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Author Topic: Graphical realism, can we ever achieve it?  (Read 4349 times)
Prime Mover
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« on: February 07, 2010, 04:10:45 PM »

I have a friend of mine who believes, and makes a good argument, for the notion that graphical realism will never be able to convince us that what we are seeing is real. So far, he's been right. Each generation, companies tout that they've finally reached true realistic characters and environments, and every generation, we seem slightly closer, but still noone's fooled. Three years ago, I disagreed with him, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether he might be right. Maybe the brain is so intent on analyzing the realism of a situation, that no matter how good the graphics are, there is something that the brain just isn't quite right with. 20 years from now, we may still be railing on an impossible task, inching ever closer, like an exponential limit in calculus.

Currently, even with the greatest super computers in the world, I haven't seen evidence of the creation of completely realistic 3D graphics from scratch. Sure, Hollywood's been doctoring footage successfully for years, but the base is still actually real people and real footage. Even Avatar started with real video, and I'm thinking that that only successfully tricks us because it's an alien world... had they tried recreating earth and humans, I think we might have had some issues.
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MeshGearFox
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« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2010, 04:58:29 PM »

I think it's less a matter of "can" and more a matter of "should."

Granted, if you mean literal photograph quality, no. Even if you can do it perfectly from a technical standpoint -- which should be totally possible -- you'd still have humans creating the art assets. Even the *best* realism painters can't get things looking photographic.

I think the biggest issue, technically, is light. Luminosity's sort of fuzzy and weird because it has nothing to do with the physical details of an object. You want realistic pores on all your characters? Fine. Just fiddle with bump mapping and up the poly count. No big deal. Lighting's harder than that though.

Lighting's also one of the hardest things when it comes to like, painting or drawing anyway.

Specifically, you can have animotronics and puppets that don't look very realistic, that get very uncanny valley, that just... get odd, but you can tell their physical objects. Again, it's the lighting. You can do a completely realistic 3D rendering of a person but the lighting's what'll give it away.

Personally I feel the main issue with lighting right now is that stuff looks too shiny in games. Actually objects are not that shiny. Like that one Medal of Honor game where everyone looked doused in vasoline.

Anyway. As for my original comment.

I don't think there's a lot of merit in getting super-realistic. The obvious reason is that it kind of looks boring after awhile. The less obvious aspect is that videogame designers have a very peculiar idea of what realistic looks like and assume it means making everything dark.

Reason two. If you compare movies to like, soaps or talk shows, movies are filmed on that film/with that framerate/fuck it I don't watch TV thing where they're a little blurrier, not quite as sharp, not quite as realistic looking. Stylistically I always assumed this was to give the film a sort of painterly effect. To make it look less real. I think the same principle works for videogames and as such you don't need the same level of super detail.

Reason three. Increasing details can make things really visually confusing. I'm pretty sure I've used this example before, but X3 and Frontier: Elite 2.

http://www.mobygames.com/images/i/11/42/177342.png <- X3 is very detailed but it's a greebley, visually confusing mess and I can't tell what the hell is going on.

http://www.mobygames.com/images/shots/original/1178465496-01.png <- FE2. Really simple, almost abstract graphics, but you can tell what you're looking at without having to think about it.

Of course, this isn't just realism that does this. As I've said before, I have a small TV and found certain levels in Odin sphere unplayable because the visual style in the game was just too busy for a TV that size.

Fourth. Okay. I think it takes a little too long to do hyper-realism. I think if the industry tends that way it'll possibly scare off new artists since hyper-realism is harder, too.

Third, it's a lot easier to fuck up realism and get something ugly looking than with more abstract visuals.

Seventh, stylistically you hit a point of diminishing returns. You're going to be putting in more effort but it's not going to look appreciably better. For instance, in Oblivion, everyone looks really fucking ugly despite being high-poly and detailed.

http://content.playwhat.com/files/664/gothic2_7.jpg <- gothic 2, on the other hand... people don't really look GREAT, but they're low poly, the game runs pretty fast and still looks nice, and the faces aren't completely vomit inducing.

http://files.xboxic.com/xbox-360/the-elder-scrolls-4-oblivion/face-up-close.jpg <- Oh and people have normal-colored skin in Gothic as well.

Also you can do stylized realism like with Twilight Princess and have wonderful results.

