The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation

1st Edition

By Angela Tinwell

A K Peters/CRC Press

236 pages | 10 Color Illus. | 1 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2014-12-10
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Advances in technology have enabled animators and video game designers to design increasingly realistic, human-like characters in animation and games. Although it was intended that this increased realism would allow viewers to appreciate the emotional state of characters, research has shown that audiences often have a negative reaction as the human likeness of a character increases. This phenomenon, known as the Uncanny Valley, has become a benchmark for measuring if a character is believably realistic and authentically human like. This book is an essential guide on how to overcome the Uncanny Valley phenomenon when designing human-like characters in digital applications.

In this book, the author provides a synopsis of literature about the Uncanny Valley phenomenon and explains how it was introduced into contemporary thought. She then presents her theories on its possible psychological causes based on a series of empirical studies. The book focuses on how aspects of facial expression and speech can be manipulated to overcome the Uncanny Valley in character design.

The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation presents a novel theory that goes beyond previous research in that the cause of the Uncanny Valley is based on a perceived lack of empathy in a character. This book makes an original, scholarly contribution to our current understanding of the Uncanny Valley phenomenon and fills a gap in the literature by assessing the biological and social roots of the Uncanny Valley and its implications for computer-graphics animation.


"It synthesizes the literature about the Uncanny Valley, explains its psychological foundations, and considers how facial expression and other facets can be applied to overcome the issues, and it also provides a new theory to compliment other writings on the subject, making this a 'must' for gaming programmers, covering both prior surveys and new ideas."

Midwest Book Review

Table of Contents


Author Biography


The Uncanny Valley

Experience of the Uncanny

Bukimi no Tani—The Uncanny Valley

Critical Studies of the Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation


Previous Investigation into the Uncanny Valley

Design Guidelines for a Character’s Appearance

The Effect of Movement

Plotting the Uncanny Valley

Lost in Translation?

The Effect of Age and Gender on Sensitivity to the Uncanny Valley

An Evolutionary or Developmental Phenomenon?


Survival Horror Characters and the Uncanny

Early Sound Cinema

Survival Horror versus Horror Film

Facial Expression

Speech Qualities

Articulation of Speech


Designing for or against the Uncanny


Uncanny Facial Expression of Emotion

Universal Emotions

Facial Action Coding System

Nonverbal Communication

False or Fabricated Emotion

The Effect of Emotion Type on Uncanniness

Uncanny Emotion: Fear and Surprise

Sadness and Anthropomorphism

Disgust, Revulsion and the Nose Wrinkler Action

Our Perceptual Advantage to Anger

Happiness and Uncanny False Smiles


Applying Psychological Plausibility to the Uncanny Valley

Previous Psychological Explanations of the Uncanny Valley

Empathy and Humanity

Perception of Antisocial Personality Traits in an Uncanny Character

Lack of Visual Startle Reflex and Psychopathy

Aberrant Facial Expression and Perception of Psychopathy

The Effect of Character Gender and Age on Uncanniness

Antisocial Traits in Antipathetic Characters


The Mind’s Mirror and the Uncanny

Mirror Neuron Activity

Facial Mimicry and Emotional Contagion

A Lack of Facial Mimicry in Humans

Facial Mimicry in Relational Human-Like Characters

The Uncanny in Humans


Attachment Theory and Threat to Self-Concept (Ego)

Reflection of the Self

Self, Identity and Attachment Theory

Protest, Despair and Detachment Behavior

Threat to Self-Concept (Ego)

Objective Quantification of Uncanniness and Future Work

Do We All Experience the Uncanny in Human-Like Characters?


Will We Ever Overcome the Uncanny Valley?

Overcoming the Uncanny: A Question of Time?

The Uncanny Wall

The Human and Financial Cost of Uncanny Human-Like Characters

The Future: A Human-Like Virtual Newborn



About the Author

Dr. Angela Tinwell's research on the Uncanny Valley in human-like characters is recognized at an international level. As well as British media coverage on BBC television and radio, her work has been featured in news articles for The Guardian and Times Higher Education and in the American magazines Smithsonian, New Yorker, and IEEE Spectrum Magazine. In 2012, Tinwell completed her PhD dissertation, titled "Viewer Perception of Facial Expression and Speech and the Uncanny Valley in Human-Like Virtual Characters," and she has since published extensive studies on the topic. Her publications include empirical studies in the journal Computers in Human Behavior and theoretical writings for Oxford University Press. Tinwell's research into the Uncanny Valley in human-like characters is relevant in academia and industry, and she has presented her work with animators from the special effects company Framestore at the London Science Museum. As part of the Digital Human League, Tinwell is working with visual effects professionals at Chaos Group (creators of V-Ray rendering software) aimed at overcoming the Uncanny Valley.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
COMPUTERS / Computer Graphics
COMPUTERS / Programming / Games