Week 12

Disney’s Renaissance & the Rise of CGI

We will survey American traditional animation’s second “Golden Age” in the 1990s and how the rise of CGI changed the industry.

Jump to the different sections with the links below:

Disney’s Competition in the US | Disney’s Renaissance | Overview of Early CGI Technology | Pixar | Pixar’s competition | Disney & CGI | Live-Action or Animation?  | The “Uncanny Valley” | Assignment 

Disney’s Competition in the US

Walt Disney’s death in 1966 led to a period of creative and financial trouble for the company. Several changes in the leadership and the creation of Touchstone Pictures (meant to expand Disney’s appeal to more mature (PG) audiences – see below) resulted in less funding and cohesion in the animation department, and the departure of some of its biggest talents.

Don Bluth

Don Bluth (born 1937) started his career as an animator at Disney in the mid-1950s. One of his first jobs was working on “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). In 1979, disheartened by how Disney was run, he opened his own studio (taking nine fellow Disney animators with him). “The studio’s first feature-length film was “The Secret of NIMH” (1982) (see trailer (2 min) below). Bluth employed 160 animators during the production and agreed to the first profit sharing contract in the animation industry. Though only a moderate success in the box office, the movie received critical acclaim for its exquisite character animation reminiscent of Disney’s Golden Age. Later, with the home video release and cable showings, it became a cult classic. Nevertheless, due to the modest gross and an industry-wide animation strike, Don Bluth Productions filed for bankruptcy.

Bluth’s next venture was Arcade Games: Bluth Group’s Dragon’s Lair (1983) was very successful, but with the advent of home game stations, the arcade game market crashed and Bluth had to file for bankruptcy again in 1985.

“Dragon’s Lair” Arcade (replica of 1983 original)

Teaming up with producer Steven Spielberg, Bluth’s next project was “An American Tail” (1986), which at the time of its release became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film of all time, grossing $45 million in the United States and over $84 million worldwide. The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration “The Land Before Time” (1988) did even better in theaters and both found a successful life on home video. Bluth ended his working relationship with Spielberg before his next film, “All Dogs Go to Heaven” (1989).

After a string of critical and box office failures, Bluth scored a hit with “Anastasia” (1997), produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, which grossed nearly US$140 million worldwide. In a positive review of the movie, critic Roger Ebert observed that its creators “consciously include[d] the three key ingredients in the big Disney hits: action, romance, and music.” Anastasia established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor until 2019, when their 2D animation department closed along with many other studios’.” (from Wikipedia)

Touchstone Pictures

One of Disney Animation’s main competitor in the 1980s and 1990s was internal: Touchstone Pictures was created in 1983, by Disney CEO at the time Ron Miller, to produce and distribute more adult-oriented content. The public strongly identified the Disney brand with children, which made marketing content to young adults – a key demographics – difficult. The company had live-action hits (i.e: “Splash” (1984)), but also ventured into animation territory:

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) by Robert Zemeckis (executive-produced by Steven Spielberg), was a combination of live-action and animation. This technique was not novel in itself as we can find examples of it in early animation history (i.e: Fleischer Bros’ “Out of the Inkwell” series – see week 4), as well as in earlier Disney feature films (i.e: “Mary Poppins” (1964)), but it was use very successfully here. The film’s noir-themed, subversive tone, and zany animation directed by Richard Williams (1933-2019) – a legendary animator –  made the film a huge critical and box office hit. The film is also unique in its use of well known animated characters from different studios (i.e: Dumbo crosses path with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Betty Boop). The animation feels closer in rhythm and tone to a Tex Avery cartoon than classic Disney (see excerpt (3 min) below).

“Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas” (1993) (see trailer (1 min) below) was also released under the Touchstone label. While the film is based on Tim Burton’s (born 1958) story and design, the film was directed by Henry Selick (born 1952), one of stop-motion animation’s leading figures (some of his other successes include “James and the Giant Peach” (1996) and  “Coraline” (2009)). While Tim Burton had gotten his start as a Disney animator and concept artist in the early 1980s, he left the company after a few years and found great success, and a cult following (as denoted by the inclusion of his name in the the title of the film) with highly stylized live-action films (i.e: “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985), “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) etc.). “The Nightmare before Christmas'” dark and unique aesthetic, as well as the Danny Elfman score was extremely successful – especially with the youth market. It introduced stop-motion animation to a new generation, and showed that traditional cel-animation was not the only avenue for box office success.

