Audrey Hepburn’s New Commercial Is Set in the Uncanny Valley

CGI can make a character look and move like Audrey Hepburn, but it can't make her Audrey Hepburn.

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What does the advertising industry have against poor Audrey Hepburn? The late actress and humanitarian keeps popping up in new TV commercials which prove, above all, that appropriating the image of a deceased person who exuded class doesn’t make your product look classy. Instead, it makes your ad campaign come off as desperate and cheesy.

But if you’re interested in computer animation, this new ad for Galaxy candy bars is worth watching at least once:


(If you want to read about how the ad was created, check out this piece by The Verge’s Amar Toor.)

CGI Audrey is an impressive a digital simulacrum of a human being as I’ve seen, and yet…the most striking thing about it is that it doesn’t capture the essence of Audrey Hepburn. There’s no sense of her brain or soul inhabiting that figure who looks and moves like the film icon. If this Audrey was a real person and you ran into her somewhere, you’d be immediately concerned that she’d fallen victim to the invasion of the body snatchers.

The concept of the Uncanny Valley — a creepy feeling caused by artificial humans who are almost, but not quite, convincingly real — dates to at least 1970, decades before the dawn of modern computer animation. At this point, I wonder whether we’ll ever see digital people who aren’t immediately identifiable as animations, at least if they’re in situations meant to evoke emotion. (Some of the most impressive examples I’ve seen have been sports figures in video games, where it’s more about action than what’s going on in a character’s brain or on its face.)

I do think that if a CGI human ever journeys all the way through the Uncanny Valley and makes it to the Land of Utter Realism, it won’t be a replica of someone the world knows as well as it knows Audrey Hepburn. And it probably won’t happen in a chocolate commercial.