Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 14

There's a scientific term called the Uncanny Valley, when something that looks like a person looks too much so for someone to be comfortable. The phrase has come up in recent years as robots get closer to looking and acting similar to people. But to get a better idea of what the Uncanny Valley is, compare the cartoon Alvin and the Chipmunks with the 'live-action' Alvin and the Chipmunks. Which one's adorable, and which one would you call an exterminator on?
Another form of entertainment that lives along the Uncanny Valley are marionettes, particularly the creations of Gerry Anderson. "Thunderbirds Are Go" is his most famous, but for several decades, Anderson's created several sci-fi shows, for kids and adults, utilizing "supermarionation". "Supermarionation" are puppets with solenoids in their jaws, so their mouths move in sync with an audio signal - such as an actor's dialogue. The result is a puppet that talks almost as expressively as a person, even if it still walks like a floating cardboard box.

So that might creep some people out.

Not me, nor the millions of fans that have built up over the years. Heck, watch "Team America: World Police," which is more a tribute to "Thunderbirds" than the Hollywood remake (a paycheck for Ben Kingsley, and a resume filler for Vanessa Hudgins.) Or how about this Dire Straits video for "Calling Elvis", with new and classic puppet sequences produced by Gerry Anderson:

Dire Straits - Calling Elvis

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