated as ‘homely’, or most familiar, but it is also: ‘Concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know of or about it, withheld from others’. In other words it is ‘most homely’, most disturbingly close, and therefore alien in some way. CGI generally tends to expose this tension, this dialectical otherness through both simulation and spectacle. Although in technical critical terms, we most often like to pretend that we cannot see the joins between the simulated and the cinematographed, we almost always can through a perceptable trucage as Metz would call it – a foreknowledge and a familiarity with the form and the type of contents produced within such cultural products. This, for me, is the most interesting aspect. One need not return to psychoanalysis, nor even to Marx to understand this side of alienation.

    Hope that all makes some sense. Not sure what everyone might make of it, but there are my thoughts…

  2. Diane Says:

    Perhaps CGI is ‘a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself’. I read that this morning. Seemed appropriate.
    (Debord’s Society of the Spectacle Zone books 95 p 14)

  3. David Surman Says:

    In this thread could I put forward my Master’s Thesis from 2003 which was published on Gamasutra, which tackles the general issue of CG moving image production and reception in light of the Final Fantasy franchises and the rise of CG cinema and FMV games content more generally:

    ‘CGI Animation: Pseudorealism, Perception and Possible Worlds’

    Its pretty old now and flawed in places but I do outline some initial thoughts on a theory of stylistics in convergent media which I am still running with now.

  4. David Surman Says:

    Some of the ideas there were further rolled out in my 2004 paper

    ‘From Realism to Reality Effect and Affect: Epistemological Issues in Realist Theories of Animation’

    The full version can be found here on my blog:

    and in the earlier paper on remediation and cine-literacy:

    Surman, D. (2003) “Remediation and Cine-Literacy: Approaching Recent Popular Film” Towards Theory and Practice, CILECT Conference.

    Which I can’t for the life of me find 😀

  5. greg singh Says:

    Sorry I haven’t checked this in a while – marking season has inevitably taken its toll on my peripheral activities these last few weeks…

    Thanks for that – funnily enough, I was talking to Jonathan Bignell a couple of weeks ago about ways to articulate spectacle and non-spectacle-as-spectacular and Debord came up there. This is an excellent quote, I think I’ll use it if you don’t mind!

    Hope you are well, it’s been a while. Again thanks for this, I’ll take a look at gamesutra in the next couple of weeks and get back to you with some thoughts. I’ve come across your realiism/reality piece before, and had forgotten all about it – I’ll read this again as it does address many of the issues that I’m currently obssessed with…

  6. Diane (gamessig) Says:

    Greg – you are most welcome. Hopefully the next line in the book was not “except in the case of CGI”

  7. diane Says:

    Next generation/graphical advance…’unlimited visual fidelity’. Id Tech 5, Id’s new game engine, is reported at and at the Id site. To quote from “The new id rendering technology practically eliminates the texture memory constraints typically placed on artists and designers and allows for the unique customization of the entire game world at the pixel level, delivering virtually unlimited visual fidelity”. According to the Guardian, the demo showed a “canyon-based area with shanty town-esque habitations”…Uncanny Canyon?

  8. David Surman Says:

    check this out, uncanny Haruhi

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