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Scylla Rhiadra

Descent into the Uncanny Valley: Fear and Loathing in the Vanity Threads

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Posted (edited)

So, last night I took, and posted here (and on Flickr) an up-close portrait of my avatar. I was pretty sure it was maybe the best "portrait" I'd ever taken of an avatar: it's well-composed, competently (if a little unimaginatively) lit, very detailed, and with a nice sense of "depth."

This morning, over my coffee, I opened my computer and looked at the pic again, and my first response was something an awful lot like actual revulsion.

I hate it.

To be clear, I don't need to be reassured that it's a good photo. Objectively, I know that it's a pretty good, or at least highly competent, pic. And I know that I have a reasonably attractive avatar. It's also not at all unusual for me to dislike a photo I've taken a day or so after I've taken it: all the flaws in the pic, or in my avatar, tend to leap out at me.

But this was something different from that familiar feeling. And thinking about, I think I finally put my finger on it: I think it's the Uncanny Valley effect. I think the picture is photorealistic enough that it looks nearly like a photo of a real person, but in some sort of way creepily "not right," like an alien impersonation of a human.

And then it occurred to me that, as SL has become more and more "realistic" over the years, we all should be getting smacked in the face by the Uncanny Valley effect nearly all the time, and especially on Flickr or in the vanity threads here, which tend to place a high premium on realism.

So, I'm actually not really interested in responses to my own photo in this context (which is why I haven't posted or linked to it here). And maybe I'm wrong about the source of my distaste for that pic anyway: it may just be that I'm just responding to my perception that the eyes are too far apart and the nose a bit too pointy.

But I am very interested to hear if anyone here has ever experienced this effect in SL, either in-world, or through the pics posted here.

Is the Uncanny Valley a "thing" in SL?

 

Edited by Scylla Rhiadra
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In SL? No, not even close, not even with all the latest skins that are made out of real pictures (the face at least) those would be the ones that could have a hope to come close but it all falls apart when you look a complete picture, even if it is a close up with a blurry back ground.

Although I would guess different people have different levels of tolerance before they start experiencing that.

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   Yes.

  

   image.thumb.png.ed2e859765c49bc94f71b9e1110d7762.png

   Here's an artificial rendition of a spider, let's hear it from the arachnophobes!

 

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55 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Is the Uncanny Valley a "thing" in SL?

My own personal opinion here but what I have seen is people claiming the uncanny effect when in reality they mean jacked all to %$&@.

You can push through that and come out with good looking avatars easily enough.

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1 minute ago, Dean Haystack said:

In SL? No, not even close, not even with all the latest skins that are made out of real pictures (the face at least) those would be the ones that could have a hope to come close but it all falls apart when you look a complete picture, even if it is a close up with a blurry back ground.

Although I would guess different people have different levels of tolerance before they start experiencing that.

Yes, I don't recall having experienced it before with avatars.

You may be right that we are simply "not there yet," with regard to photorealistic avatars -- although I've seen some pics on Flickr that do seem to me to come awfully close. Another is that we are inured to SL avatars, and mentally accept them for what they are, rather than as would-be humans.

What does sometimes creep me out in-world are those mesh NPCs one is increasingly seeing around -- not ones that essentially look like avatars, but ones that have (presumably) been scanned from real people.

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Just now, Scylla Rhiadra said:

 

What does sometimes creep me out in-world are those mesh NPCs one is increasingly seeing around -- not ones that essentially look like avatars, but ones that have (presumably) been scanned from real people.

This! 

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2 minutes ago, Rhonda Huntress said:

My own personal opinion here but what I have seen is people claiming the uncanny effect when in reality they mean jacked all to %$&@.

You can push through that and come out with good looking avatars easily enough.

You mean exaggerated body proportions?

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1 minute ago, Eva Knoller said:

This! 

Which actually does maybe suggest that avatars are still too cartoony, really, to have that sort of impact?

The NPCs, on the other hand, really do (as I think I've said elsewhere) look like failed genetic experiments from a SciFi flick.

