Is It Real or CGI? Tips on Telling Uncanny Valley

Izaan Ishaq
Izaan Ishaq
December 10, 2023
Updated on
December 22, 2023

In our digitally-driven world, special effects have become so advanced that differentiating reality from computer-generated imagery (CGI) can be a real challenge. From breathtaking landscapes in movies to seemingly flawless product images in advertisements, CGI creates incredibly realistic visuals. But how do you tell if something is CGI? Something looking fake in CGI has a buzz word “uncanny valley” where you decide why something looks non-real. This guide unveils the secrets, helping you decipher the real from the digital.

Uncanny valley detection graph

Steps for Detecting Uncanny Valley or Fake CGI

1. Unmasking Unnatural Movement:

Identifying Suspicious Movements: CGI objects and characters often defy the laws of physics. Watch for movements that appear suspiciously smooth, slow, or fast. For instance, human hair and clothes should flutter slightly in the wind, even if subtly. In CGI, these elements often appear frozen or move unnaturally, like robots.

2. Examining the Shadows and Reflections:

Analyzing Light Interaction: Real objects cast shadows and reflections that interact with their surroundings. CGI shadows and reflections can be blurry, inconsistent, or even missing. Pay close attention to how light interacts with objects in the scene.

3. Analyzing Texture and Detail:

Spotting Unrealistic Surfaces: Real objects possess a complex texture and detail that CGI often struggles to replicate. Look for surfaces that appear too smooth or perfect. For example, leaves on a tree might have identical shapes in CGI, while real leaves show variations in form.

4. Detecting Repeated Patterns:

Identifying Duplications: To save time and resources, CGI artists often use repeated patterns. Look for elements appearing multiple times within the scene, such as identical buildings, trees, or objects. This can hint at heavy post-production manipulation.

5. Considering the Context:

Evaluating Content Clues: The content itself can sometimes offer clues about CGI presence. For instance, in a sci-fi movie with spaceships and aliens, most visuals likely are CGI. However, in a wildlife documentary, be wary of anything appearing too perfect or unrealistic.

6. Utilizing Online Resources:

Leveraging Expert Analysis: Several online resources help identify CGI in images and videos. Websites like “VFX Spot” and “Fake or Real” analyze specific scenes, offering expert opinions on their authenticity.

7. Trusting Your Instincts:

Listening to Your Gut: Ultimately, the best way to identify CGI is to trust your gut. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.


While these tips can help you identify the uncanny valley in CGI, technology constantly evolves. CGI artists are becoming increasingly skilled, making it even harder to distinguish between reality and the digital world. By developing a critical eye and considering all factors involved, you can enhance your ability to discern the real from the digitally created. So, the next time you encounter a stunning image or video, take a moment to analyze its visual elements and see if you can unveil the secrets of the digital world.

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