James Cameron's Avatar To Overcome Uncanny Valley?

Avatar Poster ConceptJames Cameron revealed at the Microsoft Advance '08 event that Avatar will be the first film to feature photo-realistic characters which actually look real.

"Avatar will make people truly experience something. One more layer of the suspension of disbelief will be removed. All the syn-thespians are photo-realistic. Now that we've achieved it, we discovered CG characters in 3D look more real than in 2D. Your brain is cued it's a real thing not a picture and discounting part of image that makes it look fake," said Cameron. "Avatar is the single most complex piece of filmmaking ever made. We have 1,600 shots for a 2.5 hour movie. It's not with a single CGI character, like King Kong or Gollum. We have hundreds of photo-realistic CG characters."

Has Cameron overcome the Uncanny Valley? For those who don't know, Uncanny Valley is basically a theory that "when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost, but not entirely, like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers." Imagine a graph showing the progression of realism in computer generated characters. The "valley" in question is a dip in that proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's lifelikeness.

Uncanny Valley

The theory is that "if a entity is sufficiently non-humanlike, then the humanlike characteristics will tend to stand out and be noticed easily, generating empathy. On the other hand, if the entity is 'almost human', then the non-human characteristics will be the ones that stand out, leading to a feeling of strangeness' in the human viewer." For example, many moviegoers complain that the humans in Hironobu Sakaguchi's 2001 computer animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within look like zombies (see image below).

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Cameron says that he has created "a complete ecosystem of phantasmagorical plants and creatures, and a native people with a rich culture and language." Hundreds of photo-realistic CG characters which supposedly surpass the uncanny valley? Call me skeptical. Call me excited. I'm really hoping that this movie will live up to the hype. Quotes like the one above get me really excited for the endless possibilities, but then the quote below brings me back to earth.

"I don't know whether will be great film from narrative and critical standpoint," said Cameron. "The experience of Avatar will be an experience unlike any other movies."

I would also describe The Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer as "an experience unlike any other movie", but at the end of the day, it doesn't mean much. In other news, James Cameron also revealed at the event that Ubisoft will be releasing a 3D version of a game based on the movie, which will run on a standard XBox 360 – complete with 3D glasses! First-person shooters will become true first-person experiences, he said.

"If you play Avatar on a 50 inch monitor, you're in the game."

Again, very skeptical and very excited.

sources: searchenginewatch.com, marketsaw, cnet, wikipedia