The #1 Reason Your Render Looks Fake

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?


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:

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About Andrew Price

User of Blender for 9+ years. I've written tutorials for 3d World Magazine and spoken at three Blender conferences. My goal is to help artists get employed in the industry by making training accessible and easy to understand. I'm an Aussie and I live in South Korea ;)
  • Franklin

    I’ve seen tons of amazing abstract computer art that wasn’t “believeable” in any sense of the word. It depends on what your goals are. If you are creating images for film the goal is believeability. but that’s so boring. 3D gives us tools to perfectly craft the unbelievable, and the surreal, and the abstract. Don’t limit yourself to “believeability”

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  • Peter

    Don’t agree. It dosn’t have to look real. Just good. And there is many ways it can look good, other than realistic, like cartoony, impressionistic, abstract, surrealistic, cubistic, pendrawing, sketchy?

    • Blah

      The goal is not to make it look “realistic” but to make it look “believable”.

  • Eliut

    Hello Andrew, you make a very good point. The artistry lies in not abusing the “imperfections” though. What makes me mad is camera movements, I wish I could add more variety and perhaps “noise”. I loath the dolly effect.
    Please ignore the trolls, your article is very well done, good luck with your book.

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  • ⋚≶≶Rêverêche≷≷⋛〻

    I like working in cartoonier styles myself, but even THERE imperfection is important. Commenters need to stop being contrary whiners =P

  • John McNolan

    I got to say your impression of “good looking” art is ignorant – I would say the ignorance of youth but I am probably little older than you and I know GOOD art [benefit of travelling and exploring]. The picture by Marek Denko that you use as a reference is one of his worst ones – it’s a freaking toy car – and rarely mentioned elsewhere but here.

    I don’t know what the purpose of this blog posting is except to lament your own inabilities? People call you the blenderguru and blender jesus… which I think is comical as most of those comments come from people that are absolutely talent-less themselves and as such know no better.

    In short, I really think you are nothing but an overrated hack admired by the talentless people who can only make the blender cube rotate.

    • anonymous

      hang on, if you hate this site and andrew price, then wtf are you doing here in the first place?

    • Freddy

      We believe God created each person with unique talents to be used to serve & bless others, AND this is where we find our utmost fulfillment in life. (from your website)

    • scubasteve1974

      what a douche.

    • McDOHlan

      The use of the word talent implies only one thing to me: You have no idea how to achieve anything :)

      Talent is a word for idiots that try to find an excuse for themselves not being able to work themselves to the top.