Even Monkeys shun the Uncanny Valley

Here’s the summary of a fascinating little study from Princeton that warms my animator/neuroscientist’s heart.

Uncanny valley monkeys

Yes, those are some scary macaques.  Apparently , real rhesus monkeys don’t like to look at them, either.  As the study summary states,

In the experiments, the monkeys, which normally coo and smack their lips to engage each other, quickly avert their glances and are frightened when confronted by the close-to-real images. When asked to peer at the less close-to-real faces and real faces, however, they viewed them more often and for longer periods.


The summary goes on:

Movie-goers may not be familiar with the term, but they understand that it is far easier to love the out-of-proportion cartoon figures in the “The Incredibles,” for example, than it is to embrace the more realistic-looking characters in “The Polar Express.”

Thinking about that, and looking at the image above, I have the sudden inspiration that perhaps some filmmakers are barking up the wrong tree.  Maybe we need to stop trying to make nearly photo-real human characters sympathetic and lovable. Maybe we need to embrace the uncanny valley effect!

Just playfully stylize the protagonists and the sympathetic characters, and make the villains as realistic as you can.  The good guys become lovable cartoons, and the bad guys disturbing creeps from the strange land of the Uncanny Valley. Instant character development!

Or make a horror movie where the deranged serial killer is a mo-capped CG human character, and everyone else is a flesh-and-blood actor. You might end up with one of the all-time creepiest bad guys without having to pay for an Anthony Hopkins.

2 Responses to “Even Monkeys shun the Uncanny Valley”

  1. Dhar Says:

    But wouldn’t a villain become more menacing if s/he had some sympathetic features?

  2. Kevin Says:

    I was referring to making the villain creepy. A good villain probably has personality traits that we can connect with in some way, but I don’t think we need to feel sympathy for the villain to be effective.

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch