AuthorTopic: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art  (Read 12323 times)

Offline Cyangmou

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Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

on: April 06, 2014, 12:05:52 pm
The deeper I get into realism and the observation of humans the more and more I ask myself how the concepts of the „uncanny valley“ and the concept of „cuteness“ apply to pixel art and in which ways they efectively affect the styles and the outcome of our pixel art.

By the limits pixel art gives us as a medium, we are also limited on what we achieve.
There are limits we an overcome, like skill problems, then there are problems we can't overcome (restrictions in terms of colors, size, animation frames) and then there are some elegant „solutions“ how to imply something in a problem we can't overcome, that it makes sense to us and feels at least ok.

I definitely think those problems heavily define the way how our pixel art looks and how it's crafted.
Some people say pixel art realism is nearly an impossible thing to achieve and indeed it's hard. Especially since we have to fight the problems of the uncanny valley with big sharp dots.


There is a lot to observe if we get really deep into those things and a lot to say, but to give a short kick-off those videos are a good source to get a basic understanding and maybe to start a discussion on the subjects:

Uncanny Valley:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNdAIPoh8a4

Cuteness:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ji0bvwXAvI


some further thoughts for the interested ones and some theories/explanations and ideas:

Another thing which hit my mind is, that „cuteness“ might be quite a modern approach to things, especially inspired by Japanese culture. At least I don't know of any artwork before the second worldwar which just relly clearly emphasizes the baby schemata as much as modern media like videogames and anime do where some productions just build on the „daaaaaaw-factor“.

I don't want to discuss how wars affect the society and how the Second Worldwar affected Japanese people, that's just a side-note.
However, a lot of the pixel-art defining games were made in Japan (not only, and there is other stuff as well, but it's kinda a majority) and a lot of those used the „chibi“ approach which just emphasizes cuteness.

The big point for me is that this cuteness also seems to heavily correlate to a non-scene audience and a lot of people who start out with pixel art just copying those „established styles“ they know of the roots of popular and successful game series.

The chibi approach definitely has some advantages like:
it's easy to craft something decent, it's effective, it's established, nice readable on lower resolutions and so on,     
makes it attractive to a lot of people

Some of those people try to add more detail to those things, but by adding just a tad more realism and structure to the „chibi art“ we face the „muscle-baby“ problem, Helm brought up 6 years ago
http://wayofthepixel.net/index.php?topic=7301.msg85004#msg8500k4

And there are also quite a lot of other notable distortions which make it look „creepy“, which I also think is directly related to the problem of the uncanny valley.

I really wonder why realism has such a strong impact on us.
A lot of people love realism, triple-A studios love realism and hardware designers love realism too. And I am also loving realism (although I also appreciate other approaches to art and I am not sure why I exactly love it).
Nintendo gives a shit about realism and focus on their style (basically they throw out tons of principles) and some of their 2D games really look timeless and now better as their concurrence back then (which are now mainly perceived as „cheap“  looking 3D realistic styled games).

Zelda Wind Waker (2002)


Burnout 3 (2003)


But now there is the „Sword&Sworcery-approach" to pixel art as well, which features „spagetthi people“ and a much higher amount of realism as chibi-art does.
This style creates empathy through completely different tools and also is an attractive direction to go.





And it seems to get another „established“ style directions, as a lot of indie games are using it by now, popular examples are Irkalla or Terra Incognita.

Terra Incognita:
http://www.curious-expedition.com/

Irkalla:
http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=35320.0


And this style seems to be equally effective as the early featured chibi style and this might be why it finds so much audience, since it really enriches the pool of what one can easily achieve with pixel art.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 12:20:09 pm by Cyangmou »
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Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #1 on: April 06, 2014, 03:28:09 pm
Reminds me of the differences between Western and Asian recognition of facial expression, where we place more importance on the mouth region, whereas they more into eye/brow region.

Something I noticed about the Sword&Sorcery style is how it creates more distance to the character, as if to allow it privacy. This concession makes it more real and genuine to our Western taste, than showing up close what often looks pretentious in its stylized expression. Also words like mysterious and melancholic come to mind. And it tickles the imagination of the viewer about the emotion, with a freedom of interpretation. By minimizing the face further from what would have been too simplified for subtlety still, it doesn't get in the way of telling by other means, similar to leading the eye, leading the mind. And we may notice more, the world itself has character, things a soul, the scene says. A more practical and immediate advantage is that of animation; these graphics usually impress most through their fluid and complex movement, of which they have a great many, to draw their life from, realistically achievable in the gritty reality of development. The greater range of gesture with the bigger limbs may outweigh in expression what you can do with that bigger chibi-face,

Though these strengths be mentioned without absolute preference. Depends on overall goal and design of project.

« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 04:45:08 pm by RAV »

Offline ErekT

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #2 on: April 06, 2014, 09:08:40 pm
I can't remember a time ever when I saw pixel art that tipped over into uncanny. But that goes for all hand-drawn or painted stuff I've seen. Don't think it's an issue at all for pixel art really. The reason 3D graphics suffer from it is because the computer does half the drawing for you. It's in a sense mechanical. Movement is mechanical (frame-tweening) and surface rendering is mechanical, with all its complex algorithms to simulate surface shading. It's the same reason those robot thingies look freaky while a stone sculpture doesn't imo.

Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #3 on: April 06, 2014, 09:49:34 pm
The uncanny valley occurs mostly when the model looks close to real, but the animation looks unnatural in a subtle way. And this is very much the reason you don't see this in classic pixel art:
It's almost too much work already to pixel a static character portrait in all its uber realistic detail... but who then animates that shit? The problem is not so bad if it's not realistic animation.
By frame, that is. Of course the newer fancy assisted-animation methods, like tweening, actually can introduce this problem, since they allow for detailed base material to animate with (warp/stretch)
But since most of that content is rather stylized comic/manga fantasy stuff, it doesn't occur often there either.
It helps too, to be selective in what of it to animate, close-up human face animation is most prone to the problem.


« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 10:07:16 pm by RAV »

Offline Cyangmou

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #4 on: April 06, 2014, 10:33:31 pm
I don't think that the uncanny valley actually only appears in animated stuff. Or at least, I refer to the "uncanny valley" more as "feels odd".
Of course it's really really subtle for realistic stuff, the fact is that it's there.
It's also there in lots of paintings, lots of other art. Maybe not the "uncanny valley" as it is shown with robotics, but the "odd feeling" definitely arises
 
I suppose we have the same problem there as if we are asking a person without understanding of art what looks off in a somewhat decent piece, and the person says "umm it looks odd, but i dunno why", but artists with an understanding actually can put the problems in words.
Means if we aren't well enough trained to see what's off, it's impossible for us to point at it.

If we suppose that every style is just a simplification of realism were we leave out details and squash and stretch proportions and alter colors with a fixed scheme, it would definitely be interesting to know how the odd feeling comes up.

Muscle babies are definitely uncanny. There are some other areas what also looks uncanny, but mostly it's related to characters.

Fact is that it just appears in relation to characters, we feel an empathy for.
I suppose that's because our perception is from nature just really well trained to see the slightest nuances of facial expressions.
Means if a tree or a stone actually don't looks like a tree or a stone should look, we won't recognize it, since we don't have an emphaty for stuff like this.

But actually the problem of "uncanny" or "ugly" also can be related to some TV-shows. I actually know some people who say the Simpsons are butt-ugly. On the other hand I know people who dislike to look at overly cute anime stuff. I think the same principle of empathy there takes place in the "design of a style".

And well, I suppose the "uncanny valley" (robotics wise) addresses the core problem very directly and effectively why we like or dislike styles.
It's just an assumption on my end, though.

So yeah, I agree with all of your first post RAV.

@ErekT: stone sculptures can look creepy too. I think it's the same as with bad painted portraits. You see that something is off. You know that's a painting, and you see that it's a painting, but the feeling actually should be about the same as with the robots (it's just not that strong).
"Because the beauty of the human body is that it hasn't a single muscle which doesn't serve its purpose; that there's not a line wasted; that every detail of it fits one idea, the idea of a man and the life of a man."

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Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #5 on: April 06, 2014, 10:51:36 pm
I know uncanny valley as a specific kind of creepy stuff, "real" people that move like puppets, or remind us that in the end we're just flesh puppets. But, hrrm, yeah, fuck definition hick hack, I know what you mean, and that creepy stuff is a larger problem worth talking about in any variation, we might as well just call it all uncanny valley, the term makes sense in more than one way.

I do remember some "realistic" pixel portraits, especially those trying to stick close to photo reference, that looked unintentionally odd or creepy.
If they weren't traced they had many little anatomical problems, and if they were, it was something about the translated colour / shading.

One thing I heard is, that if you make something that's close to what people have seen a lot in real life, it's especially bad if it's off from that. For this reason, modeling/animating fantastical stuff like an Orc face, or a Dragon walk, you can get away with a lot more of "sloppy mistakes", that's basically you guessing how it would work, since no one knows how else it had to be.

So it makes me wonder if seeing the photo references to those pixel portraits actually worsened the uncanny effect.



« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 11:19:30 pm by RAV »

Offline Mr. Fahrenheit

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #6 on: April 06, 2014, 11:19:55 pm
I'm wondering if andylittle's portrait of Woody Harrelson sparked this topic? It definitely gives me the heebie jeebies. When I look at it more closely the things I notice that look off to me are the sharpness of the wrinkles in his forehead, the lack of any real shadow on his head from the hat, the slight out of perspective look to the hat, the "stringy" method of shading the artist uses, and then the lack of a real overall shape to his face.

I'd say its a good example of a pixel portrait that is in the uncanny valley.

Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #7 on: April 06, 2014, 11:36:05 pm
But you know what else is interesting to discuss? Not only how to avoid it, but nasty ways of intentionally instrumentalizing it, for horror stuff.

Maybe a greek stone statue is not uncanny for everyone, but once you've seen a horror movie have one turn head and look at you, you're fucked up for life whenever you see one.

So it goes both ways, I guess: real life makes "wrong" art uncanny, but art can make life uncanny / "just wrong", or other art.

And what about clowns...


« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 11:41:03 pm by RAV »

Offline Cyangmou

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #8 on: April 06, 2014, 11:43:19 pm
yeah definition hickhack is shit. And yes, the uncanny valley definitely is a very specific term. However I dunno if there is a term for "feels odd" so it seemed that uncanny valley is the closest one.

Actually I think portraits are the easiest thing to point out several things which might be off.
However there are some other things I'd love to talk about later on, if we get an actual discussion going.

And of course, the effec tis strongest for what we see. Drawing hands and heads actually is so hard, because we see them a really long time every day. Cars are for example also really hard to draw and yeah, I think it's connected.

@Mr.F
No andylittles portrait might fall a lot into it, however I wanted to start the topic earlier.
I actually wanted to talk more about game styles than about "portraits" (that's why the cuteness factor is equally important for the topic), and portraits are a good way to find out why stuff don't works. I looked into them a lot lately, but I dunno how much knowledge and interest for tha topic is here.  but maybe by pointing out stuff in portraits and making things clear we can also try to draw parallels to game stuff later on.

You are right that portrait like a lot of others would be a good subject, however I don't even know if we may use it as subject for an art discussion.

@RAV
indeed, using the effect intentionally for a certain purpose is of course also a possibility. Horror, which I am a big fan of does it a lot and very effectively too.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 11:55:17 pm by Cyangmou »
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Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #9 on: April 06, 2014, 11:49:14 pm
It's so funny you mention cars. I was just about to say, that I've seen even objects like cars that felt uncanny the same way, so it's not just living things.

Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #10 on: April 07, 2014, 12:42:46 am
Hrrm, well, another thing on my mind related to that is how uncanny pro Body Builders look. Or anorexic girls / fashion models. Also punks that do body modification, or native tribes.
It's real life examples, and they are "intentional" designs, but they make their very selves art, and a lot of it based on what appears a sick aesthetic to normal people.
Like with those muscle baby dolls you mentioned earlier, when those aesthetics are translated to game assets it's uncanny.
But depending on who's to watch, some uncanny stuff has some mainstream acception,
or we learned to accept "realistic" exaggerations in media we'd not in real life.

As for a specific games, Dragon's Crown is so exaggerated in character proportions, I can't tell if I am aroused or creeped out
-- but this weird mix of feelings makes it kinda fascinating to look at, similar to what's called morbid fascination.
you stare at it, and you're not sure if it's wrong or right; is it uncanny but cool, you can't quite put your finger on it, but you like it... maybe?
At least it's "something else", that makes it interesting and fun? For some that might justify it / derive appreciation from anyway?

We're celebrating a lot of nasty things and weird tastes in real life and media, which makes this a complicated issue, depending who you're talking to.
As an extension beyond graphic art, story character behaviour and opinion can be just as uncanny the same way.

But it gets a bit broad and complicated now. Still maybe something to consider.



And think what clothes characters often are dressed in games, and their poses, it's absurd and obscene, visually and functionally, we take it as normal in situations that we wouldn't accept in real life.

And that bug-eyed anime stuff, or animal fantasy. Then there's even the very purpose of the game mechanic, what it makes you do. Like sometimes I find the grossly explicit brutality in FPS these days uncanny the same, all those super detailed, neck snapping, bone crushing, knife thrusting, finishing moves. Not sure if this qualifies any ontopic still, but...

Anyway. that's not to say I'm the kind of person who wants the media to show things a certain way, or make it all responsible with moral burdens.
I think people watch fantasy for decidedly extraordinary stuff, tantalizing excitement, the excessive extremes, secret pleasures, impossible contradictions, fun drama, outrageous oddity ...
not a means of informing about what's normal, but an escape from that boring banality, we want entertainment. And then there's your very own signature here. =p

Uhh, abused the thread for some drunk rambling tonight, gn8.

« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 04:59:21 pm by RAV »

Offline Pix3M

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #11 on: April 07, 2014, 03:00:44 am
One thing I wanted to bring up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8uqcGw3eYE

I find this Cicero character to be rather uncanny because his highly flamboyant character does not match his motions which works for more generic, mellow characters that fill the game world which are pretty interchangable.

Would that also mean that we can only have characters so flamboyant before things fall under uncanny valley when we don't have the time (or sometimes funds) to create equally flamboyant animations to match?

Offline PixelPiledriver

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #12 on: April 07, 2014, 03:29:31 am
The definition can definitely be stretched.

Quote
As an extension beyond graphic art, story character behaviour and opinion can be just as uncanny the same way.
The voice acting in House of the Dead definitely falls into this.
There are countless other examples of course, in games, films, etc.

It's also interesting to note why it's called a valley, as shown by a graph.
The "response" increases in positive emotion and then sharply plummets into negative emotions.

Quote
However I dunno if there is a term for "feels odd" so it seemed that uncanny valley is the closest one.
If you're talking about a strong case of revulsion in response to the uncanny, another close idea is 'offensive'.
Art presents ideas to the viewer, and depending on the degree of the idea represented, they can be found offensive.

For example:
2 people meet ---> oh they are friends.  > +
They look at each other and smile ----> oh they enjoy each others company > ++
They hug ----> oh that's so nice, they really care about each other > +++
They kiss ---> oh wow they are so in love  > ++++
One of their shirts comes off -----> oh man that's hot, but should I be watching this? > ++++++
All their clothes come off and they have sex on the floor >  woah! turn this off! > -------!!!!

Despite this being a common occurrence in daily life, there can be a massive dip in response based on the person.
As you say, it "feels odd".

In theory it seems best to get as close to the edge of the valley as possible, as this creates tension and excitement.
Even if you are in danger of falling in.
Some sort of response is better than no response. ---> warning, first link is not graphic but contains adult humor.
Or you can live squarely inside of it.
And knowing that it is, we seek what it is... ~ Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, Chapter 1

Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #13 on: April 07, 2014, 01:44:37 pm
Maybe we can boil it down to this double cross meaning problem:

Because earlier we said something like, that occurs when it's close to perfectly realistic, but not perfectly realistic enough.
And maybe that's a mess of meaning, when it's more about that true realism has all those little imperfection which these artworks do not have.

So really, perfection makes things uncanny. Like perfect symmetry? Even flawless beauty?
When it's too methodical? too measured? too obvious a pattern? too clean? too sterile?
Think of cosmetic surgery. Hell even just cosmetics...

But also with objects like architecture / buildings?
Like that corporate research facility compared to a farmhouse.

When something is designed too idealistic? Too utilitarian?
Too one-sided, too comfortable in its "infallible" logic?
Like also when you feel that the characters are just means to an end
a lot of post modern literature comes across uncanny like that.
that it's not about their person, they're just cogs, or "messengers"
and if they are not allowed flaws and mistakes and bad attitudes
or not ever allowed the little funny sunny moments of life either
-- they look like it, but they are not real persons, with a range
they are representations, glorified or demonized -- it's uncanny.

Also in games, the world itself can be uncanny for all those reasons.
The placement of things, when it's too efficient for only gameplay reasons.
Like, the shopkeeper is only there to sell you things fast, not to bother you with his personality.
pro gaming, esports centric design, everything is efficient, nothing gets in the way
the visuals have no real ramifications, they may as well be just placeholder boxes for excuse
thematically no organical connection between different kinds of assets and game elements.
when it all feels too separate, not seamless enough.
and the formulaic minimalism of rpg can be uncanny.

So especially for game development, as a complex mixed medium, uncanny valley is a mixed problem
maybe you have to account for what other team members do to decide if what you do ends up uncanny.
if you have great dedicated artists, but no great dedicated writer, maybe don't make rpg if you have nothing to tell?
also, you craft this very life like person, but the programmer has it react rather simplistic in many situations
maybe visually it shouldn't be designed more real than it can behave in the game world
-- if it comes across dumb and stiff like a robot, make it a robot.
you have to compensate and compromise for beyond one aspect
because if the product is not "more than the sum of its parts"
chances are it's getting uncanny.

And when it doesn't afford itself and to the player non-sense elements
for no better reason than emotion or joy, rather than "working it".
it looks reduced only to "bare essential necessity",
"no bullshit", "don't mess around", "we don't have time for this".
a road to uncanny valley in the middle of a rainy night.



Hrrm, but let's get back to the OP.

What's different from uncanny or cuteness in pixel art? Is it? When is it ok?

Everything starts with the base direction:

If your graphics are supposed to be symbolic/iconic/representational in proportion
then keeping it clean, simple, even symmetrical and "perfect"
will rather make it cute than uncanny.

Vice versa, if your proportions are realistic to begin with
your goal is to learn "how to mess your shit up" in details
to reduce symmetry and "perfection",
from an otherwise well planned construction.

But after that choice, if you suddenly try to
adapt that idealistic anatomy for realism,
or realistic anatomy for idealism
hindsight, it's more likely to turn uncanny still.

So make up your mind and stay "true to your roots",
to avoid that mixed message that confuses the brain.
Unless of course that's exactly what you want...

Thematically, a laboratory or android is supposed to break it.
Also gender confusions can be fun to experiment with...
or something is supposed to intimidate with impossible beauty
maybe something that's to be worshipped.

So these are not rules set in stone,
but orientation for intentionality.

Hrrm, but tbh, all that is just my uneducated guesswork.


« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 05:35:15 pm by RAV »

Offline astraldata

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #14 on: April 08, 2014, 07:17:03 pm
if the product is not "more than the sum of its parts"
chances are it's getting uncanny.

Well said.

I believe this applies as much to game design as it does to visual design of any type of art, be it painting, pixels, or 3d modeling/animation since, even in 3d modeling, as said before, the issue is when the animation doesn't match up to the realism of the 3d model. In all, the product (the 3d model in its intended format/destination -- that is, animated, in this case) is not "more than the sum of its parts" since its animation and its model don't match up and create the seemingly intended gestalt of the whole (the realism of the 3d-look -- model, animation, and all).

The more a thing strays from an overall representation what seems to be its intention, toward irony or grotesqueness, or any other "non-fitting" (to the whole) element, while seeming to be very clearly and purposefully rendered/represented -- e.g. muscle babies [two very opposite-looking things (hard-masculine physique geared for war, juxtapositioned against a soft, innocent and seemingly harmless, baby-face) which are positioned together, most likely in an attempt to create something unique, that, in this case, ends up being both grotesque and funny simultaneously (but not in all cases), which turns out also to be uncanny since the overall "sum of its parts" doesn't add up to anything more than just the simple bizarre juxtaposition of its various elements].

I think, in terms of game design visuals and pixel art, with the ever-increasing number of indies arising at such an accelerated pace, there's a demand to create a unique visual style for games so that they can stand out in the quickly and ever-growing crowd.

Due to this fact, I think in the future it's going to be more than just the "cute" vs. "realistic" styles of pixel art and people are going to be taking this uncanny valley approach to their visuals to get closer to that "edge" PPD spoke of, in an attempt to stand out even more with their games becoming more than just games -- more as a form of art -- in an attempt to break the mould, which will all inevitably lead back, full-circle, to folks doing things the "retro-retro" way (musclebaby RPGs once again lol) when they feel like they can stand out by being nostalgic (as you can see clearly happening in the games industry these days with folks carving out their own niches in the industry with art-games essentially that are also game-games, such as Nidhogg).
I'm offering free pixel-art mentorship for promising pixel artists. For details, click here.

