Understanding CGI: Exploring the Uncanny Valley
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. What is CGI?
  2. History of CGI
  3. How CGI works?
  4. What is the Uncanny Valley?
  5. Examples of the Uncanny Valley in CGI
  6. Why the Uncanny Valley matters?

Imagine stepping into a world where digital humans appear as real as you and me. It's like a journey into the uncanny valley—a fascinating realm where realistic CGI brings to life creations so lifelike they're almost eerie. Buckle up, because we're about to take a deep dive into this captivating world.

What is CGI?

CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery, is a bit like a magic trick. It's what makes dragons soar in movies, allows video game characters to perform jaw-dropping stunts, and even helps architects design skyscrapers before a single brick is laid.

The Basics of CGI

At its core, CGI is about creating images using computer software. Here's a simple way to understand it:

  • Artists sketch out a design or model.
  • These designs are then sculpted into 3D models using specialized software.
  • Next, the models are textured and shaded to give them a realistic appearance.
  • Finally, they're animated and integrated into the desired medium—be it a video game, movie, or digital simulation.

CGI and the Silver Screen

One of the most common places you'll see CGI is in movies. From the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to the stunning landscapes of Avatar, CGI plays a starring role in bringing these unforgettable scenes to life. When you're stepping into the uncanny valley with realistic CGI, it's like stepping into another world entirely.

CGI in the Gaming World

But it's not just movies! Video games also heavily utilize CGI. Ever wonder how game developers create those realistic characters and immersive worlds in games like The Last of Us or Red Dead Redemption? You guessed it—CGI is the secret ingredient. With the help of CGI, game developers can create digital humans so realistic that you might forget you're playing a game!

CGI in Architecture and Design

CGI also lends a hand in the world of architecture and design. Architects use CGI to create detailed, 3D models of structures before they're built. This helps them visualize the final product, spot potential issues, and make necessary changes. In this way, CGI is an invaluable tool that helps turn blueprints into towering skyscrapers and dream homes.

So, whether you're marveling at a movie, immersed in a video game, or admiring a new building, remember—you're stepping into the uncanny valley, a fascinating world brought to life with realistic CGI and digital humans.

History of CGI

Stepping into the uncanny valley of the CGI world isn't just about appreciating its present and future. It's also about understanding its past. So, let's jump into our time machine and explore the history of CGI.

The Early Days

The seeds of CGI were sown back in the 1960s when a man named Ivan Sutherland developed a program known as Sketchpad. This pioneering software allowed users to create and manipulate visual images directly on a computer screen—a major breakthrough at the time.

Pixar's Role

Fast forward to the 1970s, a company named Pixar was born. Pixar was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of CGI. Their first short film, "The Adventures of André and Wally B.", was a landmark moment in CGI history, showcasing the potential of computer animation.

The Dawn of CGI in Movies

The 1990s saw CGI stepping into the uncanny valley, with movies like "Jurassic Park" and "Toy Story". These films were groundbreaking in their use of realistic CGI, making us believe in living, breathing dinosaurs and toys that could talk. The world of digital humans and creatures was starting to take shape.

The Evolution of CGI in the 21st Century

As we moved into the 21st century, CGI continued to evolve at a rapid pace. Films like "Avatar" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy used CGI to transport audiences to incredible worlds, populated by digital humans and creatures that felt startlingly real.

Today, CGI is everywhere. It's in our movies, video games, advertisements, and even our smartphones. We've come a long way since the days of Sketchpad, and with every passing year, we're stepping further into the uncanny valley, exploring fascinating new frontiers with realistic CGI and digital humans.

How CGI works?

Now that we've journeyed through the history of CGI, let's take a closer look at how it actually works. This is where we really start stepping into the uncanny valley of realistic CGI and digital humans. It's a bit like pulling back the curtain on a magic show, but don't worry, it won't spoil the fun.

Creating the 3D Models

Everything starts with a 3D model. Think of this as the digital skeleton of the character or object. Artists use special software to craft these models, carefully shaping and refining them until they look just right.

Adding the Details

With the basic shape in place, it's time to add the details. This involves texturing (giving the model color and surface details), rigging (adding a virtual skeleton for movement), and shading (creating light and shadow effects).

Animation and Rendering

Next, the model is brought to life through animation. This can involve everything from simple movements to complex facial expressions. Once the animation is complete, it's time for rendering. This is when the computer calculates how every pixel of the image should look, based on the models, textures, lighting, and camera position. The final result? Stunningly realistic CGI that truly steps into the uncanny valley.

