Passing the Uncanny Valley?
koppie — Sun, 01/08/2012 - 10:43
I haven't seen the movie yet, so I can't vouch for its "hyper-realism." But even assuming that Tintin passes out of the Uncanny Valley - which I'm quite willing to believe - that doesn't mean that new vistas have suddenly opened for us. Artificial life that seems real is still a near-impossible task for pretty much everyone who tries. Just because a great director like Spielberg can pull it off, doesn't mean anyone else can. A lot of studios opt for an intentionally cartoony effect, like in How to Train Your Dragon, or (as the essay points out) they stick to non-humans, like the Na'avi or Gollum. Those don't bother us because they're not trying to be human. Or if they do bother us, the director can say it's intentional because the character is meant to be a little creepy or intimidating.
For that matter, I kind of feel like Tintin took the cartoony strategy too; I wouldn't for a minute believe that Captain Haddock is a real human being. If you get sucked into thinking of him as a real creature, it's in the same way that you start thinking of Fraggles as real; not because they look real, but because their presentation is so lifelike. That's called good storytelling and good puppeteering, but it's not hyper-realism.
My prediction: the uncanny valley is going to continue to bedevil artists in every medium for a long time to come, possibly forever. Even once the technology is good enough, a paintbrush is only as good as the artist who wields it. Otherwise you're just nuking a fridge.
As a footnote, Jason Kottke complains about a new element of computer animation: the Impossible Camera. I disagree with this complaint - I find the Impossible Camera to be one of the best elements of computer animation. Too many directors have trouble embracing new technology. Even the great Charlie Chaplin had trouble incorporating sound into his movies; he still insisted on using super titles for dialogue. Likewise, directors set up shots as if they're using a "real" camera - usually fixed, occaisionally you get a simple pan. But computer animation is a limitless technology, and it's well past time we started treating it as such. Great directors like Ron Howard recognized this as early as 1995; in the launch sequence of Apollo 13, the camera flies up the side of the rocket right before liftoff - a shot that would have been impossible even with a helicopter and a real Apollo launch tower. To his credit, Howard also knew when to use static shots, and even model miniatures, into one of the greatest scenes in all of cinema: