Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's So Real It's Creepy - Uncanny Valley - Ryviews Ryport

San Diego Comic Con just happened. Hooray!

One of the many gems to come out of it was the Cinematic Trailer for the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition packaged in The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One. It looked, to put it scientifically, friggin' sweet. And when I'm looking at the faces featured in that trailer, I'm astonished by how lifelike they look without triggering the "so close, but yet so far" reflex in my head.

See, most games on the market, even with stunning visuals, get something wrong. Be it hair, mouth, or movement, things don't always work properly. And there's actually a term for when something looks lifelike but it's missing on one key feature that causing an unsettling, creepy feeling. It's called Uncanny Valley.

To spare myself the embarrassment of trying to redefine it, I'll let wikipedia do the talking for me:

"The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

I definitely believe in it, and until I saw this trailer I didn't think any media could really squirrel around it very well. But watching this trailer, I was amazed. Johnson looked really good, and on a freeze frame, I would have bet my right arm that it was an actual shot of a real person actor (and for the record, that bet is no longer on the table, I'm keeping my right arm, thanks).

It's definitely still going to haunt many games and movies to come, but this is a tremendous step in the correct direction. The hair looked real, the mouth movement almost spotless, and if you freeze frame on the Arbiter you'd swear you could touch his scraggly face. I'm hoping this spells a trend in the market for hyper realism.

source: http://343industries.org/forum/fileshare/gallery/album_647/gallery_12241_647_49937.jpg
Sgt. Avery "Best Character In The Series" Johnson

I've discussed how graphics in gaming can be a slippery slope, and I stick by that, because I'm sure some day we'll look back at that video and think, "Wow, nowadays we can do it much better!" but for the most part I'm guessing we've entered a state of diminished returns in video game graphic advancements. The best console games now are harder to distinguish from the herd because there's only so much a normal human can notice. We're reaching a point where things will look better and we'll think "if you say so" because we'll be too blind or stupid to discern a difference.

But just thinking about today, this could have tremendous effects on the world of augmented reality. If you can essentially display real people over the real world, that's the pinnacle of gaming. You're in the experience fully at that point, basically unable to distinguish the real world from the virtual. You have amazing augmented reality FPS games with nothing outside of what you're carrying on your head (and possibly a fake controller gun).

Plus, think about the movies. Today, we see movies with big name actors doing their stuff on screen and we love it. But I enjoyed the Hulk in the Avengers because he looked like Mark Ruffalo, even though it wasn't him jumping around as a big green guy on screen (at least not on camera). So, pretty soon, we could probably have CGI people in movies that are completely fake. You have a real actor for the voice and for the facial modelling, but the actual on camera stuff would be completely fake.

And what's amazing is that in about 5 years, they could probably do that to some background characters or supporting cast and no one would even notice. Think about that the next time you're watching Channing Tatum be all sexy. In 10 years it'll be Channing Tatum's virtual stunt double.

Source: http://searchednews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Channing-Tatum-6.jpg
That's right, I went there.

Until next time,


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