How do I get where I want to be?

How am I going to replicate the qualities of reality in 3D CGI and produce photorealistic renders?

At present I expect the three modes of study that will result in the most success are observation, research and comparison.


The primary mode of study will comprise of taking photographs and trying to reproduce them in 3D in an attempt to emulate the real world. This will provide opportunities to contrast and compare the original photographs to their CGI replicas in order to identify similarities and differences between them, the outcome of which should be the identification of a number of qualities that make an image photo-realistic.

Once a satisfactory result has been obtained, or indeed if I find myself unable to achieve a satisfactory result, I will summarise my findings and repeat the process with a different photograph.

My initial belief is that the mechanisms for achieving photorealism in a CG Image will be specific to the individual image and that a ‘one size fits all’ solution will not be found. For this reason the experiment should be conducted in different lighting situations, with different objects and different materials in order to formulate a range of solutions.

At the time of writing, my expectation is that organic matter, specifically human flesh, will prove the most difficult to replicate. This is due to two primary factors; firstly, the nature of the skin’s surface and the arrangement of translucent matter, such as veins and muscles, below the skin is very complex, and secondly, it is something that we as humans spend a great deal of time looking at. Nevertheless, I expect that research in this area will be readily available.


Once a stage is reached where I am unable to improve my renders through my own observations alone, focus will be given to researching the findings of other practitioners who are interested in photorealism. This need not necessarily be specific to 3D and CGI as artists have been trying to achieve photorealism for many years prior to the advent of current 3D technologies.

This research will be supplemented with three main areas of study which consist of:

  • Biology – to identify how the brain interprets signals being received from the eye
  • Photography and digital imaging – to identify how a photograph is captured
  • Light – to identify how light acts in the real world


Having researched work by other practitioners a comparison will be made to the findings of my initial experiments. Acting upon the results of this comparison I will try to improve my initial renders to see if I can emulate reality even further.


To conclude I will summarise all of my findings and produce a number of 3D CG images that hope to mimic the real world and fool the audience into believing the images are photographs of real world objects and not something that was entirely computer generated.

How did I get here?

Being able to wield a pen and pencil was something I’d always found myself able to do with some success, yet I found the medium and/or my ability to utilise it, limited, and equally the pleasure I drew.

Years passed without producing anything creative until 2003 when I defied my lecturers and all things 3D Studio Max and taught myself how to use Maxon’s Cinema 4D. Nine years later and I’m still only scraping the surface of C4D!

Inspired by films like King Kong (2005), The Lord of the Rings (2001) and Harry Potter (2001) as well as earlier films such as Labyrinth (1986), The Dark Crystal (1982) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) my ambition had always been to work in film. To this end, I’ve focussed the MA in Creative Media that I’m currently attending on achieving this goal.

This has taken me down a path where I have studied High Dynamic Range Imaging and their use in 3D, Linear Workflow, Compositing, Colour Grading, and Matchmoving. The example below shows the resulting culmination of these studies.

Camera Tracked and Composited Animated 3D CGI Frog

Camera Tracked, Composited and Animated 3D CGI Frog

The results of my initial studies were successful yet the brain is still not fooled into believing that the CG elements are real. Even when looking at blockbuster films like The Lord of the Rings, one is still able to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Take this scene of the character Ferodo in the same shot as a Cave Troll for example, it is clear which of these characters are real and which is computer generated.

Lord of the Rings Cave Troll

Lord of the Rings Cave Troll

What qualities of reality are missing in CG?

If you’d like to know more about my creative journey to date I have written a short bio on my freelance 3D CGI design and animation portfolio.

Where am I going?

Last night I made a post about What I hoped to achieve with this page, it seems to make good sense then that my next post be about How I intend to achieve it.

Although I have already collated a number of research materials, available on the Links page, I’ve not as yet read through them. Not because I’m a lazy student, but because I believe I might get better results by working this out for myself, hoping to develop personal insight through my own experiments, rather than prescribing to formulas derived by somebody else.

I believe that rather than arriving at a finite end, this mode of study has the potential to continue indefinitely. Despite this, it is expected that a natural transition will occur where consulting the findings of other practitioners makes more sense than continuing with the experiments.

Yesterday, I speculated that the answer to achieving photorealism in CGI was hidden in light, biology, and cameras. This hypothesis wasn’t just plucked randomly out of the air and is something I’ve been thinking about for years, albeit without a great deal of focus. Perhaps, before embarking on this exploration, I should evaluate the things I already know?

Once again, watch this space…

Why am I here?

I bet it has something to do with light

This is my very first Blog Post so I thought I’d make the most of a good opportunity to organise my thoughts and decide what my intentions are for this page.

The purpose for this page is two-fold really, although I’m not yet sure which is the primary goal and which is secondary. One objective  is to use this page as an assessment tool for the MA in Creative Media that I’m currently attending, another is to become a better artist (whatever that might mean).

I recently completed a freelance project where my client asked me to produce 3D CGI renders that looked photo-realistic. In the pursuit of photorealism I produced these images:

(Original versions available here)

Whilst I’m not overly disappointed with the result, one can still determine that the content of the images is unreal, computer generated. Considering that in blockbuster films with blockbuster budgets, one can still identify which elements of the film are CGI and which are real, my own renders are not a bad result. Despite this though, I can’t help but feel that they could have been better.

I now find myself asking the question: what is that makes an image look ‘real’? How does one discern what is photographed and what it is CGI? Perhaps if I started a blog-page, a person, not unlike yourself, browsing the net, might just leave a comment containing the answer? My guess is that if such a comment was left, it would have something to do with light.

In the more likely event that I’ll have to find out for myself, I expect that exploring how the human eye works and how the brain interprets the signals received from the eye should provide some clues. I’d wager that I’ll get even closer to the answer by exploring how cameras work, after all, it’s not real life that I’m trying to emulate, it’s realism as found in a photograph. What ever the answer is, it must surely have something to do with light… mustn’t it?

If I can convince an audience that something I have produced entirely in 3D is a photograph of a real world object, then this study will have been successful.

Watch this space