The Power of CGI Today

Today's CGI technology is incredibly advanced. We're not just talking about big-budget Hollywood movies either. Even video games and smartphone apps are utilizing CGI to create realistic digital humans and environments. It's an exciting time to be stepping into the uncanny valley, as we push the boundaries of what's possible with CGI.

Just remember: next time you're marveling at a CGI masterpiece, spare a thought for the intricate process behind it. It's a fascinating world, full of creativity, technology, and endless possibilities.

What is the Uncanny Valley?

Now, let's take a turn down a different path. Have you ever seen a robot or a CGI character that looks almost human, but something about it just seems... off? That's what we call the Uncanny Valley. It's a fascinating, yet eerie part of our journey into the world of realistic CGI and digital humans.

Defining the Uncanny Valley

The term "Uncanny Valley" was first coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. He noticed that as robots became more human-like, people's reactions to them became increasingly positive. But suddenly, when the robots were almost indistinguishable from real humans, people's reactions turned negative. They found these ultra-realistic robots unsettling. This abrupt drop in likability is what Mori referred to as the Uncanny Valley.

Why Does the Uncanny Valley Happen?

Why do we find these almost-human CGI characters and robots so creepy? Scientists believe it might have something to do with our survival instincts. We're wired to recognize faces and read emotions. When something looks human but doesn't move or behave quite like a human, it sets off alarm bells in our brains.

The Uncanny Valley in Pop Culture

The Uncanny Valley isn't just a theory—it's a part of our pop culture. You can see it in movies, video games, and even theme park attractions. Anytime a digital human or robot seems almost real, but not quite, you're stepping into the Uncanny Valley.

So the next time you're watching a movie or playing a video game and find yourself feeling slightly uncomfortable, you'll know why. It's not just you—it's the Uncanny Valley!

Examples of the Uncanny Valley in CGI

Have you ever been watching a movie or playing a video game and found yourself taken aback by a character that seemed almost too real? Let's take a step further into the Uncanny Valley and uncover some of the most famous examples in CGI.

The Polar Express (2004)

Remember this Christmas classic? The Polar Express used motion-capture technology to create its characters. However, many viewers found the hyper-realistic characters unsettling. They looked human, but their movements and expressions were slightly off. This made them a textbook example of the Uncanny Valley phenomenon.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

This film was a pioneer in realistic CGI, and yet, it's often cited as a classic example of the Uncanny Valley. The characters' detailed appearances contrasted sharply with their less-than-natural movements, leading to a sense of unease among viewers.

Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Our journey into the Uncanny Valley isn't limited to movies. Grand Theft Auto V, one of the most popular video games in history, is also known for its ultra-realistic characters. But despite their lifelike appearances, something about their movements and expressions felt... off. Once again, we find ourselves stepping into the Uncanny Valley.

These examples help us understand the power and potential pitfalls of realistic CGI. When done well, it can create stunning, immersive experiences. But when it falls into the Uncanny Valley, it can leave audiences feeling uneasy.

Why the Uncanny Valley Matters?

So why does this odd phenomenon of the Uncanny Valley matter? Let's go through some of the reasons.

Viewer Discomfort

First off, as we've seen with examples like The Polar Express and Grand Theft Auto V, stepping into the Uncanny Valley can make audiences uncomfortable. This discomfort can distract from the narrative or gameplay, leading to a less enjoyable experience.

Trust and Empathy

Secondly, when characters fall into the Uncanny Valley, viewers may find it harder to trust or empathize with them. This can be a real problem in mediums like video games or films, where emotional connection is key.

Future of CGI

Finally, understanding the Uncanny Valley is crucial for the future of CGI. As technology continues to improve, creators are going to push for more and more realistic digital humans. But if they want to avoid the pitfalls of the Uncanny Valley, they'll need to understand it first.

In conclusion, stepping into the Uncanny Valley isn't just a fascinating quirk of human psychology. It's a crucial consideration for anyone working with realistic CGI and digital humans. So next time you're watching a film or playing a game, keep an eye out for the Uncanny Valley. You might be surprised by how often you notice it!

If you're fascinated by the world of CGI and want to dive deeper into the uncanny valley, don't miss the workshop 'Transform Yourself into a 3D Character' by Julia Salnikova. This workshop will guide you through the process of transforming yourself into a realistic 3D character, giving you a hands-on understanding of the techniques and challenges in the world of CGI.