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Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #15 on: April 09, 2014, 05:49:37 pm
Yeah. How about this "realistic" adaption of the Mario64 opening head:



I don't know ... lost in the valley? ... or edging it with uncle sympathy? ... *shudder*


------------------------------


Aside from strictly pixel art specific, there are so many ways into it.

Seeing a well known person or thing:

misplaced
-- like shipwreck in a desert; time-travel
decayed
-- post-apocalyptic version; illness
possessed
-- addiction; obsession; exorcism; insanity
soulless
-- frozen in moment; puppet; design by committee
constructed
-- facing the mechanical parts that are usually hidden

inconsistent, exaggerated, deformed, repurposed, twisted

pretext, when everything seems normal, everyone else thinks it's normal,
and you couldn't tell otherwise just from looking,
but you're "the only one who knows the truth",
what's really "behind the scene", "it's all a lie".

losing self-control, but still self-aware
or when you feel manipulated/seduced in a cheap way,
yet can hardly resist, and watch yourself induldge your doom
or you don't notice, but others do

hyperbole hysteric marketing / ideological messaging, especially when you realize they are being "serious".

Seeing the same from a perspective / in a light you haven't before, literally or figuratively.

mixes and inbetweens.



to name a few. Finding instances of uncanny is a lot of fun.

and you may wonder:
is it you know it when you see it,
or you see it when you know it? ;-)



« Last Edit: April 10, 2014, 12:24:56 am by RAV »

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #16 on: April 09, 2014, 07:53:35 pm
@RAV: I think you might be straying a little from your mark lol. You hit it on the head before with the "when something isn't more than the sum of it's parts" and I think that applies to any situation of the uncanny valley.

This mario peice follows suit with that thinking -- everything else about the image is cool, and even somewhat believable -- except the eyes.

All the rest could really just be a deformed head, all the hair and bone structure, everything, is fairly believable, but the thing that breaks the believability is that no spherical eye with the shape it's trying to describe can physically fit in those sockets. It's THAT part in which you find the uncanny valley in this image -- the eyes don't fit with the rest of the parts, and so the parts never create something more than just their sum, which lends an opening to the disturbing uncanny valley where your mind would normally just say "cool, a realistic-looking mario!" to "omg, wtf did they do to that guy's skull??" by simply screwing with the physics of the eyeball sockets (most likely unintentionally).

To further my point, I saw the Jessica Rabbit this guy did and that didn't hit the uncanny valley for me. In case any of you've not seen it:



The shape is obviously in the style of the cartoon, but it looks believable. Physics-wise, it's very believable. Your brain doesn't say "Whoa!! WTF is that FREAK!!??" due to the (should-be obvious) deformities, but instead it says "Nice!"

Keeping science-heavy stuff out of an art discussion, the reason it doesn't strike that "gross/ugly/freaky/insertnegativefeelinghere" that is typical of the uncanny valley is because our brains base it on what we remember a woman and a human to look like, and due to the curvature and other features that suggest "hot" woman as well, we perceive the image as pleasurable to look at. Not sure if this is the same for women, but I would think it's at least not a negative experience for them since nothing looks "off" in the image (albeit improbable, it's not impossible -- unlike mario's skull.)

On the other hand, a muscle-baby (as we've come to know it as more of a muscle-infant) is in most ways impossible since we know a human baby is unable to achieve that kind of physical form or physique. That little kid in the video in the muscle-baby topic, on the other hand, was not an infant, so it was still believable, despite still being a bit uncanny at times since most of us couldn't conceive of a real kid with those kind of muscles, despite seeing it in that video, and it's likely your brain was still thinking along the lines of "gross. think of the stretch marks that kid's going to have! what a horrible parent for forcing him to do that sort of thing!" or something else a bit on the negative side instead of "props to that kid! what an amazing sense of determination that kid must have!" or the like, as is usually associated with the uncanny valley thing. The bottom line is, even in the case of the older kid, the muscles still don't fit the whole of what our minds tell us a kid should be able to look like physically, so it becomes "uncanny" rather than just "real cool".

So, to answer your question, it's the latter -- you see uncanny when you see something that tells you it's something that your eyes are almost 99% sure they believe, but you know there's still that 1% of something about it that doesn't fit with what you know is true somewhere deep down, so your brain kicks it back and the thing becomes uncanny -- which is what makes the mario picture, as I mentioned before, so disturbing.

---

Returning to the topic though:

I think since there's a lot of experimentation going on in game styles and visual styles, the theory on what works visually for games is going to become about as vague as art itself much sooner than later. However a lot of interesting things will come about in that discussion on visual style in the form of statistics, virility, and other such things that are decreasingly relevant with every new generation of gamers. At the same time though, some long-established ideas about such things will be broken too. As with pixel art, what used to be about blurry blobs of light on the screen that vaguely represented something on old CRT tvs, is now about the crisp, well-placed, precision-styles that only pixel art can give you. The evolution of pixel art as a medium will trend-in and trend-out as television and the ways in which we watch it as well as the stuff we watch does.

As always, people enjoy it when new life is breathed into an old medium. Pixel art is no different.

Just like RAV mentioned in a previous post, you've got to stick to what you're going for in a project's visuals. If you stray, then you better make sure you've got a clear and harmonious way in which to do it that doesn't go against the rest of your visual mechanism as a whole. And if it does, you better find a way to make that work by adding or removing elements (be it visual styles or game mechanics that don't fit).

