Sensory Superpowers

Exploring our hidden perceptual skills.

I Want to Hold Your Zombie Hand

I finally had a chance to try the Beatles Rock Band video game. It’s terrific, exhilarating fun. And it’s just a bit creepy. Its creepiness stems from the game’s depiction of the Beatles themselves. The faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo are completely recognizable - as well as dynamic, and emotive. Read More


I recently saw Avatar, and it is my understanding that the Na'vi characters (the 10 foot tall blue "aliens") are completely rendered by the computer (but using motion capture based on the actors' movements). I realize that these aren't exactly "human" so therefore they may not be subject to the "Uncanny Valley" phenomenon, but I was impressed with their realism. They at least had believable facial movements, etc. which is not always the case with computer-generated figures. It was apparent that more energy was spent on the main two characters (Jake and Neytiri), so I am mostly referring to them. Overall, they fit in well with the scenes that included live actors.


Thanks for your comment Kate.
I haven't yet seen Avatar, but plan to soon. Looking at the film's trailer, it does seem like the aliens' faces are stylized just enough to keep out of the valley. As I understand it, the motion capture technology was similar to what was used for Benjamin Button. For that film, Steve Preeg and his crew captured Brad Pitt's face making hundreds of different 'core' facial movements. That data was then used to essentially create a computer animated Brad Pitt face puppet (which moved with Pitt's idiosyncratic facial movements) that could then be manipulated to produce whatever speech and expressive motions were needed. Pitt was then again motioned captured performing the actual dialogue and expressions of the film's scenes and those movements were used to guide the manipulation of the face puppet. It's very detailed, intensive work, but it seems to be needed to traverse the uncanny valley.
Thanks again,
Larry R.


young george harrison looks eerie no matter what!

Toy story 3 in 3D

Very interesting article. I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D a few weeks ago, and "creepy" is the exact word I used to descibe the human characters in it. The toys looked really great, but the humans, especially the little girl Hannah - with her puffy cheeks, freckles and braces was designed to look extra cute - reminded me of some 1980s horror movie character.

How did the classical painters like Da Vinci cross the uncanny valley? Is this why we are so fascinated by Mona Lisa's smile?

Toy Story 3 in 3D

Yes, I agree that the human characters in all the Toy Story films look creepy. Sill, the 'caricatured' faces of Woody and Buzz look perfectly endearing. They're cartoonish qualities keep them far enough from the uncanny valley.
With regard to classical paintings, the two-dimensionality and stationary nature of the faces likely keep them from the valley. With regard to classical sculpture, it's likely the color and textures of the material that keeps them safely away from the valley.
That being said, perhaps there is an experiential component to our tolerance to facial realism. There are certainly reports of early viewers reacting viscerally to the classical sculptures, something that does not happen to modern viewers.

Thanks for your note.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Lawrence Rosenblum is a Professor of Psychology at UC Riverside and author of See What I'm Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses.


Subscribe to Sensory Superpowers

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.