Finally, my video card sucks and I can't play a lot of modern games because of what I find to be completely superfluous visual details that don't really make the game look much better but DO make it run worse. Bloom, overuse of shaders, really high poly faces that look horrifying, etc. Back in the olden days there was more of an emphasis on efficiency. I don't want to say high-end video cards are making developers lazy because that sounds codgerly and I don't think that's true, but fuck, just since I've been talking about Exile a lot lately, there was a HUGE amount of effort put into being as efficient as possible with that.

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had they tried recreating earth and humans, I think we might have had some issues.

Interesting point and I think it works. For another example, I think the aliens in ME2 look brilliant and that the humans look horrible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjIcFATxrus I mean like here. Although I guess you can mess with your PC's face in that game so maybe the person changing the details just has some sort of fetish for thick-necked ambiguously black dudes that look like frogs.
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« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2010, 05:03:37 PM »

I agree with your friend. No matter how realistic things might be on a screen, the human brain can simply distinguish between real and fake. What I think though, and it might sound far-fetched, is the mind can be tricked into believe something is real for a short moment and then see right through the trickery. The short time could possibly be a second or two, depends on the individual, and after that we distinguish it's fake.

I only mention this because it's happen to me a couple of times. I would see a cutscene from a game or movie, not very long mind you, and perceive it as real, but the second they start talking or if I see any signs of movement, I can tell it's fake. It takes me a couple of seconds if nothing is moving, but quite immediately if there's already movement occurring at the start of the scene.

I'm sure this has happened to others, or I might be the that gullible.
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« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2010, 05:08:02 PM »

Currently, even with the greatest super computers in the world, I haven't seen evidence of the creation of completely realistic 3D graphics from scratch. Sure, Hollywood's been doctoring footage successfully for years, but the base is still actually real people and real footage. Even Avatar started with real video, and I'm thinking that that only successfully tricks us because it's an alien world... had they tried recreating earth and humans, I think we might have had some issues.
That's what makes it so fun in my opinion.

Honestly, this world and life look and feel boring. We turn to media, books or word-of-mouth for mental entertainment to break away from the mundane. Avatar in 3D was beyond, and I dare say "better" then "realism." I already know what this world is like. If I want realism, I'll open a window. Nature's been doing this whole "realism" thing since the dawn of time, I think she's better at it.

Also, if you want to "trick" the brain into believing they are there, it needs to go beyond visual. It needs to include all five senses the brain utilizes to perceive reality. If theaters eventually go the way of including Smell-o-Vision, what with current aerosol compression technology, then you have to utilize some form of gyroscopic theater enclosed within for the whole movement gig.

As movies are today, they are flat, two-dimensional images with imaginary depth. I turn to the Virtual Boy as an example of what 3D is capable of, further stressing how far ahead of its time the system was. But I digress.

Theaters will inevitably have to go the way of total immersion, as I've mentioned. Perhaps not the way I summarized it, though, they need something to diversify theaters from the shit people have in their homes. Ticket Prices continue to rise dramatically in a vain attempt to break even, but to justify that cost, they're gonna have to step their game up, and believe me, they soon will.
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« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2010, 05:09:38 PM »

Um, I think video game examples don't really work in this situation.  They're a bit expansive to look at graphical realism.

Um.  I think its better to look at Pixar's or any other modern FMV-film and all that whatnot to compare graphical realism.  Games also have to be games; a movie usually makes its appearance a part of the film, and (IMO) they tend to pull it off better.
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« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2010, 05:38:57 PM »

Except for sex simulators I couldn't care less about graphical realism.
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« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2010, 06:24:12 PM »

I think we'll have the processing power eventually. Recreating human beings with fotorealism is an insane task but it will be possible. I remember playing FFVII with a friend and during a cutscene I said: "in a few years in-game graphics will look like this" and he was like: "no way!".

I don't want games to look real though. I want great graphics but good artists will always be able to stylize their games and make their virtual worlds look more appealing than real life. That's what's so great about videogames, the only limit is the imagination. Maybe it will work for games like heavy rain or even something like modern warfare. Those games are in fact emulating real life and realistic graphics definitely improve the experience. I dunno, I'm happy with the current tech, what I really want are groundbreaking concepts like SOTC (and hopefully the last guardian), that's what we need. Maybe the next COD will have a few more polygons on enemy soldiers or the environments will have more detail/better textures but it will still be just another shooter with slightly better graphics.