I've personally always been about the idea that game design should be about the feeling the player gets when playing your game, rather than the mechanics or the visuals themselves. Many people don't seem to agree with me. But it's a big motivator for me to play your game -- does it make me feel relaxed, energized, powerful, etc., and does this go with the gestalt of the game itself, visuals, mechanics, intent, everything? If so, you've got the makings of an amazing, visually-appealing, and fun game that can become a classic. Even games with super-simple "realistic" pixel characters as Cyangmou pointed out can look cool when they move around and do cool things. Not sure if they can be a "classic" by just focusing on theatrics, but I'd love to see more modern games with excellent gameplay AND theatrics (wouldn't we all?)

A lot of indie games created nowadays are defined by their visuals, and not the other way around. Though, as mentioned before, that's because it's harder to stand out without a memorable look. At the same time though, as the AAA developers are seeing, it's hard to keep a following with surface beauty alone.

I think a unique look is made memorable by great gameplay. As mentioned above, that fencing game, has no details, programmer graphics, etc., but its look is memorable because it seems to play amazingly well. I think even if it had musclebabies fighting with fencing swords, it could still pull off being visually memorable, despite the (probably better) muscle-baby graphics and the uncanny valley that inevitably goes with the creep factor. That may just be me though. ;P
« Last Edit: April 09, 2014, 09:16:43 pm by astraldata »
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Offline RAV

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #17 on: April 09, 2014, 08:47:54 pm
I once read something about how certain feelings or emotional states suppress others.

Like when you're sexually aroused, it dampens disgust you'd have without that arousal.
Or when you're aggressive adrenalin rushed, it dampens doubts/self-pity/pain.
etc. these mechanics have evolutionary biological reason.

And it may apply here as well in a similar manner:
If the kind of distortion or inconsistency somehow is a psychological hit-piece on the right buttons,
it outweighs the otherwise uncanny-method by which it was made
it edges the valley for a cool/pleasurable/awesome effect
so exploring off-road from classic understanding of beauty can be fun and rewarding
but I think this kind of art is considered more a tricky-trendy novelty
than trying to master arts for an universal and lasting long-term.
Yet although for that you likely want to learn avoiding it
it's worth noting: wrong is not necessarily wrong, worth playing with.

« Last Edit: April 09, 2014, 11:12:26 pm by RAV »

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #18 on: April 09, 2014, 09:54:11 pm
Oh but there's one relevant thing we haven't mentioned yet:

Caricature! -- the venerable, classically skilled art of out-maneuvering the uncanny valley
for a funny, sympathetic, ridiculed impression rather than creepy, threatening, serious.
it manages to turn petty mistakes into purposeful method, with a perceptive mind as much as eye.
Exaggerated features that are recognized landmarks of the body as much as telling character.

And it feels... right... more right, instead of less... a more truthfully revealing depiction than an objectively realistic portrait.


« Last Edit: April 09, 2014, 10:22:11 pm by RAV »

Offline Pix3M

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #19 on: July 10, 2014, 08:52:38 am
It has been a while and I've learned new things that might be useful to know.

Long story short, I was at a recent convention of at least 2K attendees, and I had two works to help guage interest in my works - a game in an alpha stage with pixel graphics done by me, and a printed artwork (which I admit was an extremely risky shot in the dark). Looking at how people responded looking at my art.... this is what I think I got from this.


Cuteness appeals most people.

More realistic styles are more niche, but particularly seems to interests game developers who probably know what to expect from most pixel artists. Pixel artists who manage to shine above others will attract a fair bit of interest taken into them. Odd fact, by having an alpha game with my graphical work showcased at that convention, somebody tried scouting me into another team.

Most other people who take interest in what I do are usually artists themselves, people who look at my rather uncommon skill and are amazed with what I do.

You can't go wrong with well-animated styles though!

Overall, I was mostly overshadowed by other artists who primarily focuses on making cute art. However, I needed that dose of reality - I'm not a people person and I am usually surrounded by people who know me because they took interest in my art, whether they like the subjects I often draw or not.

I still would like to explore realism vs. cuteness with a more overall appealing art direction, especially with more demographic groups I don't know well enough.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2014, 08:58:03 am by Pix3M »

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #20 on: July 14, 2014, 05:59:23 pm

The shape is obviously in the style of the cartoon, but it looks believable. Physics-wise, it's very believable. Your brain doesn't say "Whoa!! WTF is that FREAK!!??" due to the (should-be obvious) deformities, but instead it says "Nice!"


Hm, no.  My brain's definitely not saying anything nice about it.  Respect the work gone into creating such an image but it sorta repulses me somewhat.    The features work fine for a cartoon (though I've never found her 'attractive' as such) but with the realistic rendering it makes me ever so slighly nauseous.
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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #21 on: July 14, 2014, 10:00:18 pm
I completely agree.. That Jessica Rabbit is CREEPY AS HELL  :wah:

This thread is really interesting though. I know I've delved into the valley of uncanny myself and it's a thin valley.


I wish so many people didn't like cute so much.. I mean sure cute is cute and I don't dislike it too much;  but I think the reason people like cute so much is because they like 'simple' or what I'd call 'accessible'. And I think that 'simple' is derived from laziness and lack of cultural aesthetic. Cultural corporatism dominates and is a big part of 'simple' designs taking over I fear. Logos are the new norm, even the fonts we use today are super simplified; Helvetica's taking over for example (a lot of corporate fonts are just minor tweaks of this standard).