Disney’s Renaissance

The revival of the Disney Animation brand can be linked to two key executive hires in 1984-85:

Before becoming Disney’s CEO (1984 – 2005), Michael Eisner (born 1942) had worked at all three of the major American TV networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC) (see week 10). During his tenure, The Walt Disney Studios grew from a small and insular theme-park operator and movie studio into the behemoth corporate entity we know it as today. While some of Disney’s greatest 2D animation box office hits were produced and released under Eisner’s leadership, he also ultimately was the one to decide to close the 2D studios in the late 1990s (believing that CGI was the way of the future for animated feature films) (see section below). This controversial decision led to his eventual ousting by shareholders.

Jeffrey Katzenberg (born 1950) held the position of chairman at the Walt Disney Studios from 1984 to 1994. He oversaw the worldwide production, marketing, and distribution of all of Disney’s tv, film, and web content. Katzenberg was particularly interested in the revival of Disney’s animation legacy, and placed an emphasis on strong storytelling. While he knew little about animation before his time at Disney, he immersed himself into the process to better understand it. While much of Disney’s success in the 1990s, starting with “The Little Mermaid” (1989) is often attributed to Katzenberg, he was also notorious for the amount of pressure he put on artists and filmmakers to meet deadlines and to meet box office expectations. Tensions between Katzenberg and Eisner eventually led to his departure in 1994, and his opening his own animation company: DreamWorks SKG (in partnership with Steven Spielberg – see section below) would become Disney’s strongest competitor in animation with traditional 2D films such as “The Prince of Egypt” (1998) by Brenda Chapman, Simon Wells, and Steve Hickner, claymation films created in partnership with the AArdman Animations in England (i.e: “Chicken Run” (2000) by Peter Lord and Nick Park), as well as with successful CGI franchises (see section below).

The Disney renaissance spans a ten-year period: 1989 – 1999. “The Little Mermaid” (1989) (see trailer (2 min) below) by Ron Clements and John Musker changed Eisner and Katzenbergs’s perception of animation and how it fit in the vision they had for the company. The film’s soundtrack by Howard Ashman (1950 – 1991) and Alan Menken (born 1949) was integral to the film’s critical and financial success. It garnered two Oscars and sold many copies. It heralded a format that, while an early Disney staple, hadn’t been explored since “Sleeping Beauty” (1959): A princess story structured around songs. The film was also the first to be released on VHS just a few months after its theatrical release. Until then, the company had released very few films for home entertainment, preferring to re-release their films in theaters every 7 years. “The Little Mermaid” became the biggest video seller of the year 1990, and Disney films would consistently be released on VHS six months after their theatrical debut thereafter.

“The Little Mermaid” was the first time the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) was used in a feature film (although only in a few sequences). “CAPS was a digital ink and paint system used in animated feature films, the first at a major studio, designed to replace the expensive process of transferring animated drawings to cels using India ink or xerographic technology, and painting the reverse sides of the cels with gouache paint. Using CAPS, enclosed areas and lines could be easily colored in the digital computer environment using an unlimited palette. Transparent shading, blended colors, and other sophisticated techniques could be extensively used that were not previously available.” (from Wikipedia

“Beauty & the Beast” (1991) by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise further solidified Disney’s return to animation excellence and financial success. It was the first animated feature film to be nominated for the best picture category at the Academy Awards. Once again, the music by the Howard/Ashman team played a huge role in the film’s success. Tragically Howard Ashman died of AIDS a few months before the film’s release. It was the first film to be turned into a Broadway musical (which would become another lucrative venture for the company). It was also the first animated feature film to combine 3D environments with classic 2D character animation in the ballroom dancing scene (see making of (3 min) below). (You can read more about the process of creating the sequence in this article: “25 Years Ago: The CG Secrets of the Ballroom Sequence in ‘Beauty and the Beast”” by Ian Failes)

But the biggest (and somewhat unexpected) blockbuster of the Disney Renaissance was “The Lion King” (1994) by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff with songs by Tim Rice and Elton John. The wildebeest stampede scene (see section starting at 14:40 min in making of video below) is the first to use computer-generated characters to allow for the multiplication and animation of hundreds of animals without having to individually animate them. The film quickly became one of the highest-grossing pictures in history and won many awards. None of the studios’ subsequent 2D animated feature films  (i.e: “Pocahontas” (1995), “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)) would be able to replicate this success.

