On the magazine cover below, what appears to be a department store mannequin is in fact supposed to be 63-year-old TV chef Paula Deen:
What the hell?
Look, as long as there have been photos, there have been tricks to make models look their best. We have no problem with that -- if we're ever stuck on the cover of a magazine, we hope they take the time to edit the red out of our bloodshot eyes and pixelate out the nudity. Photoshop is just one more tool for editors to clear up whatever the hair and makeup team miss.
So what's the problem?
This isn't about how fashion magazines create an unrealistic body image for women to live up to -- simple makeup, lighting and supermodels can accomplish that. It's the fact that they now have to tamper with every photo until it crosses from "real" to "perfect" to "too perfect" to "THIS IS SOMETHING FROM MY NIGHTMARES."
They aren't just erasing blemishes anymore, or smoothing over wrinkles to take off a few years. They're erasing the humanity. Limbs and torsos are getting pinched and twisted into deformed horrors:
What makes the Paula Deen example so baffling is that she's not a supermodel. She's an elderly TV cooking show host. Her job doesn't depend on her looks in any way. Which is fortunate, because a sentient doll has apparently ripped off her face, and is wearing it as a mask.
It doesn't matter what your profession is -- it's now so common to manipulate faces into these ageless Madame Tussauds wax museum exhibits that no human-looking face can be allowed on a cover.
This man is made of wax.
The entertainment world badly wants to perfect a digital character indistinguishable from a real human. Every failed attempt (see: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) just encourages them. On the one hand, animators are definitely getting closer to creating images that are so perfect the average viewer can't tell he's looking at someone who doesn't exist. For example, meet Emily:
Pretty, yeah? Wait until you see her talk.
Yikes. According to her creators, she is the first CGI creation to make it across the gap that is the uncanny valley. She's so human-looking you won't be able to accept her as anything but human after seeing her. Except for the fact that it doesn't work, this project was a complete success. At freaking us out.
So what's the problem?
While a still image of Emily looks pretty normal, the video has subtle hints of wrongness. Her eyes and mouth don't quite sit right. There are seconds where her mouth stretches oddly, just enough to tip you off that either something is amiss or you're as high as a kite. That's the thing: Humans have evolved to recognize hundreds and hundreds of little nonverbal cues in the faces of the people we're talking to. Mimicking that nonverbal communication is much harder than simply imitating human speech.
To achieve just this level of reality the creators started out with a real actress talking, then broke down her movements into smaller and smaller movements, and then painstakingly recreated those same movements using a computer, all the while ignoring the nagging feeling that there's probably an easier way to catch a human on video.
Dissecting humanness into smaller and smaller pieces works great when you're a cannibal or a pathologist, not so much when you're trying to recreate a human. The eyes are just a little too much on the corpsey side to pull it off. At best, you end up with characters who creep you out in a subtle way, like an uncle touching your knee casually.
Of course, then you have the much more common and more crude examples on your nearest video game console:
Pretend the ball is your leg, and Kobe is "Uncle Kobe."
Or you can look at the "revolutionary" technique that gave us the most horrifying version of Tom Hanks ever put on film ...
And that's including The Da Vinci Code.
We seem to have entered a weird era in which we're many years away from computer hardware powerful enough to perfectly mimic human features, but our movies and video games insist on trying their damndest. The result is that 50 years from now, our grandchildren will dig up our DVDs and game discs and will find this whole era to be as creepy as shit.
To learn more about altering your appearance, check out The 7 Most Pointlessly Horrifying Plastic Surgery Procedures. Or learn about some famous celebrities who altered their appearances to get famous, in 5 Celebrity Careers Launched by Ethnic Makeovers.
And stop by Linkstorm to see DOB taking his RealDoll out for a night on the town.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infograpic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!