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Uncanny Canyon

Posted on June 23rd, 2020

Dave!uncanny valley • Used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it. — Lexico, Powered by Oxford

Entering the uncanny valley is a different experience for different people. Some people can't tell the difference between computer-generated humans and actual humans. Some people have a sense something is off, but aren't bothered by it. Still others don't like it at all. As for myself? It freaks me out in ways that I can't express... or even fully comprehend.

The worst experience for me is easy to pinpoint... it's Star Wars: Rogue One. In this film they have computer-generated appearances by Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia... circa 1977. Peter Cushing (Tarkin) died in 1994. Carie Fisher (Leia) was alive when Rogue One debuted in 2016, but died before I made it to theaters to see the movie.

Carrie Fisher had only one scene at the end and she looked straight-up bizarre. Her glassy eyes and weird expressions were way freaky to me, especially when her head was 10-feet tall on a movie screen...

A plastic glassy-eyed fake Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from Star Wars

It was like a video game character gone horribly wrong. This was not uncanny valley, it was uncanny canyon.

Grand Moff Tarkin had many scenes in the movie. In a way, he came off a little better than Leia because there were some shadows at play. Alas, this made the glassy eyes even more pronounced. His skin tone also had some serious issues, looking more like plastic than human skin. I really think that they would have been better off if they got a different human actor for the part... or found a way to eliminate him from the movie entirely. But, still, it was a fun connection to the original movie, and the connections were part of why I liked Rogue One so much. So... who knows? Maybe this is just the way it had to be.

I was reminded about this all again when somebody posted a video that attempted to fix Grand Moff Tarkin so he wasn't quite so freaky...

Now, I would hardly consider this to be "fixed," but it is a step in the right direction. It's probably not as good as it could have been if the face-mapping were on an actual human instead of a CGI replica.

"Deepfake"... a technology which remaps one face on another face... shows far more promise than CGI humans currently do. I've talked about this plenty of time on Blogography... the last time being in January where somebody "fixed" the de-aging effects on The Irishman...

Now, the place that people always go with deepfakes is this: "Pretty soon the technology will be so good that we won't be able to tell what's real!" And my response is always the same... "Well, yeah, that would be terrible for getting to the truth, but just think of how great it will be for movies!"

Because if I never see a dead, glassy-eyed, dead person ten feet tall on the movie screen again, that would be okay by me.

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