AuthorTopic: Uncanny Valley/Cuteness in relation to pixel-art  (Read 12322 times)

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:

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.

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.

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).
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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:

-- like shipwreck in a desert; time-travel
-- post-apocalyptic version; illness
-- addiction; obsession; exorcism; insanity
-- frozen in moment; puppet; design by committee
-- 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 »

Offline astraldata

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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 »

Offline 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 »