The #1 Reason Your Render Looks Fake

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Let me ask you something, when you slave away for hours in Blender, what are you trying to achieve?

To make cool stuff? Nope. Think bigger.

Give up?

Whether you realize it or not, the sole purpose of all 3d art is to make something look believable.

That’s it. There are no exceptions.

If your image doesn’t relate to the real world in some way, the audience will feel disconnected and become disinterested. It doesn’t matter if your rendering an architectural fly-through of a house or an orc warrior fighting his way out of a volcano, you are still taking something that exists in your mind and producing it as a picture and hoping the audience believes it.

You’re doomed, unless…

Let’s say you spend hours intricately modeling each and every nail of a door frame, you piece together textures to create flawless materials, and you spend a solid week on the lighting setup.  Well guess what? If you hit render now your scene is still going to look fake. The reason for this is simple: You haven’t added camera imperfections.

It sounds like a joke, but it’s absolutely true. Photography is the single most important thing to understand when it comes to learning 3d, but for some reason most artists choose to ignore it.

When you take a real photo with a real camera, do you realize how many flaws are being built into the photo?

Just to name a few:

  • Chromatic Abberation
  • Vignetting
  • Soft Glare
  • Light rays
  • Reflecting glare
  • Bloom
  • Lens Flare
  • Glare burnout
  • Ghost glare
  • Depth of Field
  • Motion Blur
  • Lens Distortion
  • Lens dust, scratches, sweat, fingerprints
  • Film developing artifacts
  • Color grading

Now guess how many of these flaws occur when producing a computer generated image?

NONE. ZERO. ZIP. NADA.

When you hit F12 you will produce a perfect still. Every. Single. Time.

For example, take a look at this image by the talented artist, Marek Denko:

Aside from the perfect lighting, flawless modeling and impressive materials. What else has he incorporated?

Effects. And lots of them.

  • Depth of field
  • Chromatic Abberation
  • Lens scratches, dust & dirt
  • Color Grading
  • Bloom
  • Reflecting glare

These are all things are done outside of the 3d viewport and added in post production. That means that after he slaved over every piece of detail in the scene, he flipped to the compositor and continued working. That is what pushed this scene over the edge.

Have you ever wondered how Pixar achieved that authentic film look in Wall-E?

This was actually the result of many months of work. Before they began working on the meat of the production, they focused entirely on trying to replicate the look of live footage in their 3d software. They even went as far as to consult the Director of Photography from No Country for Old Men, on tips for creating real camera and lighting setups.

“We rented some equipment and used the live-action DP [Marty Rosenberg] who eventually shot some of the live-action elements. He helped us do some lens tests. Our depth of field, our cameras never look as we expect them to.

“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.”

-Andrew Stanton

(source: AWN)

The result was a very slick, very believable environment for Wall-E to explore.

Why using the compositor is crucial to your artistic success

The most common question people ask is, why would I want to incorporate camera flaws into my renders? After all camera flaws are exactly that, flaws. So wouldn’t an image that is clean from these flaws look better?

Nope. Let me explain why.

When you look at a white car sitting in the hot sun, your eyes expect to see a reflecting glare. When you look closely at your spoon during breakfast, your eyes expect the bowl of cereal in the background to be out of focus. And at night time when you look at a street lamp, your eyes expect to see rays of light.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Our eyes have become so accustomed to seeing these imperfections that it looks odd when they aren’t there.

Now don’t get me wrong, lighting, materials, textures and lighting are all important and I’m not pretending they aren’t. But unless you learn to take camera effects seriously, you can kiss believability goodbye.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I have written an eBook called The Wow Factor, which you can purchase here: http://wowfactorbook.com

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