Make-Believing Animated Films Featuring Digital Humans: A Qualitative Inquiry Using Online Sources
A qualitative inquiry of reviews of films featuring digital humanlike characters was performed by sampling user comments from three online reviewer aggregator sites: the Internet Movie Database, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. The films chosen for analysis were: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (dir. Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara, 2001), The Polar Express (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2004), and Beowulf (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2007), all produced using CGI animation, together with A Scanner Darkly (dir. Richard Linklater, 2006) whose visuals are depicted by rotoscoping using Bob Sabiston’s Rotoshop software. The authors’ analysis identified individual differences in the viewing experience, particularly in relation to the uncertain ontology of the humanlike characters created using CGI (CGI-Humans). They found examples of reviews indicating an inability to distinguish between real and CGI-Human actors, observations of characters transiently exhibiting realism before returning to their artifice, and of characters being viewed as eerie (analogous to the uncanny valley), thus illustrating a complex and dynamic response to this phenomenon. In some situations, character uncanniness was related to the presence of an atypical feature such as movement of the eyes. Whilst specifically for Beowulf, perceptions became more problematic when there was familiarity with the actor playing the CGI-Human character, with some reviewers describing difficulties in categorizing the character as either real or animated. CGI-Human performances were also characterized by a lack of, or inappropriate, social interaction. Online reviewers did not perceive characters depicted using Rotoshop (Rotoshop-Humans) as eerie; rotoscoping was found to preserve, and possibly enhance, the natural social interactions between actors recorded from the live-action film which was used as the source material for the animation. The authors’ inquiry also identified user motivations for viewing these films and the importance placed by reviewers on the form of display when viewing the CGI films. They situate their interpretation of these findings in relation to Walton’s make-believe theory (Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts, 1990).