Want to Beat the Uncanny Valley? Make Better Eyes

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Want to Beat the Uncanny Valley? Make Better Eyes

The secret to making artificial humans that don't creep us meatbags out is in the eyes.

Games have come a long way visually since the days of Pong, but even graphical masterworks like Heavy Rain and Gran Turismo 5 are still obviously artificial. We can't create realistic characters without them being smack-dab in the middle of the Uncanny Valley yet - and a psychological study says that this has everything to do with the eyes.

"There's something fundamentally important about seeing a face and knowing that the lights are on and someone is home," says Dartmouth College's Thalia Wheatley, who co-wrote the study published in Psychological Science with a graduate student, Christine Looser. Whereas humans are inclined to see possible faces everywhere, we recognize that they aren't alive.

The two wanted to determine where exactly the boundary lay between genuine and artificial. To do so, they took a picture of the face of a doll (or a statue), found a similar-looking human, and created a video where one slowly morphed into the other.

When looking at still frames and determining which were human and which were dolls, respondents began to judge the images as "human" about two-thirds of the way through the transformation (that is, closer to the human side of things). A similar experiment found that the defining attribute that caused subjects to view images as lifelike was the eyes - if the eyes didn't look real, the image didn't look real.

It's certainly true when it comes to gaming; how many times have you been otherwise been taken in by a game's graphics only to be jerked out of it thanks to a dull, glassy gaze? Or, in the case of Heavy Rain, Pennsylvanians having vaguely French accents?

(PhysOrg via Kotaku)

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I have a idea, now that we've got awesomely awesome face(And everything else besides the eyes) graphics. Let's just have all the in-game characters be wearing sunglasses. Even indoors.

Sunglasses, and bowties.

This, I feel, is the problem with L.A. Noire. The facial movements are absolutely perfect, but there is something about the eyes that just puts me off. They seem alien and something from an insect.

Well, it seems this was only obvious to Bioware.

"GO FOR THE EYES, BOO! GO FOR THE EYES!"

Or the more futuristic.

"GO FOR THE OPTICS, CHITIKKA! GO FOR THE OPTICS!"

Bioware hates the uncanny valley, apparently. :D

But yes, the wrong eyes make shit creepy.

Seriously. Was I the only one who was creeped out by Batman's eyes in the newest Arkham City trailer? I didn't bother to look at the thread for the news post about that trailer, so you guys need to pick up my slack.

OctalLord:
I have a idea, now that we've got awesomely awesome face(And everything else besides the eyes) graphics. Let's just have all the in-game characters be wearing sunglasses. Even indoors.

Sunglasses, and bowties.

Sun glasses actually work too. :/ Have you seen that Deus Ex trailer?

feather240:

OctalLord:
I have a idea, now that we've got awesomely awesome face(And everything else besides the eyes) graphics. Let's just have all the in-game characters be wearing sunglasses. Even indoors.

Sunglasses, and bowties.

Sun glasses actually work too. :/ Have you seen that Deus Ex trailer?

Nah, I figure I shouldn't bother since I don't enjoy PC games nowadays.

I wouldn't use Heavy Rain as a touchstone - the character models are hideous.

Crysis and HL2 remain the best I've seen, and that includes what we've seen of LA Noire so far.

OctalLord:

feather240:

OctalLord:
I have a idea, now that we've got awesomely awesome face(And everything else besides the eyes) graphics. Let's just have all the in-game characters be wearing sunglasses. Even indoors.

Sunglasses, and bowties.

Sun glasses actually work too. :/ Have you seen that Deus Ex trailer?

Nah, I figure I shouldn't bother since I don't enjoy PC games nowadays.

It's coming out on consoles too.

What are you talking about, we've past the uncanny valley a while ago.

Well ofcourse it's the eyes, but here's the real question: Why would we want an ultra realistic human CG face?

If I watch CGI in either a movie or videogame, I want it to look charismatic and well designed, not indistinguishable from reality. I'm not a fan of Avatar, but the reason the Navi faces worked was because it wasn't an excact human face.

It's nice to strive for realism, but lets not forget that it's the visual design of graphics/special effects that stand the test of time, not the realism.

Jabberwock xeno:
What are you talking about, we've past the uncanny valley a while ago.

Actually, it seems like there are two valleys. One where the faces start getting close to being realistic, the one we've passed, and another where they get close to being completely realistic, which is where we're about to get to.

I have mixed opinions on the subject.

Something people who complain about the "uncanny valley" tend to miss is that we've already gotten to the point of being able to make everyone look totally human, that is done by simply digitizing actual actors and having them play the roles. There was a whole period of game development, around the time when CD Rom was becoming the new standard, when this technique was being used constantly. Games like the ancient "Prophecy Of The Shadow" or "Gabriel Knight 2" not to mention the two "Phantasmagoria" games are examples of this, along with far lesser known titles like "Daedalus Encounter" which starred Tia Carerra.

