Uncanny valley and virtual humans


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Subtility at the heart of perfection

The focus of Texturing XYZ since its foundation/birth is to create skin with complexity in mind. This entails a high variety of characteristics such as wrinkles, beauty spots, scars, pores and so on. All these details will help in representing the skin in a subtle way.

Giving a realistic substance/depth to a virtual character is a constant challenge, one that was difficult to face a few decades ago. But nowadays, we can go beyond past limitations thanks to two main factors:

  • resources of premium quality
  • the viewers’ feelings

The golden era

Across the years, the industry witnessed the fast-paced evolution of technology. This incredible level of innovation quickly became the opportunity to experiment with the virtual world at its beginning. 

However, in turn the expanding possibilities attracted the eye of the public on the subject. Artists not only had to grow their skills alongside the evolution of technology, but also take into account how the viewers’ expectations increased.

But one can wonder what people wanted to see, the answer to this question soon became obvious when studying the public’s reaction to different content. 

People tended to react negatively when seeing virtual humans compared to virtual animals for instance.

This feeling of rejection came from the unrealistic quality built for the virtual characters so achieving a believable level of realism became the desired/ideal norm.

Perfect realism: is it really possible?

Producing a convincing human skin is not a walk in the park. Apart from the artists’ skills, it requires time and resources. But even with all the necessary criterias reunited, a problem still remains to this day : the uncanny valley phenomena

This term was coined by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970 to describe the sense of unease felt by some people when viewing an artificial character seemingly identical to a real human being.

Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS/Getty Images

To make it simple, when a virtual human bears valid resemblance to a real one, people’s affinity towards the creation grows.

But this appeal can only go until a certain point when a virtual human is hard to distinguish from a real human being. Such an occurrence translates itself into a feeling of unease and even a tendency to be freaked out.

But the imagery of a character isn't the only element capable of putting the viewers on edge. Indeed, the way the virtual human will be animated has a tremendous importance: a still image can be perfect as to avoid inducing the uncanny phenomena but it can fall into this category as soon as the character starts to move if the animation is not done fluently. The calculations need to take into account subtlety so as to produce a motor behaviour nearly identical to the way a real being would move.

Last but not least, the integration process is of the utmost importance. A virtual human can be done perfectly but if this step is messed up, you can be sure the viewer will notice how weird it feels. 

However, some artists skip this step in order to create an interesting discrepancy between the character and the background. Virtual influencers are among their creations: they voluntarily put a virtual character in a real scenery. The most famous example is Lil Michela, the virtual influencer

Uncanny valley: the big boss at the last level

  • How can you defeat/avoid the uncanny valley phenomena? The only solution is to strengthen the similarity of a virtual human to a physical being in order to create a more accurate/realistic skin
  • How do you level up the realism effect ? You need to add as many details as possible that accurately replicate human skin structure in order to produce the most convincing CG skin.

By doing so, ironically, more flaws enable a virtual character to be more flawless.

This is why technology’s constant innovation is our greatest ally

The other aspect to take into account to successfully produce a realistic virtual human is the presence of accessories, especially when talking about hair and clothes. These elements are crucial for the purpose of creating a whole character made of so many different characteristics. After all, it’s the sum of various kinds of details that draws a complex virtual human and gives it character. What’s more, it also helps in redirecting the attention from a flaw

You best friend Hyperskin

Our on-demand service Hyperskin is a technology that was designed for the sake of optimizing the creation process of virtual characters

How ? Hyperskin can produce an output with far more data. One obvious consequence is how the image rendered will present many more micro details thanks to a better reaction to the light

Thus, Hyperskin is the perfect tool for producing virtual humans closer and closer to reality while ensuring that the public’s feeling of familiarity towards the final result does not drop into the uncanny valley.

However, it is important to understand that the human brain is a powerful machine capable of noticing the tiniest suspicious details that could turn their affinity for the virtual character into feelings of creepiness

A subtle equilibrium

Our mission is and will always be to achieve realism by creating consistent and ultra-detailed virtual humans. We still have room for the evolution of both technology and techniques.

We are currently at a crossroad between successful realism and the threat of the uncanny valley. Technology has evolved in such a way that as a viewer we now have trouble in noticing if a character is fake or we easily get used to it.

As such, there is no miracle recipe, we need to match the sight of virtualization with the feelings induced in order to optimize even more the representation of humans.

Want to know more about Hyperskin? Contact us today to request a live presentation! We would love to hear from you!

What's 𝙃𝙮𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙠𝙞𝙣? Why we built it? Why offering this as a service? Everything is explained in our article: 𝙃𝙮𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙠𝙞𝙣 - 𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙌𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙊𝙛 𝙍𝙚𝙖𝙡𝙞𝙨𝙢... Roja Huchez created a CG version of "Emma Watson", discover how XYZ helped him to bring her to life! Learn more about our Technology Hyperskin - Our on-demand service for studios...

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