We need more creativity, not better tech. I actually think they should slow down, specially with the current economy. People are still buying their HDTVs and they already want us to buy 3Dtvs and Super-HDtvs are already in the pipeline with resolutions 3 times superior to 1080p. I mean, seriously? Who is going to upgrade their tv 3 times in 5 years? Why the hell are we already thinking about tvs that will make the current industry standard obsolete? When you are watching a blu ray on a full HD setup do you feel the need of better picture quality?
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« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2010, 06:54:48 PM »

Of all the FPSes I've played, the moment where you step off the Vortex Rikers ship in Unreal for the first time stands out as the one moment where the visuals in a game really impressed me. Not because of the realism -- Unreal was never particularly realistic looking. Especially not in 2005 -- but because of just how the entire scene/level was composed.

http://ve3dmedia.ign.com/ve3d/image/article/745/745255/new-crysis-dx10-screenshot-20061110001326035.jpg So something like Crysis, despite being more visually advanced... Wow, a fucking jungle. Hooray?

Also you can really notice in this SCREENSHOTS FROM AN EARLY PRE-RELEASE VERSION KTHX what I said about lighting here. Yeah, you have shadows outdoors on a sunny day. Nobody's denying that. But look at the shadows on the guys hand. You don't really get THAT without spotlights. Also, the bloom, which looks nothing like real life... Just lots of little details.

http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/830/830713/crysis-20071026034201128_640w.jpg Of course, the wonky lighting's fixed here, but uh... Do I really need to say anything else?

I think devs have this tendency to do stuff that they think would look realistic and go too far in that direction and get weird. "Metal reflects, right? MAKE IT SHINIER." And so on.

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We need more creativity, not better tech.

Yes. The reason video cards are advancing faster than general CPUs is that, because they're specialized, you can basically keep glueing more... registers or transistors or whatever to them.

http://www.legitreviews.com/images/reviews/1100/nvidia_fermi_1.jpg which is why GPUs are now the size of phones.

Also, speaking of Avatar. You ever notice how goofy it looks in still shots?

http://moviesmedia.ign.com/movies/image/article/105/1051181/avatar-20091202004832109_640w.jpg
http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/io9/2009/10/ae3ae1e288fc49a2138b0e6dd02eeb27.jpg
http://i.thisislondon.co.uk/i/pix/galleries/films/avatar/avtar2_600x449.jpg
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« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2010, 08:38:42 PM »

I agree with most of you that realism isn't really very important. Most of you know I'm one of the first people to demand more stylization and artistic representation. But it is interesting to talk about, and it's hard to deny that there is a place for realism. Let me also clarify, because some of you have gone way out on the deep end in your interpretation of realism. I'm defining realism as cinematic realism, not day to day realism. Of course Hollywood movies aren't "realistic" in the same way that driving to work is, but I'm not talking about that. That's a perfectly reasonable statement to make, and probably a good discussion as well, but it's really a completely different topic. What I'm talking about is the ability to fool audiences into mentally believing that what they're seeing is real-life actors playing parts.

MeshGear brought up an interesting point about light. I think light is probably one of the more important factors in defining realism, however, there is a pretty good solution that is creeping up on us and should be available within a generation or two: ray tracing. Ray tracing has been around since the 80s, and is already used to create many of the FMVs and still scenes in video games, but it is currently still too processor intensive to render in real time. Currently, 3D lighting is done with a lot of fakery and trickery, not really simulating the way light works, but recreating some of it's effects. Ray tracing goes to the heart of the matter, and simulates the way that light actually reflects off of objects. This is the one thing that is guaranteed to improve with increases in processing power. Expect to see some preliminary examples of real-time Ray Tracing within a generation or two.

As for facial movement, a lot of this is done with motion capture, which leads us to the question of "what really is realism"? In ME2, Miranda's face was modeled after voice actress "Yvonne Strahovski", and then they performed motion capture on Yvonne as she was delivering lines so they could match the character's facial expressions to hers. So in a sense, it's not completely constructed from scratch. Motion capture is a type of capturing real motion on 3D graphics. Because of this, Pixar prides itself in using no motion capture in its movies, and animates all motion from scratch.

