Something a little bit different for this week’s Monday Short. Computer graphic technology moves at a breakneck speed, and it can be difficult to wrap your head around just where the field is headed. Alan Warburton’s 2017 video essay “Goodbye Uncanny Valley” is at a disadvantage, given that animators and artists have had two years since its release to push at the boundaries of what technology can achieve, but it still feels remarkably insightful.
Warburton starts with a (relatively) brief history of computer graphics, from the earliest images to what he argues is its post-uncanny present—but whether you agree that we’re beyond the valley is beside the point. Where the essay really gathers steam isn’t in what Warburton calls the “frontier” of realism, but in the “wastelands” of experimentation, where hyper-realism crosses over into the surreal. That’s the place where artists have stopped asking themselves “how real can we make this look” and are instead pushing beyond realism into strange alternate realities. It’s as good an encapsulation of the fringes of high-end CG as I’ve ever seen, and should be exciting for anyone who is curious about exactly where computer-generated animation might go from here.
One of the things that makes animation such a vital art form is its versatility, and animators have a long history of pushing tools to their breaking points. Vimeo is full of ultra-short CG works doing just that, playing with the latest software and seeing what comes out. Only a few of those projects have turned into full-out films, the kind that might make it onto the festival circuit. But once they do—and if Warburton is right, it won’t be long—the landscape of CG animation will be a vastly different place.
Goodbye Uncanny Valley
dir. Alan Warburton, 2017
syn: It’s 2017 and computer graphics have conquered the Uncanny Valley, that strange place where things are almost real… but not quite. After decades of innovation, we’re at the point where we can conjure just about anything with software. The battle for photoreal CGI has been won, so the question is… what happens now?