The Uncanny Valley

why you feel a little weird when you see the those characters in The Polar Express(2005), the film took the most advanced techniques to animate human’s facial expression, but you  still feel uncomfortable? May be it can be explained by the theory of “uncanny”.

 Uncanny, is the feeling when we see this kind of things. As we all know, this kind of images usually appear in some thriller, or even some science fiction films. Uncanny is a word translated from the German word “unheimich”, which is proposed by German psychologist, Ernst Jentch.

Uncanny is a special kind of fear. The most famous theory about uncanny is “uncanny valley”. In 1970, Masahiro Mori, a Japanese professor wrote an article called ‘The Uncanny Valley’ which made this theory famous all over the world. Mori predicted that, as robots become more and more human-looking, they also become more and more likeable to the humans, but only up to a point. When androids (a robot that looks like a human being ) are nearly indistinguishable from humans, a very sudden drop in their likability will occur.

The study of uncanny can not only explain our feelings, but also have far-reaching implications for robotics, animation technology and the making of TV and films. During the process of pursuing realistic effects in film making, this theory can be a direction to reach desired purpose.

For example :

The robot named in the E·wall (2008) is very likeable because it is at the low point of uncanny valley and can be distinguished from human easily.


Androids like Andrew in Bicentennial Man(1999) and Baymax in Big Hero 6(2015) are more popular.


However they are a little creepy when they like this, for example in Artificial Intelligence(2001), the same as The Polar Express.


References :

David Livingstone Smith,A theory of creepiness,2016

Ernst Jentsch,On the Psychology of the Uncanny,1906

Masahiro Mori, Bukimi No Tani Genshō, 1970

Sigmund Frued, “The Uncanny”,1919


written by YIHAN XU

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