Overview of Early CGI Technology

In the mid-1970s, several companies and start-ups started developing machines and software for the production of computer generated imagery (CGI) for film and video games. At first, directors were reluctant to embrace this new technology, partly because it required a steep learning curve and was cost-prohibitive. But the 1980s saw a new focus on blockbusters: heavily promoted, extremely lucrative projects, with a focus on spectacle and existing IP (intellectual property). Blockbusters’ larger budgets and focus on evermore extravagant visuals encouraged directors to explore the new possibilities of CGI.

“Tron” (1982) by Steven Lisberger (see trailer (3 min) below) was a turning point for the use of CGI in Hollywood. Disney financed and distributed the film. The film’s main character is a computer programmer who is sucked into a game – a perfect environment for the use of early computer graphics. “Tron” contains 235 scenes (~ 15 minutes) created with CGI technology (used alongside traditional special effects such as hand painted cel-mattes). The digital effects were mostly handled by Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. (MAGI) whose previous work in gaming had inspired Lisberger to develop the film in the first place. However, because CGI was so laborious at the time, Lisberger also had to contract other companies to supplement MAGI’s work. Because each of these new CGI companies were working with their proprietary tool, the integration of these disparate systems into a single final product incurred logistical and financial challenges. Despite being Disney’s highest-grossing live action film for 5 years, “Tron” was seen as a financial disappointment relative to its budget.

Eventually, the ubiquity and compatibility of systems increased and allowed CGI production costs to decrease, and for artists to easily move from one studio to another. CGI would become a staple of big blockbuster productions. Some of the most groundbreaking effects in 1990s blockbusters came from George Lucas’ (born 1944) company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a pioneer in digital effects since the 1970s. John Dykstra (born 1947) was one of the leading effects artists of that generation. At ILM, he was responsible for the effects on “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” (1977) by George Lucas, including a motion-control  process called “Dykstraflex” wherein a film camera is precisely controlled by a computer to allow for a wide range of movements (see short documentary (3 min) below). Dykstra eventually formed his own company, Apogee Film Effects, and created visual effects for films such as “Batman Forever” (1995) by Joel Schumacher and “Spiderman” (2002) by Sam Raimi

Other young filmmakers at the time such as Steven Spielberg (1946) and James Cameron (1954) quickly saw the narrative potential of digital effects and employed them in their film, generating some of the biggest critical and box office success of the 1990s. Cameron teamed up with Stan Winston (1946 – 2008) an effects director working at ILM at the time (and with whom he would eventually open a studio) to create the villain T-1000 in “Terminator 2 : Judgement Day” (1991). The character is a combination of traditional puppetry, animatronics, digital morphing and merging of 2D and 3D imagery.

A still from T2. “The frontal view of ‘splash head’ required a more detailed puppet that featured eye mechanisms working independently on either side of the T-1000’s split face. Pulley mechanisms pulled the sides of the head toward the middle to suggest the beginning of the healing effect, which was finished off with ILM’s computer graphics.”

ILM was also responsible for the digital renderings of dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” (1993) (again – a combination of animatronics, puppetry and CGI) (see short documentary below)


John Lasseter (born 1957) – the founder of Pixar – was trained as a 2D character animator (he graduated from CalArts in 1979) and worked at Disney on feature films such as “The Fox & the Hound” (1981). His encounter with early footage from “Tron” (see above) sparked his interest in CGI, and he became part of a group of Disney 2D animators who worked closely with MAGI to demonstrate the system’s potential. After losing his job at Disney (allegedly for failing to consult with his direct supervisors), Lasseter worked at LucasFilm as an animator on a series of short films that helped propel the studio as a world leader in the production of CGI feature films. When Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011) purchased the Graphics Group (a company owned by George Lucas which had developed important digital imagery technology) and renamed it Pixar in 1986, he hired Lasseter to develop a series of short animated, character-driven films for research – including “Luxo Jr.” (1986) (2 min) (see below).