Things moved towards the current "uncanny valley" state because to be honest things being "real" doesn't really work with fantasy when you want things to be bigger than life. Today instead they build a "doll" around a real actor and clean them up to look a lot better and cleaner than they ever would in real life. You see models based on real actors (like a certain Cheerleader from "Heroes" being used for a major character in the first "Assasin's Creed" game), rather than simply having the actor perform all the same motions as part of a script and use the actual video footage. We could do a lot more with it today than we did over a decade ago when such things were common.

See, the problem is that the people who make these complaints are (by the numbers) relatively recent arrivals to gaming due to it's mainstreaming. Having some guy who looks like he stepped out of a Renfaire in a game as a backround character doesn't really work all that well, and is actually more obnoxious and less immersive... and those people look good compared to what an actual medieval peasant or whatever would look like. By the same token it's noteworthy that stage props and costumes from TV shows frequently aren't quite what we think. Typically when you watch movie or TV your paying attention to the action, and most scenes are only a few minutes along when you get down to it (with things transitioning). A lot of those costumes don't stand up to close inspection, even on screen, it's just that nobody really decides to freeze your typical movie and then go over a costume with a fine toothed comb. With a video game, especially in an RPG or something where you have the characters standing around, players are going to look closely at the characters and this is going to make the flaws in even the best stage costuming readily apparent. It's sort of like how when you visit a props museum or the movie and TV section of someplace like "The Smithsonian" and look at the actual costumes and props used for well known movies and TV shows, it's kind of disconcerting to realize that your reproduction of a Star Fleet uniform or phasor, or whatever actually looks BETTER and is more detailed than the real props actually used in the show, being a much higher quality item in most cases.

The point here is that I think what we're leaning towards is a sort of "hyper reality" as opposed to reality, making everything better than it would really be. I'm sure the technology will continue to advance, but truthfully I think things are always going to be off in games due to them being better than life so to speak. When it comes to more emotive faces and eyes and the like, well I'll be honest in saying that for most of the games where it's complainted about it seems like a minor problem. Truthfully the problem is budget related, models that have a massive amount of facial expression are possible, as companies like Dreamworks demonstrate (and Jim Henson's Creature Shop has demonstrated with puppets) but they also cost a ton of money to do well. Sure they could create raiders and shopkeepers for a game like "Fallout" that has 10,000 points of facial articulation right down to the trivial wrinklings of the face, and and angular sparkle of the eyes, but in the end most people aren't going to appreciate it enough to say want to pay $500 for a game just for that. Perhaps when tech becomes more advanced... truthfully though I believe it's ALWAYS going to remain artificial seeming though because "real" doesn't work, especially when it comes to fantasy people want better than real.

It is not the eyes themselves, but their motion that is the problem (or rather the lack thereof). Human eyes perform minute movements, barely noticeable (actually not noticeable at all consciously) that our subconscious detects(microsaccades)..it is part of why we can see with our eyes at all, since we only have high resolution in a very small spot (macula)...as far as I know nobody has ever attempted to recreate those...and it might be very difficult (if not impossible), since modern animation relies on keyframes, but these motions are (magnitudes) faster than framerates...

Woodsey:
I wouldn't use Heavy Rain as a touchstone - the character models are hideous.

I didn't think so. The part that was jarring was actually the clothing. When the female character disrobes during her opening sequence, her shirt (which appears to be a light cotton affair) seems to rigid and weighty. Later, during the sex sequence she takes off her bra and it appears to be constructed out of something entirely unlike the usual textiles reserved for the purpose. It honestly appears that she is wearing Kevlar clothing.

Piflik:
It is not the eyes themselves, but their motion that is the problem (or rather the lack thereof). Human eyes perform minute movements, barely noticeable (actually not noticeable at all consciously) that our subconscious detects(microsaccades)..it is part of why we can see with our eyes at all, since we only have high resolution in a very small spot (macula)...as far as I know nobody has ever attempted to recreate those...and it might be very difficult (if not impossible), since modern animation relies on keyframes, but these motions are (magnitudes) faster than framerates...

This. The problem manifests itself particularly in terms of mouth movement when a character is talking. I have never seen a mouth that doesn't look weird.

even that isn't true anymore. Check out Cracked.com's article about people that claim to have gotten beyond the Uncanny Valley. In fact, one of them totally pulled it off. It was Emily, the CGI girl who talks about the CGI project. The flaw was in her mouth, and even then she just looked like a real odd looking girl, but a real person nonetheless.

And yet again it takes a bunch of scientists a lot of work for people to realize something which should have been common sense.

Yeah, a lot does depend on the eyes. Just look at Uncharted 2, everything looked great except those...ugh..things.

Eclectic Dreck:

Woodsey:
I wouldn't use Heavy Rain as a touchstone - the character models are hideous.

I didn't think so. The part that was jarring was actually the clothing. When the female character disrobes during her opening sequence, her shirt (which appears to be a light cotton affair) seems to rigid and weighty. Later, during the sex sequence she takes off her bra and it appears to be constructed out of something entirely unlike the usual textiles reserved for the purpose. It honestly appears that she is wearing Kevlar clothing.

I just find it a combination of everything: the clothes, the hair, the skin textures, and especially the eyes.