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, Dean Haystack said:

not even with all the latest skins that are made out of real pictures (the face at least) those would be the ones that could have a hope to come close

Ok, I'm going to link here to one of the best, and most realistic, avatar portraits I've seen on Flickr. (It's public, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind.)

Is there some level at which this is still too cartoony to be mistaken for a photo of a real person? If so, it must work at a sort of subconscious level, because I don't think I could explain why it isn't "realistic."

ETA: Except maybe the hair. I think (again, as I've said elsewhere), that hair is the weak link in the efforts to produce photorealism in SL.

 

Neithan

 

Edited by Scylla Rhiadra
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3 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Which actually does maybe suggest that avatars are still too cartoony, really, to have that sort of impact?

The NPCs, on the other hand, really do (as I think I've said elsewhere) look like failed genetic experiments from a SciFi flick.

Yes to still too cartoony IMO. I do occasionally get that effect with the up close vendor ads that use photoshopped hair.

The NPCs make me run in the other direction. LOL.

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1 minute ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Ok, I'm going to link here to one of the best, and most realistic, avatar portraits I've seen on Flickr. (It's public, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind.)

Is there some level at which this is still too cartoony to be mistaken for a photo of a real person? If so, it must work at a sort of subconscious level, because I don't think I could explain why it isn't "realistic."

Neithan

 

For me it’s the skin texture that keeps it in ‘cartoon’ zone. 

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2 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Is there some level at which this is still too cartoony to be mistaken for a photo of a real person? If so, it must work at a sort of subconscious level, because I don't think I could explain why it isn't "realistic."

   Stylisation.

   The 'valley' must either be crossed, in which case the shot needs to be super-realistic and the effect wears off, or you can stay on the other side and increase fidelity through stylisation. As Eva said, the skin doesn't appear realistic, it's too flat - whereas the skin in your picture is porous thanks to its texture materials, making it look more 'alive'.

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Posted (edited)
16 minutes ago, Eva Knoller said:

For me it’s the skin texture that keeps it in ‘cartoon’ zone. 

Maybe! Although it's very detailed.

I'm having a difficult time stepping back far enough to really be able to see why, on one hand, pics like this look realistic as hell to me, but at the same time don't really fool me. I suppose if I saw Troy's portrait in a group of pics of real people, I probably would be able to tell that it's an avatar.

Edited by Scylla Rhiadra
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2 minutes ago, Eva Knoller said:

For me it’s the skin texture that keeps it in ‘cartoon’ zone. 

For me is the hair before anything else, then everything follows.

Even something like this is not quite there yet and this one is several levels above.

 

death-stranding-1-2-1024x576.jpg

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Just now, Dean Haystack said:

For me is the hair before anything else, then everything follows.

Even something like this is not quite there yet and this one is several levels above.

 

death-stranding-1-2-1024x576.jpg

Wow.

Yeah, ok, this one is, as you say, levels above.

And I do find it pretty creepy.

/me shudders

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3 minutes ago, Orwar said:

   Stylisation.

   The 'valley' must either be crossed, in which case the shot needs to be super-realistic and the effect wears off, or you can stay on the other side and increase fidelity through stylisation. As Eva said, the skin doesn't appear realistic, it's too flat - whereas the skin in your picture is porous thanks to its texture materials, making it look more 'alive'.

That might explain, in part, why I don't like my pic (although I don't even like my own pics in RL lol), but like his?

Your comment on stylisation relates, I think, to a pet theory of mine: that the most "realistic" avatar portraits aren't ones that try to mimic the look of an unprocessed photograph of a real person, but rather, through processing, filters, distortion, and so forth, look how a real photograph might look if it underwent the same distorting processing.

So, for instance, that grumpy, moody, bitchy shot I posted a few days has been sharpened, and colourized, and distorted in all sorts of ways: it clearly does not, and is not intended to, look "realistic." But it does look a bit like how a photo of an actual human person might look if it been run through 15 filters.

