Currently I use a varied pallete of Genetica image textures, and a system of UV Mapping and Render Baking to create a certain level of realism required for my line of work. My question is, are procedurals easier and prodouce better realism overall? Or are images better to work with.
Images. Procedurals are really nice for certain effects, but if you want realism and believable detail you need images.
Making procedurals requires quite a bit of technical thinking to get anything that looks realistic. It is really a craft in itself. It really takes a very special mindset and some people seem to not be able to get into this mindset. Procedural textures are usually left to the technical department.
Highly detailed procedurals also have a tendency to produce noise in render and crawling efects in animation due to the difficulty to properly filter out the high frequencies in them. Image textures are easily and adaptively filtered for their high frequencies when needed. And the filtering algorithms are very good.
Procedurals are also expensive to compute. The more complex (which is generally the case for realistic procedurals) the more expensive they are to compute. And thus increase render time. Some system allow you to precompile procedurals and make them faster to compute but still, they require much more CPU to process than filtering an image texture.
Procedurals are difficult to port well from a 3D application to another 3D application because of the different implementation of the algorithms to make them. Getting the same look for a procedural on one application as on another application may require redoing it up from scratch.
Procedurals were a nice idea in the times when memory was a limited resource on computers. But that is not the case anymore. Procedurals had the advantage of infinite resolution. But the corrolary of that is that thewt tended to produce noise, moiré and crawling. The infinite resolution was a real advantage when memory was limited resources and the texture images were like 256x256 texels. But now we can use very high resolution texture images and we also have very good algorithms to filter them when viewed from distance.
For some applications, procedurals are still advantagous but for realistic materials, photos are to be prefered, IMO, provided you can get good references.
Those who believe you can’t get good results out of procedurals haven’t really taken the time to master them, procedurals can have infinite resolution and oftentimes some problems are solved by using ‘Full OSA’ in the materials. In 2.49 you can make highly advanced procedural textures using the texture nodes.
If you want to know more about what procedurals or procedural elements can produce, look no further than the galleries of MapZone, Filterforge, and Genetica.
One more thing, one of the biggest aspects of procedurals is that you can churn out many variations of the same pattern in a single Blender scene by using things like colorband, turbulance, and many other settings at the look of very high resolution without filling up your hard-drive with gigabytes of images.
Taking all that information into consideration, I see where everyone is coming from. Procedurals are better for the development side of things. They can have an infinite resolution and you can pack multiple variations into the same file. With images, you can still get very high resolution images that can be applied, tweaked, and modified to make them believeable. Both have their advantages and can be used in different situations, but overall try to use images for better realism, correct?
I think you have a pretty good handle on the situation. I think as far a processing it think it can go either way, it really depends on the texture. For example you can have a really complex procedural which might suck up more processing than a similar similar or lower res image, but as you increase in resolution on the image so does your processing needs. It also depends on what you are texturing. For instance a character has a ton of little details like freckles, scars, mabye a tatoo or labels on clothing that would not be practical to produce with proceedurals. But a landscape with snow and grass and dirt could be easier and faster to do with proceedurals. I think the best think to know when and where to use either and use whatever is best for the job. You can also use them together, say a procedural for skin but and image for scars and tatoos and blend them together.