The Uncanny Gallery 2

Introduction

Having researched the uncanny in great detail for my
dissertation, I decided to put the theory into practice
for my final project at the University for the Creative
Arts.

Inspired by Ersnt Jentsch and Sigmund Freud’s
essay’s, the aim for this project was to create a short
animation that explores the nature of the uncanny.

This book presents the research, decision making,
creative process and technical skills that went into
creating an animated short designed to create a
sense of unease for the audience. Welcome to “The
Uncanny Gallery”…..
What is the Uncanny?
The uncanny is shrouded in ambiguity. It is a strange, mysterious
and unsettling feeling that someone experiences due to an
object, person or environment. It is often associated with the
supernatural, but it is not exclusive to it.

In his 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”, Ernst
Jentsch surmised that the uncanny arises in cases of intellectual
uncertainty. The better orientated a person is in their
environment, the less likely they are to have an uncanny
response. He identified specific situations when it is most likely
to occur, stating that wax figurines and early robots known as
automata, evoke the emotion as they make the viewer question
if they are really alive or not.

Sigmund Freud expanded on this research in his 1919 essay
“The Uncanny”. Although Freud did not accept that uncertainty
was the primary source of the uncanny, it never the less recurs
in his own study. Freud did agree that the emotion occurs when
people view wax figures, robots and other inanimate objects
that appear to be animate. To explain why he turned to
etymology and the origin of the word “uncanny”, discovering a
curious relationship with its base word “canny”, in the German
language…
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UNHEIMLICHE

German Adjective – Uncanny: Un-homely, creepy, eerie, mysterious, strange, foreign
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HEIMLICHE

German Adjective – Canny: homely, friendly, pleasant, normal, familiar, domestic
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Freud’s concept of the uncanny suggests the feeling
arises in an instance where something can be both
familiar yet alien at the same time. This creates a
cognitive dissonance within the individual and leads
to an outright rejection of the object, person or
environment.

With all of this information the concept of developing
a computer generated environment inhabited by
uncanny objects was born. An early idea was to
design a maze with separate rooms dedicated to one
aspect of the uncanny.
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Freud’s theory had a significant effect in the world of art,
influencing the Surrealist movement and their depictions
of the peculiar and strange. I did some more research
into contemporary uncanny art for further inspiration for
my themed rooms.

From here my concept evolved. The research led me to
art galleries and exhibitions with tangible, uncanny
themed objects created by artists experimenting with a
range of materials. This influenced me to adapt my idea
and create my own digital exhibition. However, instead of
creating a digital environment, I decided to insert digital,
uncanny objects into a real world setting. This meant I
would need to scout a location to film live footage.
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I needed a location that was readily available and large
enough to accommodate my uncanny objects. I thought of my
local village hall which was available to hire. I scouted the
location taking pictures and video footage with a camcorder.
This location was ideal. The thought of a community venue
inhabited by strange objects lends itself to the uncanny.
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With a location secured, I began sketching some initial
ideas. The idea was to produce three exhibits, with
strange, organic and lifelike properties. This helped me
establish where they would be placed and the sense of
scale the objects should be. I took inspiration from
different sources including the insect world, the
microscopic world, human anatomy and sea life amongst
others.
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After reviewing the sketches I chose three to develop
further and produced some concept art. I chose a scaled
up version of a skin cross section with large hairs that
could move and sway as if they were reacting to the
environment; a super sized cell with a translucent
membrane and dividing cells at the centre; and finally a
disembodied belly with patches of hair that would
expand and contract as if it was breathing.
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To give myself a better idea of what the final piece would
like, I developed an animatic. This involved modelling
simple representations of the environment and the
objects in the scene. I could then animate them with
linear deformers and recreate the sort of camera
movements I would be capturing on the day of the shoot.
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After discussing the concept images with my colleagues and
peers, the idea was tweaked again. I decided that the skin
cross section and super sized cell were more suited to a
science exhibit and wouldn’t convey a sense of the uncanny.
So I adapted the idea of the disembodied belly and imagined
it as a female presence, surrounded by smaller objects that
could be interpreted as its offspring. I then thought about
having two larger masses that could be the parents
surrounded by their children.
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I then explored the possibility of adding more human
features to the parent figures. Upon reflection I decided the
previous version was a more subtle approach. I continued to
produce some more concept art experimenting with the
positions of the objects after choosing my favourite
depictions of the offspring.
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I then adapted the animatic to accommodate the new layout
and establish how the parents and children will move in the
final scene.
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Next came the day of the shoot which would be divided
into two parts. The first was dedicated to capturing
images of a chrome sphere to create a HDR photo which
could then be used as an image based lighting system.
This would eventually be used to recreate the lighting
and reflections in the 3D scene to make it look like the
digital objects are actually in there. The diagram below
demonstrates the setup used to achieve this.
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To create the HDR image, I took seven pictures of the
chrome sphere, adjusting the shutter speed with each
shot to under and over expose the image accordingly.
We will return to the next stage of this process later.
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The next part of the shoot involved setting up the hall
to capture the live footage which will serve as the back
plate. I covered the floor and walls with reference
markers to assist with motion tracking the scene and
establish where the uncanny objects will be placed.
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With all of the footage captured, I began to setup the
scene in Autodesk Maya. I had to recreate parts of the
environment that the uncanny objects would interact
with, such as the floor and rear wall. I attached a “use
background” shader to this geometry which would receive
the shadows cast by the uncanny objects as if they were in
the scene.
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The next stage I unwrapped the HDR image of the chrome
sphere from earlier and painted out unwanted, blemishes,
shadows and reflections. I imported the resulting image
into my scene which created a dome image around the
geometry.
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I then created some simple geometry and placed them
in the scene roughly where the uncanny objects would
be placed. I then produced a test render to test the
shadows and reflectivity generated by the image based
lighting system.
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Next I began to model the uncanny objects. I began by
box modelling, adding geometry and adjusting the
vertices to reach the desired effect. I then UV mapped
the object to ensure the face normals are the correct
way around for the fur system.
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Next I duplicated the geometry to
create a blendshape as a control
to animate the object breathing. I
used the lattice deformer to
expand the geometry out and
forward to represent the belly
inhaling. Then I added the
blendshape to the original
geometry and created an extra
control in the attribute editor for
greater control when it comes to
animating it.
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Then I attached a fur description to the geometry and
adjusted the settings to suit my needs. The final stage
was adding the skin texture using maya’s mental ray
based fast skin shader. This node was particularly useful
as the standard settings gives the geometry a waxy look.
I made minor adjustments to this shader as I felt it
added a sense of realism, giving the impression that it
was actually cast from wax or silicon by an artist.
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I completed a test render of the object and imported it into the
environment scene. I repeated this process with the other
uncanny objects and then animated the final scene. I then
rendered a beauty and occlusion pass and composited the
images to create the final piece.
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Beauty Pass
Occlusion Pass
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FINAL COMPOSITION

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