The studio wisely stayed away from human characters and complicated textures in the work they presented to the public early on, but they continued to push their ability to render photorealistic imagery. They started licensing their proprietary CGI software, RenderMan, to other visual effects and animation companies in 1987. They were also involved in the development of CAPS (see section above) in partnership with Disney. Around the same time, they started moving towards feature film productions, developing new software for built-in articulation control and interpolation.

In 1991, Pixar signed a contract with Disney for distribution. Their first feature-film (also the first fully CGI feature film ever made), “Toy Story” (1995) by John Lasseter, was a critical and financial success. “Recruiting animators for Toy Story was brisk; the magnet for talent was not mediocre pay but the allure of taking part in the first computer-animated feature. Lasseter said of the challenges of computer animation, “We had to make things look more organic. Every leaf and blade of grass had to be created. We had to give the world a sense of history. So the doors are banged up, the floors have scuffs.” The film began with animated storyboards to guide the animators in developing the characters. 27 animators worked on the film, using 400 computer models to animate the characters. Each character was first either created out of clay or modeled from a computer-drawn diagram before reaching the computer-animated design. Once the animators had a model, its articulation and motion controls were coded; this allowed each character to move in a variety of ways, such as talking, walking, or jumping. Out of all the characters, Woody was the most complex, as he required 723 motion controls, including 212 for his face and 58 for his mouth. The first piece of animation, a 30-second test, was delivered to Disney in June 1992, when the company requested a sample of what the film would look like. Lasseter wanted to impress Disney with several things in the test that could not be done in traditional, hand-drawn animation, such as Woody’s yellow plaid shirt with red stripes, the reflections in Buzz’s helmet and the decals on his spacesuit, or Venetian blind shadows falling across Andy’s room. Every shot in the film passed through the hands of eight different teams. The art department gave each shot its color scheme and general lighting. Under Craig Good, the layout department then placed the models in the shot, framed it by setting the location of the virtual camera, and programmed any camera movement. To make the medium feel as familiar as possible, they sought to stay within the limits of what might be done in a live-action film with real cameras, dollies, tripods, and cranes. Headed by directing animators Rich Quade and Ash Brannon, each shot went from Layout to the animation department. Lasseter opted against Disney’s approach of assigning an animator to work on a character throughout a film, but made certain exceptions in scenes where he thought the acting was particularly critical. The animators used the Menu program to set each character in the desired pose. Once a sequence of hand-built poses (or “keyframes”) was created, the software built poses for the frames in-between. The animators studied videotapes of the actors as Lasseter rejected automatic lip-syncing. To sync the characters’ mouths and facial expressions to the actors’ recorded voices, animators spent a week per eight seconds of animation.” (from Wikipedia). The voice work of famous actors – Tom Hanks and Tim Allen – helped in making the characters feel familiar and full of personality, further counterbalancing the sleekness of the CGI. The “making of” video below offers a good overview of the process and technology used to create the film (especially section between 40-50  min).

The success of Pixar aligns with the end of the Disney renaissance, and probably contributed to it: Disney executives saw the underwhelming numbers of movies such as “Mulan” (1998) by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, and “Tarzan” (1999) by Chris Buck, and the success of “Toy Story” and Pixar’s subsequent film “A Bug’s Life” (1998) by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton as a sign that 3D was the future of animated feature films. Pixar had a long, uninterrupted series of critical and financial hits, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including “Toy Story 2” (1999) by John Lasseter, “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) by Pete Docter, “Finding Nemo” (2003) by Andrew Stanton, and “The Incredibles” (2004) by Brad Bird. They also produced short films to experiment with new technology and provide a training ground for new directors. In 2006, Pixar was acquired by Disney and John Lasseter became chief creative officer of both the Disney and Pixar studios.

It is interesting to note, that, while many Disney films center around a heroine, most of Pixar’s stories feature a male protagonist. “Brave” (2012) by Brenda Chapman (born 1962), was not only the first time that a Pixar film was built around a female character, but also the first instance of a female director at the studio. Chapman’s previous work included contributions to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “Beauty and the Beast”. She was also head of story on “The Lion King”. Pixar remains the leading 3D animation studio, releasing one feature film a year, as well as short film for theatrical release and streaming. The video below offers a striking overview of the evolution of Pixar’s CGI over the years:

Pixar’s competition

While Pixar has led the field of CGI animation, it is not without competitors. The success of “Toy Story” encouraged many studios to invest in 3D animation.

