How do i make my animations look less like cartoons and more photorealistic?

hi, I’m attaching a shot from a scene I’m doing. I like the way it looks, but I would prefer it to look more realistic. I think a lot of it has to do with the light and colours, but I don’t know. I added motion blur, I’ve added depth of field, I’ve tried playing with saturation and brightness, and I am currently messing around with volumetrics, but nothing seems to work. The buildings are photos imported on planes, but they don’t look photorealistic to me. Can anyone pinpoint the problem for me please? Thanks a million.


Eevee or Cycles?

The difference will be time and cash, because (basically) Cycles requires expensive hardware, and hours-and-hours of render time - but the results can be amazing!

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it’s done in cycles. i have to use a render farm for everything, so i don’t want to go overboard. I just want to know why it looks so cartoony and what might be done about it. In cycles.

Add more details, like trash, leaves, discarded flyer, and more props like bench, news stand, waste basket, etc. Traffic signs too maybe. and more vegetation. Maybe a couple billboards or commercial signs. Oh and street lights.
Also, you can turn up the strength of your world settings for more ambient light, add local lighting, and turn up the exposure in the render panel way at the bottom.


Change your color management to Standard instead of Filmic- you’ve got that classic ugly gray Filmic overlay going on

thanks those were all things i hadn’t tried, but none have really made a difference. I’ve tried cranking the strength of the world settings as far up as 20, and I’ve fiddled with bringing the exposure down to balance it out. I’ve tried standard instead of filmic and it does make an interesting difference I’m glad to have tried, but it still looks cartoony. Do we all agree it looks cartoony, or is it just me?

I’ll try adding some extra objects for sure. Good idea, but i’m guessing it will still have a cartoony feel.

Hello ! To me it doesn’t look cartoony :smiley:
Photorealistic is a very overused term I think, what you want to do is to make the image believable.

For that it really depends on the subject, some stuff are easier to do than others…
To make a shot like this, full CG to work is such a huge task you probably don’t want to inflict that to yourself :smiley:

So first, what’s wrong in the image ? :
Some stuff kinda works, like the trees looks like trees, building , while being a bit flat tend to look like buidlings, but you’re missing a lot of elements, like maybe peoples to start with, cars parked, light poles, I mean just uses references, pick all the details you see in these images and try to bring them to your render.

At some point you have enough elements that it starts to feel alive, from there in general artists rely on stuff like motion blur, camera moves and things like that to integrate CG better.

Most of us went to big cities, or at least we see them regularely in series, movies and such.
Since our brain is trained to spot details, it’s the same with realistic character, if something is off our brain pick it right away, that’s where you reached the uncanny valley. So it take a lot of efforts to trick the brain !

Say you have this (from Ian Hubert):

Is it what you call photorealistic ? At least it’s belieavable, and since it’s not a common place, it’s much more forgiving. A lot of stuff probably doesn’t make sense when looking closely, but we buy much more easily since it’s not the universe we live in.
On top of that, we assume that it’s CG, but since there is soo much detail adapted from the real world a part of us is being tricked and we find it pleasing.

So how you should do ?
You can do what people generally do :

You don’t do a realistic CG shot if you can film it, and if you can’t , you can still use camera mapping in some places,
Nearly half of the shots uses photos mapped on simple objects, a few examples :

On this one I’m pretty sure he started with a photo of the bridge, added CG bricks that are destroyed and the lamp is probably from another image, or maybe the same image, but he extracted it in photoshop and added slight paralax.

It can be a cool exercise to review shot by shot and see what is CG, photo, movie…
You can look at other source as well.
In movie industry, well they can spend a lot of time using the best artists so it’s very difficult for one person to do the same, and on top of that , a lot of what you see in movie is matte painted.

Hopes that helps a bit !


wow that was an awesome reply with great videos too. Thanks man.

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To somewhat echo sozap, photorealistic is a term that people often use when they mean “beautiful”. The vast majority of photos are actually quite drab, uninteresting, poorly lit, etc. As it stands, your scene is very nearly photo-realistic; maybe some lens effects like lens distortion and film grain will really sell the illusion, but if I saw this scrolling through Google images, I probably wouldn’t stop and question it.

So now what you want to focus on is pushing the “beautiful” aspect. Composition, lighting, contrast, these things add beauty. You don’t have a lot of contrast- try adding some in the compositor

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thanks man. how do you suggest i add contrast in the compositor? just with the brightness/contrast node? Do you ever mess with the gamma?
What do you mean by adding lens distortion? The node in the compositor too?

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That film Pixels is really good. I especially liked the tetris part.

Yeah, the brightness/contrast node is super useful. I’d also add a RGB Curves, I think it’s called, node- shape it like this, usually:

This is way over-done but a S curve like this gives a really nice look, it’s very common practice with photography and film work. It deepens shadows and pushes highlights. Just add a point about 25% along the curve from the bottom, move it down slightly, add one at 75%, move it up slightly

Lens distortion is also a node, as you noticed. Be light-handed with it, it’s something you want just a tiny splash of

thanks. I will try all of that now.

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I’m messing with the rgb curves and the contrast. What do you recommend i try with the lens distortion?

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and do you have a tip for film grain?

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A very small value - start with .01 or so- and turn the extend checkbox on. You want a very slight curving around the edges, I don’t have an example handy but you can see it in a lot of wide shots

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i just want to thank all of you who have responded to my cry for help. It’s very kind of you to offer your knowledge. Cheers!


Film grain is a little tricky because it should change every frame, which a simple noise texture doesn’t necessarily do. (Assuming you’re talking about animation still). The best bet is to find and download a video of film grain and mix it to your footage, with a mix mode of overlay and a value of .1 or less

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Cool ! I hope it doesn’t sound harsh !

I don’t know if you’ve seen this today : WTF ? Spider-Man No Way Home
It’s quite interesting and it probably gives some ideas of what it takes to do these kind of shots …

A lot of stuff are possible from there, if the most important is the story you want to tell, then keep working on your shot, add details, using references images is a must… You’ll probably end up with something much better.

If the most important is to get that believability, like you really want to make VFX and shots that look 100% real, then start simpler, like adding stuff in an image, or in a stock footage that you can find for free on the web, and on the overall try to pick simpler subject.
A full CG shot in a city street it’s quite a nightmare.
Having something like on a rooftop is already much simpler. Why ?
Because we go everyday on streets, how many time on rooftops ? Plus on top of that you don’t have to recreate close ups of people , cars, junks, all the stuff that you see day by day…

With time it will get better.

For sure you can add better lights, some post processing filter, or differnt filmic settings, but I’m pretty sure while they might give something interesting they won’t solve the fundamental issue here.

If we take that as a reference :

And then try to find all the little missing details and differences that makes that image looks real, which are not in your render.
You already have a good basis but it’s lacking a lot of elements doesn’t it ?


Yeah. I fully agree with you.

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