Consumer demand is infantile and it demands simplicity.

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #22 on: July 15, 2014, 08:53:59 am
I completely agree.. That Jessica Rabbit is CREEPY AS HELL  :wah:

This thread is really interesting though. I know I've delved into the valley of uncanny myself and it's a thin valley.


I wish so many people didn't like cute so much.. I mean sure cute is cute and I don't dislike it too much;  but I think the reason people like cute so much is because they like 'simple' or what I'd call 'accessible'. And I think that 'simple' is derived from laziness and lack of cultural aesthetic. Cultural corporatism dominates and is a big part of 'simple' designs taking over I fear. Logos are the new norm, even the fonts we use today are super simplified; Helvetica's taking over for example (a lot of corporate fonts are just minor tweaks of this standard).

Consumer demand is infantile and it demands simplicity.

Simplicity is not laziness.  Helvetica is not a modern threat, it has been popular for over half a century.  Simple designs aren't 'taking over'. (There was a trend for over-rendered logos in the 90s / early 2000s which is finally dying down if that's what you mean). 

edit:  Century not decade.  (Haha). 
« Last Edit: July 15, 2014, 11:21:02 am by rikfuzz »

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #23 on: July 15, 2014, 10:19:17 am

The shape is obviously in the style of the cartoon, but it looks believable. Physics-wise, it's very believable. Your brain doesn't say "Whoa!! WTF is that FREAK!!??" due to the (should-be obvious) deformities, but instead it says "Nice!"


Hm, no.  My brain's definitely not saying anything nice about it.  Respect the work gone into creating such an image but it sorta repulses me somewhat.    The features work fine for a cartoon (though I've never found her 'attractive' as such) but with the realistic rendering it makes me ever so slighly nauseous.

Well for me it also doesn't work. Mainly because the jawbone is really strong and the cranial area is really short. Maybe just a tad compared to the cartoon, or the value depths are off, but face wise, even to be just slightly off can change a lot.


Simplicity is not laziness.

Well said there.
Simplicity can be very appealing, as everything if it's done on a level of good quality.
And as artists we have to simplify anyways a lot, even if it's just for understanding and all details come in later.

What's simplicity anyways?
Can we say that there is nothing unnecessary in the design, which would distract from the purpose?
Or do we rather define simplicity a sa low amount of overall forms for an object?

Even a full illustrated cute piece of art can be more complex than a simple realistic gesture drawing, so simplicity and cuteness/realism are 2 completely different things - at least for me.

Could we say that cuteness is on an intermediate artistical level of quality easier to pull of than realism on an intermediate artistical level of quality? And because of that cute is more widely spread?

If I look at popular realistic-styled productions they are form an artistical standpoint all really expensive compared to not so realistic productions.

 
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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #24 on: July 15, 2014, 10:18:28 pm
I didn't say it was flat out laziness.. I meant that it conforms to a standard based on easy access and convenience, which is semi related. The demand behind it is more lazy than those producing it. For the last near decade for example.. a lot of logos and fonts look like they belong in an app.. all glossy and button like. It looks very accessible and 'easy'. 

You're probably right about Helvetica being popular for so long now.. but It seems to me a lot more brands use this basic sans serif font as a base than before.

About the over rendered logos of the 90's/ early 00's.. I can't think of any unless we enter the category of heavy metal band logos. That's over rendered/detailed galore.

I don't want to go too off topic about fonts and logos here though.. cause it's only partially related to the topic.

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #25 on: July 25, 2014, 09:28:22 pm
I've been trying to look into this deeper, knowing that I basically set up a false dilemma to simplify the situation. There's cute, then there's realistic, and there's a fair number of things in-between. For the sake of argument, I'm going to set up a sliding scale from cute to realistic.

*Pardon if I come off as bullshitting. These are just my obervations while I'm trying my best to look into this*

Searching through deviantART for what is popular there, I found some things that actually challanges my thinking.

Tier 1, I will stick anything with chibi-proportions into this tier. This is a 'pony', but stylized to an extreme that it doesn't look anything like the original animal: http://fav.me/d7q8v9e However, there is not very many pieces I can stick on to this extreme
Tier 2, which I'll stick in your usual 'anime' style. The face is stylized to exaggerate youthful features, but with *relatively* realistic body proportions: http://fav.me/d7qey6q
Tier 3, moving closer towards realism, I'm a little confused here, but in this tier, I and will stick both this Japanese style http://fav.me/d7obm2l , and this western style in the same tier: http://fav.me/d7rym4n
Tier 4, i'm going to stick here, something I'd call 'real' but cautious knowing that proportions are still highly stylized: http://fav.me/d7qvjg1
Tier 5, is what I'll stick as a reasonable extreme for a realist painter, but an actual painting took a while to find among photomanipulations: http://fav.me/d7qhwkf

First, a word of caution that my experiences on deviantART will put a clear bias towards more realist styles since it's full of artists - people are more likely to appreciate the work put into a realistic style. Again, I found these mostly from what's popular on deviantART in the past month, but what I was surprised was I found a lack of art on the cute extreme, but also on the real extreme as well.