DreamWorks SKG(founded by Steven Spielberg and Jeffry Katzenberg in 1997), envisioned itself as a multi-faceted venture: it produced live-action, 2D and 3D animation, music, television, and video games. While it had some big successes, most departments eventually closed or were sold by 2016. The studio responsible for most of DreamWorks’ CGI animation was Pacific Data Images (PDI) which the company had acquired in 2000. PDI was a leader in the development of proprietary software for animated logos and televisions and had also created the morphing sequence for Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video (1991) (see week 10). DreamWorks/PDI’s first CGI film was “Antz” (1998) by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. It was put into rapid production to directly compete with “A Bug’s Life”, and was released a few months before it. Similarly to the Pixar film, insects’ sleek bodies were good characters for early CGI which couldn’t handle complex textures or hair very well. The ant colony at the center of the film, also provided opportunities for visually striking scenes using duplicates of ant models to animate thousands of insects (see excerpt – 2 min – below). The film also relied heavily on its star-studded voice acting, including Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez, and Sylvester Stallone. While “A Bug’s Life” was the bigger box office success, earning over $360 million to “Antz'” $170 million, the DreamWorks film was still considered a success and was followed by several other CGI films – all box office successes with sequels: “Shrek” (2001) by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, “Madagascar” (2005) by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, and “Kung Fu Panda” (2008) by John Wayne Stevenson and Mark Osborne.

“Shrek”was based on a children’s book by William Steig, and “was widely praised by critics for its animation, voice performances [by Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow], writing and humor, which critics noted simultaneously catered to both adults and children. The film grossed $484 million worldwide against a production budget of $60 million. Shrek won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.” (from Wikipedia).

Disney & CGI

Alongside its collaboration with – and eventual ownership of – Pixar, Disney started its own CGI efforts in the early 2000s. A subdivision of their effects department, the Secret Lab, created the animation for “Dinosaurs” (2000) by Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag, a combination of CGI characters and live-action backgrounds. The group was disbanded shortly after the film’s release and box-office failure. For a few years, Disney turned to Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic for its effects (Disney would eventually purchase ILM along with the rest of Lucasfilm in 2012 for more than four billion dollars). “Chicken Little” (2005) was the first fully CGI feature film released under the Disney Feature Animation brand, but it wouldn’t be until “Frozen” (2013) by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, that Disney would find real success in 3D animation. One of the film’s technical achievement is its treatment of snow (see short documentary (2 min) below).

While no subsequent film did as well at the box office as “Frozen” (except “Frozen II”), the company has continued to produce and release original CGI full feature films under the banner of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, including “Zootopia” (2016) by Byron Howard and Rich Moore , “Moana” (2016) by Ron Clements and John Musker, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (2018) by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, “Frozen II” (2019) by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and “Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021) by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada.

Live-Action or Animation?

Disney has also been making “live-action” versions of their classic 2D feature films. While most of these films feature “real” actors, much of what’s on the screen is designed and animated on a computer. While some of these productions take some liberties from the original film (i.e: “Dumbo” by Tim Burton (2019)), most of them are almost shot-by-shot recreations of the hand-drawn version (see comparison for “Beauty & the Beast” – 3 min – below). The term “live-action” is also controversial for a film like Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” (2019) which features (almost) no actual live-action footage (see behind the scene section in video below – starting at 3:55): “There’s so much confusion as to what the medium is,” Favreau says of the film, which was developed through Disney’s live-action division rather than Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Is it a hybrid? Even that is misleading. … The trick here was to make it feel like an entirely new medium. Even though we use animation techniques, we wanted it to appear live-action. And that required a lot of technical and technological innovation. On the most basic level, the film is indeed best described as animated, taking computer-animation tools that Favreau utilized on his 2016 remake of “The Jungle Book” — which, in turn, had built on what James Cameron had pioneered in “Avatar” — and extending them even further. While “The Jungle Book” had one real, flesh-and-blood onscreen performer — Neel Sethi, who played Mowgli — surrounded by digitally created animals and environments, everything you see in “The Lion King” is the product of digital artists painting with ones and zeroes, down to the finest blade of grass on the African savanna. (Favreau did sneak one real, non-CGI shot into the film “just to see if anybody would be able to pick it up.”)” (from ‘The Lion King’: Is it animated or live-action? It’s complicated” by Josh Rottenberg)