I find Crysis especially works because the skin looks like skin, and the eyes aren't totally dead.

Eyes and skin.

I agree that the eyes are very important, but watch a Pixar movie and take a moment to realise why they look ever so slightly off. It's because the humans don't have very realistic skin. There's no pores, no minute hair detailing, no sweat, no sheen, no glow, no random splotches of blood or white patches where the skin is stretched tight.

Human skin in animation should be the next big hurdle because I think it might be a little more achievable than eyes. Right now most humans look like waxworks in animation, ever so slightly plastic instead of real.

I honestly think that a bigger problem right now than characters that don't look realistic is characters that don't move or behave realistically. Stiff, robotic movements seem to be the norm. For a good example, look at the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. If the movement had been better, it could have worked, visually, but the stiltedness of the animation ruined the whole thing.

P.S. Thanks

The problem with eyes is that the reason that most characters have large or glassy eyes is because they are far easier to animate.

I hate it in some games where the eyes are NOT LOOKING AT ME.
Especially when they don't have eye issues as a character or anything.

I also hate it when the animation is jerky and the faces are still, like they've been botoxed to hell.
Example? Well, I was just watching the new Unskippable and that James Bond game looks like its FULL of what I'm talking about.

mazzjammin22:
This, I feel, is the problem with L.A. Noire. The facial movements are absolutely perfect, but there is something about the eyes that just puts me off. They seem alien and something from an insect.

Yeah, the expressions just feel......off. Almost creepy in a way. I don't know whether its the eyes or the fact that it looks like a face was copy and pasted onto a 3D model

mazzjammin22:
This, I feel, is the problem with L.A. Noire. The facial movements are absolutely perfect, but there is something about the eyes that just puts me off. They seem alien and something from an insect.

Amen, the motioncap is impressive but something strikes me as odd/jarring. Either way, interested as always. I have to agree with the majority, about 2/3 through it becomes 'human' again for me.

mazzjammin22:
This, I feel, is the problem with L.A. Noire. The facial movements are absolutely perfect, but there is something about the eyes that just puts me off. They seem alien and something from an insect.

It's the lack of any reflective shaders on it. It's just the same material as the skin. I think they really need to do something about that but I doubt their technology allows them too (by the looks of it its basically a video of their faces overlaid on a mesh that's animating based on motion capture).

Heavy rains animations were awful, seriously they were among the worse I've ever seen.
Most games have very little, so you don't notice it. But heavy rain tried, and failed. It was so noticeable at times I found myself laughing at some of the "super serious" situations.

You heard that, squeenix?

John Funk:
Or, in the case of Heavy Rain, Pennsylvanians having vaguely French accents?

Yeah, at points it felt like the game was turning into an episode of Allo Allo.

Got the same vibe with Wolfenstein though.

A Pious Cultist:

mazzjammin22:
This, I feel, is the problem with L.A. Noire. The facial movements are absolutely perfect, but there is something about the eyes that just puts me off. They seem alien and something from an insect.

It's the lack of any reflective shaders on it. It's just the same material as the skin. I think they really need to do something about that but I doubt their technology allows them too (by the looks of it its basically a video of their faces overlaid on a mesh that's animating based on motion capture).

It's not just their reflectivity: another problem is that nobody can seem to animate the eyes properly. You know how we can tell if a human eye's focused, the way said focus naturally flits about? Yeah, they need to get that fixed too.

Teddy Roosevelt:
even that isn't true anymore. Check out Cracked.com's article about people that claim to have gotten beyond the Uncanny Valley. In fact, one of them totally pulled it off. It was Emily, the CGI girl who talks about the CGI project. The flaw was in her mouth, and even then she just looked like a real odd looking girl, but a real person nonetheless.

Actually, Emily's mouth was following the actress' own lip movements. The only problem is that she wasn't rendered in high resolution. The distance between her eyes, nose and mouth were shifting ever so slightly, giving away that Image Metrics' motion capture system isn't perfect.

I know how you can avoid the uncanny valley.

Don't tread near it in the first place.

Video games aren't supposed to be photorealistic. The level of realism we have now is more than sufficient. It's time to go back to what makes games good. That is, writing, storyline, gameplay, fun, things like that.

The eyes? I've got two words for you:

Bethesda. Softworks.

Think of three of the most uncanny-valley-tastic games of the last five years. Oblivion, Fallout 3, and New Vegas (developed on that same Bethesda engine by Obsidian). The environments are beautiful (well, "beautiful" is a bit of a relative term in Fallout, but...) The monster/enemy design is spectacular. The NPCs who talk to you? The only thing Bethesda's worse at is ladders.

Ugh, whenever I think Uncanny Valley I think Fallout 3, and then I think about Clash of the Titans.

The eyes are one of the things where CCP outdid themselves with their new character creator (or rather altogether new characters).

Not only do they look like being made of the right material and have great lighting, but they twitch around ever so slightly - just like the real thing.

It's only on the test servers for now, but there are plenty of HD vids out there. Scheduled to go live January-ish.

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