Beware the Uncanny Valley
There’s a well-known term used in animation and robotics: the “uncanny valley.” This phenomenon has to do with uncanny human resemblance of a robot or other creature that isn’t human. There’s a point when the resemblance becomes so human, that it becomes creepy to the viewer.
“In Avatar, the aliens were purposely stylized so that when they smiled and frowned, we wouldn’t be applying human criteria to them. The uncanny valley is when we assume a face is human but it’s not responding in the natural human way. We find that creepy,” Faigin says.
Along those lines, a human, whose facial expressions don’t quite match up to what people see as natural, might elicit an uncomfortable response. Faigin has learned by manipulating images on the computer that it’s easy to change a smile from natural and comforting to one that appears strained or stressed and not normal or natural.
All illustrations for this article were drawn by Gary Faigin for his book, “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression,” 1990. For more information about Faigin and his work, go to www.FaiginVFX.com, which includes his monthly Face Blog.