From experience, art styles leaning on the extreme end for cute runs into several issues.
  • It is more difficult to create something memorable with more extreme cute art. My sister told me of a moe-style artist who got away with tracing for so many years, and I was not surprised. The face style they traced were done in a popular (but IMO highly generic) moe style, allowing the tracing artist to get away with art theft for years.
  • Cuter art styles are arguably pretty over-saturated as a result too, if said artist got away with tracing for THAT long. Might also be why the only 'extreme-cute' art happens to me MLP fan art, and not those little chibi dolls you see all over pixel artist circles on dA  :lol:
  • Limited on striking compositions, animations, and costuming with the most extreme chibi proportions. This might explain why there's more tier-2~3 art that's popular on deviantART because there's a larger body size that gets you far better potential for good composition

That might explain why I found less 'extreme-cute' than I thought there would be. Most of the art that makes it up high in my search results actually falls somewhere in the middle from cute to real.

However, cuteness at around tier-2 is still hugely popular if you have entire imageboards catered to the otaku subculture, such as this: https://danbooru.donmai.us/explore/posts/popular [warning: explicit images!] I also don't take much interest in anime, but I'll tell you that I think that the art found there is pretty damn generic.

I wanna say that I find most potential around tier-3 where I stuck in western-style illustrations, particularly styles that enjoy a great deal of creative liberties with face shapes and cuteness is not always a goal. However, cuteness is still highly possible with the given art styles, just that not every character has to be cute.

I'm still looking into this, but this is where things have brought me. Cute is good, but going for cute comes with its own challenges
« Last Edit: July 25, 2014, 09:30:37 pm by Pix3M »

Offline Tourist

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #26 on: July 26, 2014, 03:12:16 am
I'll toss an uninformed opinion in.

There's a bit of philosophy that says that says the self is not a single object, but an aggregate of things.  Of relevance to this thread, it includes

1) The external world and stimulus (the pixel image)
2) Feelings toward the thing (emotional reaction)
3) Recognition of the thing (memory and identification)
4) The collection of associated memories, ideas, and whatnot that are connected to the idea of the thing.  The surrounding mental map in the viewer's mind as it were.
5) Items 2, 3, and 4 in aggregate make up consciousness, which we perceive as a whole (the mind)

With this model,
1) the cute image tends to stimulate on an emotional response
2) the realistic image tends to stimulate the recognition and memory
3) the cartoon tends to stimulate the association response.  Jessica Rabbit doesn't look like a real person, but she has all the associated pieces.

Of course these aren't singular responses.  The cute image also triggers the recognition and the viewer's mind is adding in all the associated concepts to what they see.   The others work the same way.

It's also possible to have some responses but not another.  An image can provoke an emotional reaction even if you can't recognize what it is.  Or you can recognize it but feel no emotional reaction.  I expect the uncanny valley happens when associations of an image conflict with the recognition of the image as a real thing.

We normally operate at the aggregate (conscious) level so we aren't really paying attention to the different divisions.   I could blather on, but I imagine you get the idea.  This all comes from Buddhism, and I'm no expert on Buddhism nor philosophy, but maybe you can find it useful.

Tourist

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #27 on: August 10, 2014, 07:48:52 pm
I expect the uncanny valley happens when associations of an image conflict with the recognition of the image as a real thing.

This is probably why some people find the Jessica Rabbit image I posted above to be creepy, whereas I myself have no real feelings toward it one way or the other aside from the simple respect for the fact that it was well-crafted. I think the reason I don't find it creepy is because I've seen much creepier images (that realistic Mario face for example -- waaay more highly-distorted than Mrs. Rabbit there, who just seems a lot more believable [and less gross-looking] imo, who only triggers the creepy-meter when I look way too hard at the image hoping to make more sense of the features than at first glance).

That being said, Like Tourist, I feel the uncanny valley is more of a sliding scale on a per-person basis. I suspect people like Carnivac and |||| might have more vivid associations between fictional images and reality than I might, making images that contradict (their idea of) reality so blatantly a lot more intense to them. If that's not the case, my second guess would be that maybe they look much closer and harder, and/or maybe longer, at image details than I do. Some people like more detail-rich images than others (I personally favor clarity -- too much detail is distracting imo -- but I do prefer clear and quickly-readable (concise) images over staring at a detailed, but overly complex, paintings for 30 mins [unless, of course, I'm studying them], so that tendency not to look too closely at an image [preferring to see the "gestalt" of images instead] might be a significant factor to the reason why my feelings seem to differ about such an [admittedly creepy] image [but I only feel it's creepy after I decided to look back at it really really hard, while second-guessing my initial impression of the image].)
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Offline lachrymose

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #28 on: February 05, 2015, 02:48:54 am
Necroing an old thread!

But I have an interesting video to show. Shows how a guy animates robots to interact with humans. While he doesn't really get into the Uncanny valley I think there is still a lot to be learned about the uncanny valley and how to avoid it using this guys techniques/methods.

http://www.ted.com/talks/guy_hoffman_robots_with_soul?language=en#t-226690

Enjoy!

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Re: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art

Reply #29 on: February 07, 2015, 05:10:32 pm
well if the thread has been necrod i will post in it i guess.

this is a good thread. good advice. but let us have another good advice.

sometimes its good if the player is made to feel uncomfortable. there are reasons to wish this.

certainly, we should still love those children who are ugly because they might teach us new ways to be pretty.

anyway, i dont know if you guys really know what im talking about but I understand ive been trying to do too much lately. tried to prove too much. i have made too many people mad. i am sorry.