How would you achieve photorealism in anything? How would you start? Is photorealism the result of detail overkill?

Not just detail, but also textures… lighting… rendering … composting… they all make a difference…

Just try to make it look awesome… then take a step back and compare it to a photo, make a list of differences and then try to aim for that.

For years CG was all about getting to the photo realistic level. We are there now where it can be difficult to see which is real and which is fake. For me recreating “real” life is boring, but creating something fantastical that looks like it is real is epic. It takes a fine eye and years of practice to develop that skill but when you see something that in your mind is real and later find out it was a strand of someone’s imagination, that is a special moment. Just my 2.5 cents.

do you suggest looking at a photo first and then modeling, or modeling and then comparing?

Photoreal is achieved by asking yourself what makes things appear real. Look around you. Take note of all the characteristics of the objects around you (gloss/reflection, color, smoothness, contours, edges, etc.) Photoreal is incorporating as many of these types of details into a render. Say you’re making a book. The details that are going to sell it as photoreal are small things like, dents in the cover where it has been dropped. These dents only become visible when light hits them at just the right angle, so the dents can be achieved by a specular map. Corners are a big thing too. Nothing in reality has prefect 90 degree corners. Nothing. Everything has a slight bevel to it. Worn areas on object where they are handled frequently or dirt build up. Photorealism is about noticing the details that are usually just registered subconsciously and never really focused on.

You don’t need a billion faces to make a photo real object. You need to add seemingly inconsequential details (scuffs, dents, wear and tear, imperfections) I have a mental check list of things to focus on when attempting photo real. I ask myself these questions:

  1. what are the objects reflective properties (how reflective is it, does that reflection give an impression of smootness or roughness or bumps)
  2. What are the qualities of the color of the object? (Does it have scratches, dents, tears, color variations that are due to sun exposure or spilled liquid)
  3. Does this object have moving parts?
  4. Does this object emit light?

Those are the big ones. Best way to learn photo real is to give it a go and post your works in progress asking for tips.