Achieving Photo Realism in 3D
We live in a world filled with imperfection. Philosophically, this provides a lot of implications. But for achieving photorealistic 3D renders, it’s a helpful reminder.
I’ve had the opportunity recently to work on another 3D project at Blueprint, and will hopefully have yet another coming down the pipe. Both projects involve recreating real life products with 3D software, and then putting them in an animation that demonstrates what they are in the most appealing way possible. To me, this always means making them look as photorealistic as I can, and the interesting thing about that is it means adding, not removing, imperfections.
What is Photo Realism?
When something is described as “photorealistic,” that means it is an image or video that looks like it was produced with a camera in real life, even though it was not.
Compared to today’s cameras, older cameras take “bad” pictures; bad meaning lacking that crisp, modern, high megapixel/definition flavor (though if Instagram is any indication, bad is now a style). Of course, this is due to advances in technology.
The modern individual is allowed to remove and/or minimize many of the imperfections that plagued older photos and films without even having to think about it.
Even still, all modern photos and videos have tiny flaws in them. Chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, vignetting, rolling shutter artifacts, and lens flares are a few. On the flip side, all 3D renders begin as a squeaky clean image your computer creates using flawless calculations based on real-life physics and math. They are as perfect as can be.
And they look really, really fake.
Here’s the segue: believe it or not, it could be argued it’s the flaws in an image that truly sell the idea that something looks “realistic.”
The reason flaws are the cause has a lot to do with time. Most people alive today are used to seeing movies and photos with imperfections caused by the cameras that created them. In turn, pictures and videos that don’t have these flaws look wrong, and people naturally assume it’s because they aren’t real.
This means that 3D artists, strange as it may sound, have to work backwards. They have to take all the imperfections that camera engineers and researchers have been working for over a century to remove and add them into the perfect image their computer gave them. Only after this is done, in just the right amounts and in just the right places, does a computer generated image become believable.
The Art Within Imperfection
Take this interesting quote from the neat folks at Pixar regarding the creation of their film Wall-E:
“Life is nothing but imperfection and the computer likes perfection, so we spent probably 90% of our time putting in all of the imperfections, whether it’s in the design of something or just the unconscious stuff. How the camera lens works in [a real] housing is never perfect, and we tried to put those imperfections [into the virtual camera] so that everything looks like you’re in familiar [live-action] territory.”
In conclusion, on a semi-alternate level, it’s thought provoking that imperfection plays such an important role in how relatable we perceive something to be. Not just aesthetically, but subconsciously, too.