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55 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Ok, I'm going to link here to one of the best, and most realistic, avatar portraits I've seen on Flickr. (It's public, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind.)

Is there some level at which this is still too cartoony to be mistaken for a photo of a real person? If so, it must work at a sort of subconscious level, because I don't think I could explain why it isn't "realistic."

ETA: Except maybe the hair. I think (again, as I've said elsewhere), that hair is the weak link in the efforts to produce photorealism in SL.

 

Neithan

 

For me the skin is a little too "perfect" to seem real to me.

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Posted (edited)
47 minutes ago, Dean Haystack said:

For me is the hair before anything else, then everything follows.

Even something like this is not quite there yet and this one is several levels above.

 

death-stranding-1-2-1024x576.jpg

OK this one hits the Uncanny Valley for me. Where did you find this one?

Edited by Vanity Fair
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1 hour ago, Orwar said:

   Yes.

  

  Reveal hidden contents

   image.thumb.png.ed2e859765c49bc94f71b9e1110d7762.png

   Here's an artificial rendition of a spider, let's hear it from the arachnophobes!

 

You so mean!

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22 minutes ago, Vanity Fair said:

OK this one hits the Uncanny Valley for me. Where did you find this one?

It's not a Second Life image. It's a still from the videogame "Death Stranding" by Hideo Kojima, which features appearances from (among others) Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen. The release date trailer can be viewed here.

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5 hours ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Is the Uncanny Valley a "thing" in SL?

My reaction to many mesh bodies is exactly this, I see them as cold and aloof faces of a small range of types. I miss the variety that you had with so many different system shapes and skins around before mesh arrived. I donlt think I;d say the effect os creepy, more like it's slightly alien, as if they've elvish folk

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14 minutes ago, Profaitchikenz Haiku said:

My reaction to many mesh bodies is exactly this, I see them as cold and aloof faces of a small range of types. I miss the variety that you had with so many different system shapes and skins around before mesh arrived. I donlt think I;d say the effect os creepy, more like it's slightly alien, as if they've elvish folk

I see this mentioned a lot about mesh heads and bodies and I just don't get it. There are at least 30 different mesh heads between the four top female mesh head makers, which are customizable via the appearance sliders to some degree. Add in the hundreds of skins available, and you have a multitude of different looks. There is plenty of variety IMO.

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35 minutes ago, Eva Knoller said:

I see this mentioned a lot about mesh heads and bodies and I just don't get it. There are at least 30 different mesh heads between the four top female mesh head makers, which are customizable via the appearance sliders to some degree. Add in the hundreds of skins available, and you have a multitude of different looks. There is plenty of variety IMO.

   People have different tolerance levels and responses to it. Mannequins and clowns are common things that certain people can freak out completely by, which is generally blamed on the uncanny valley aspect of them.

   Coulrophobia is often blamed either on the fact that the appearance is too close to human but at the same time too different, and with how clowns tend to act in ways which are often against social convention (their often almost 'aggressive' social interactions with strangers, not respecting personal space, etc.) - some blame movie characters like Pennywise in It, the murder-clown in Poltergeist and the Joker in Batman for the rise in coulrophobia, but there seems to be little evidence of that the fear lies in an expectation of violence, but rather just an unease; personally I think it's just that with the advent of the Internet, and through movies, more people have been exposed to clowns and at the same time been given a platform to express their concerns.

   As for coulrophilia... Not a whole lot of research on it, as far as I've found. Might just be because people think of Pennywise and then they think of Tim Curry.

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14 minutes ago, animats said:

Latest technology in that area, from GDC 2018.

It's good. I wasn't quite as creeped out by this as I was by the one that Dean posted above -- perhaps because it's simply better.

But, yes, it is still a bit "ugh!" . . . especially when the camera moves away and captures her arm and body motion, which still don't seem . . . quite right.

SL is obviously a very long way from this kind of realism. And I'm seriously beginning to think, looking at some of these, that that's a good thing.

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