This conversation around the “blurring of the line” between live-action and animation could be extended to most big Hollywood productions today. “The rules for the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars deem that if animation figures in 75 percent of a film’s running time, it qualifies as feature animation. Without going frame by frame […] it’s difficult to say for sure if [current superheroes film] qualify based on the AMPAS regulations. What’s not difficult is seeing how little of the[se] film[s] were created on an actual set, as opposed to CG environments being created around live actors, who can only constitute so much of a given frame of a feature film. (…) [In 2017], there was an entire Oscar campaign that spoke to one angle of the live-action vs. animation debate. That was thanks to actor/filmmaker Andy Serkis, whose motion-capture performance as Caesar in the Planet of the Apes franchise had gotten enough (justified) critical praise that Fox tried to push him as a candidate for Best Actor. Though he didn’t get a nomination — he never got one as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films either — it’s an understandable push.” (from “Is It Time to Rethink the Line Between Animated and Live-Action Movies?” by Josh Spiegel). The video below (10 min) offers an overview of the CGI required for “Black Panther” (2018) by Ryan Coogler:

There have also been interesting experiments in creating 2D animation that looks like 3D. The best example of this so far, is probably “Klaus” (2019) by Sergio Pablos (a Disney alumni). The film was produced by his company, Sergio Pablos Animation Studios in Spain, and distributed by Netflix. “For the film’s look, the studio sought to overcome some of the technical limitations that traditional animation had, focusing on organic and volumetric lighting and texturing to give the film a unique look, while maintaining a hand-crafted feel. Proprietary tools from Les films du Poisson Rouge, a French company in Angoulême, were used to allow the team to produce a variety of visual development styles, with the aim of getting away from the standardized style of “characters looking like stickers put on painted backgrounds. Fellow Disney animator James Baxter, known for Beauty and the Beast, also worked on the film.” (from Wikipedia) The video below (7:30 min) delves deeper into the film’s aesthetic and technical approach:

The “Uncanny Valley”

Part of the reason why most blockbusters featuring human (or super-human) characters still feature live actors is the fear of the “Uncanny Valley”: “The uncanny valley is a concept first introduced in the 1970s by Masahiro Mori (born 1927), then a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Mori coined the term “uncanny valley” to describe his observation that as robots appear more humanlike, they become more appealing—but only up to a certain point. Upon reaching the uncanny valley, our affinity descends into a feeling of strangeness, a sense of unease, and a tendency to be scared or freaked out. So the uncanny valley can be defined as people’s negative reaction to certain lifelike robots.

The uncanny valley graph created by Masahiro Mori: As a robot’s human likeness [horizontal axis] increases, our affinity towards the robot [vertical axis] increases too, but only up to a certain point. For some lifelike robots, our response to them plunges, and they appear repulsive or creepy.
In his seminal essay for Japanese journal Energy, Mori wrote: “I have noticed that, in climbing toward the goal of making robots appear human, our affinity for them increases until we come to a valley, which I call the uncanny valley.” Later in the essay, Mori describes the uncanny valley by using an example—the first prosthetic hands: “One might say that the prosthetic hand has achieved a degree of resemblance to the human form, perhaps on a par with false teeth. However, when we realize the hand, which at first site looked real, is in fact artificial, we experience an eerie sensation. For example, we could be startled during a handshake by its limp boneless grip together with its texture and coldness. When this happens, we lose our sense of affinity, and the hand becomes uncanny.” (from “What Is the Uncanny Valley?” by Rina Diane Caballar).

The failure of movies such as “Final Fantasy” (2001) by Hironobu Sakaguchi, and “The Polar Express” (2004) by Robert Zemeckis, has largely been attributed to the “uncanniness” of the main characters. The creation of photo realist humans generated via CGI remains daunting for the movie industry. The video below (2 min) offers more examples of instances of the “Uncanny Valley”:

ASSIGNMENT: Long Paper Draft + Journal entry (optional)

  • Please review the long paper guideline and grading rubric here and submit a draft on Blackboard by next week. The final version is due on week 15.
  • Respond to your professor’s journal entry prompt (examples can be found on this page)