Apr 1, 2013

The Uncanny Valley is Here! Activision's real-time character demo is chillingly real. (Not an April 1st joke.)

Up with Activision in the Uncanny Valley

I first heard the term 'uncanny valley' about eight or nine years ago when I was taking a 3D-modeling class.  At that time, the technology available was not close to reaching this valley - where robots or computer-generated characters are so real that they are almost repulsive.

A lot has changed over the years.

The following video, recently featured by Activision Blizzard during the 2013 Game Developer Conference, has attracted much attention in just a few days, partly because it is so real.

Although I noticed that a little more work needs to be done with the teeth, I was impressed. I liked the quality of the eye shaders that were used in the creation of this demo.  Examples of faces created with this feature turned on and off can be found on Jorge Jimenez' blog.  Jorge's slides from a 2012 course offered during SIGGRAPH provide additional information.

Computer processers have become powerful enough to handle quite a lot of processing, and the tech world has been spreading the word. Below is a presentation by Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, about the company's work simulate the human face, touching on the 'uncanny valley':

Although the use of this technology to create characters, realistic on many levels, seems to be a bit creepy, it might be OK after some refinement.  There are a few questions that remain unanswered.   What would be the impact on children or teens who might spend many hours each week playing games with such realistic characters?  I'd hate to have a nightmare featuring one of these guys!

I think that this technology might have some potential for use in serious games and simulations, such as preparing emergency workers to handle a variety of realistic scenarios. Games with realistic digital characters, capable of generating a range of facial expressions, might be useful to support the learning of social interaction skills among young people with autism spectrum disorders.

Is It Real?  With New Technology Has Activision Crossed the 'Uncanny Valley'?
Eyder Peralta, the two-way, NPR, 3/28/13
Activision Reveals Animated Human That Looks So Real, It's Uncanny
Charlie White, Mashable, 3/28/13
Karl F. MacDorman's Writings (some focus on the uncanny valley)
Advances in Real-Time Rendering in Games Course (SIGGRAPH2012)
Separable Subsurface Scattering and Photorealistic Eyes Rendering (pptx)
Jorge Jimenez, Presenter, SIGGRAPH 2012)
Next Generation of Character Rendering Teaser (pptx)
Jimenez and Team
Crossing the 'uncanny valley': Nvidia's Faceworks renders realistic human faces
Dean Takahashi, VB/Gamesbeat, 3/18/13
Real-Time Realistic Skin Translucency
Jimenez, J., Whealan, D., Sundstedt, V., Gutierrez, D IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, 2010
Exploring the Uncanny Valley Research Website (Indiana University School of Informatics)
Gaze-based Interaction for Virtual Environments pdf
Jimenez, J., Gutierrez, D., Latorre, P.  Journal of Universal Computer Science
Mori, Masahiro (1970). Bukimi no tani [the uncanny valley] (K. F. MacDorman & T. Minato, Trans.). Energy, 7(4), 33-35. 
2013 GPU Technology Conference Keynote Presentations

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