Do We Really Want Realistic CG Art?

2 minute read

If you’re a 3d artist you’ve probably heard something like this on art websites like DeviantArt or ArtStation:

“I almost thought this was a photo from the thumbnail” -everyone

And you’re always wishing someone would say this:

“That’s a photo! Stop claiming its CGI!”” -Nobody

So why are we so obsessed with making everything look so realistic? I mean, if we really wanted realism, wouldn’t we would just take a photo?

Right?.. Right!

The truth is, we don’t want realism. We want what is called “Surrealism”, not Realism. Lets break down the meaning of Surreal, so we can get a grasp of why this is what we want. And why we don’t want total realism. Here is a quote from a dictionary describing what Surreal is:

Having the qualities of surrealism; bizarre. “a surreal mix of fact and fantasy” - Dictionary

“A mix of Fact and fantasy.” Fact is realism, fantasy is the story we add to the realism.

Starting to understand?

For thousands of years we have been making up stories, drawing and painting. So we can escape reality and bring ourselves into another world. Sometimes a happier one, sometimes a sadder one. Either way, we are trying to create something that doesn’t exist in our world, but does in the one we create. Sometimes that world parallels ours very closely, (That’s the fact part) sometimes its so far from reality its bizarre. (Less fact, more fantasy)

There’s a reason why fiction is the most popular genre. Sure, we also write non-fiction and paint portraits and make documentaries. But we are talking about art. Not When you look on the front page of DeviantArt, how many grittily realistic artworks do you see? Very few by my count. But when we go on CG forums we find dozens of technical posts about IOR values, lens effects and all kinds of other technical things to make things more and more realistic. And I even wrote an article about realism awhile ago. Don’t get me wrong. I love all that stuff and still plays an important part of making CG art. Just like it does in Painting or Drawing.

But if you want to call something art, it needs to be artful and tell a story. If it doesn’t tell a story, its not really art. And we need to hold ourselves as 3d artists up to the same standards as other artists do. a Pixar movie without a story is just a bunch of test footage. And so is your render.

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