Thanks for the informative post, 3dZ.
The scenario you describe, in terms of compositing/live action/VFX, is often a challenge in any pipeline.
In my opinion, believability easily trumps realism, because it’s the thing that translates over all media and styles: it’s the thing that allows a few well placed pencil / pen / brush strokes to suggest a character, the thing that makes us look past water color or oil paint or metal sculptures to see and connect with the underlying concept and emotion.
Realistic glass or chrome on its own is not that interesting or aesthetically pleasing until it has reflections, and people are more likely these days to rely on HDRI or environmental maps rather than bother to model a complete environment to facilitate such reflections - as in many car renders I see (especially ones with the fake building reflections when they’re parked in an open road or field - I just have to smile at those).
Even realistic photos or live footage itself often needs some post-processing to become more usable, interesting, and consistent. Composited CG elements, tracking, light probes: these are all areas that can involve significant work, and materials/shaders can be much less of a problem than motion:
E.g.: a poorly tracked / animated / composited / lit model or poorly timed / rendered performance/motion-capture will result in a much more noticeably inferior product much faster than if the object or character’s shaders’s not realistic. In fact, in live footage and animation, you often have a little more margin for something less realistic because it and/or the camera is in motion.
Considering it the other way around, it’s the overall relative believability of a performance that allows us, for a moment, to believe a character is alive and/or that a situation is truly unfolding (in the context of the work’s own subset of reality).
Shape and motion are high priorities among viewers: if something looks off or doesn’t move naturally, this can justify criticism of CG elements if they are improperly handled.
Another example is how we see, all the time, realistic looking materials and textures on 3D characters and scenes but the scale of the textures or things like proportions can be off, if only just a little: it helps underscore how the image is CG.
None of this 3D stuff is truly real: most of the algorithms themselves are not perfect or universally workable or optimal in every scene imaginable, and, even the few that come as close as possible, do not tend to function well in real time or fast enough for animation purposes: learning new and alternative methods can become necessary at some point.
My own feeling is that Blender is just a tool, and, like any tool, it can be used in a variety of ways for a variety of tasks but cannot possibly be and do everything all the time.
My only real interest in this thread has to do with Blender’s often prematurely dismissed internal material/rendering capabilities. It can handle more than most people give it credit for. After thousands of projects big and small over the years in many different styles, I’m still enjoying seeing what else it can be made to do I’ve yet to really explore material and texture nodes.
So, for me, Blender still has much unexhausted potential