Here's some info for Meshy:

Reason two. If you compare movies to like, soaps or talk shows, movies are filmed on that film/with that framerate/fuck it I don't watch TV thing where they're a little blurrier, not quite as sharp, not quite as realistic looking. Stylistically I always assumed this was to give the film a sort of painterly effect. To make it look less real.

There are three major differences between film and video: framerate, resolution, and depth of field. DoF is probably the most noticeable of the three.

- Film is 24fps, video normally 30/60 fps, depending upon how you define "fps", but it's typically multiple of 30 in the US.

- Film has silver emulsion grains, video is 720x480 pixels (SD, US) and 1080x720 (720p). Beyond that, there's not a whole lot of distinguishable difference, I would argue that resolution is the most minor of the differences between video and film, due to how the mind interprets clarity over time.

- Film is shot on 35mm celluloid, which is a fairly large sized frame. Because of this, images that are in front of, or behind the focal plane are slightly out of focus. This is called having a "narrow depth of field", and simulates the way the eye focuses on objects. It allows filmmakers to direct audiences to the attention of different objects. Video, on the other hand, has an extremely small frame ("chip") size, therefor, just about everything appears in focus. This "flattens" the picture, and makes it look less 3D to us. As a videographer... I fucking hate this.

All three of these things can be gotten around in video, and are... since more and more scenes from Hollywood films are shot on very advanced video cameras. Many film cameras these days can shoot at 24p, which is the same framerate as film. 1080p is not quite as high resolution has film grainuals, but it's good enough to fool most people, and hollywood has even higher resolution standards to work with. Depth of Field can be achieved with a bit of ingenuity, and some ground glass. The cheapest mod units are around $300, the most expensive go on up to $5000.
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« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2010, 09:11:13 PM »

I guess the only REAL purpose for realism is to say we can achieve that kind of feat.  But yeah, I suppose it would be quite bland to do so.  But you can watch cartoons for a creative world; but to see it transferred into a setting as realistic as possible (as pointed out, even Avatar looked a bit ludicrous at times) is still quite impressive.  I remember being so excited when I saw the FF Anthology (VI & V, I believe) sprites made into CG models!!

I wonder if its a conscious effort to make things look somewhat unrealistic for design purposes.  We know the FMV department at Squeenix isn't stupid; but they always make sure the characters hair doesn't get in the way of their face.  Unrealistic, but meant (I suppose) for presentation sake.
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« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2010, 11:46:24 PM »

The thing with light is that it's sort of a bell curve, in my eyes. If you just eschew major lighting at all and, you know, do whatever PSX RPGs did, it looks more unrealistic than "All of these soldiers are covered in vasoline for some reason" style lighting. You don't have a lot of the details that would make it look real, but it doesn't look bizarre.

You mention raytracing, though. That's actually a huge, huge advantage of doing pre-rendered backdrops. You CAN raytrace those because they're still shots, then have the end product be really high res. Riven, by and large, looks fucking gorgeous and if they remade it with HD renders...

I'd also argue that the level of realism Riven did was necessary, partially because of how tightly constructed the game was. Every detail was relevant and I think taking a more stylized reality approach like they did with Myst would have somehow... distracted (DIStracted. Not DEtracted) from that.
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« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2010, 01:23:24 AM »

Calling Raytraced images "stills" isn't really accurate... or should I say, that applies to everything. All animation is made of stills, Raytracing is simply another technique for creating 3D images... string them together and you have motion. We think of Raytracing as "Stills" simply because we don't have the processing power to do it in real time. But at one time, very long ago, we didn't have the processing power to do basic 3D graphics in realtime either. That will change. Now, unfortunately, Raytracing will come at a huge hit to polygon count. We will have to practically start from the ground up, again, in 3D graphics... something I doubt anyone will do all at once. That's why retracing will likely come in gradually, and very simplistically at first.

Riven... you bring up an interesting point. Riven, and by extension "Myst 4" (if you haven't already played it), was almost completely all non-human graphics. The few humans that are depicted are simply actors rotoscoped in. I do think, and Riven is a great example, that when it comes to environments, we will be able to depict reality. But the subtleties of human expression, I'm not sure we will be able to be fooled so easily.

And Dice... I'm not exactly sure by what you mean by it being an unconcious effort on the part of developers to try to stylize their graphics. To a certain degree, you may be correct, but only as far as maybe a hollywood special effects office will do things to over-dramatize make movie scenes, but the character side of things, I think there are many developers who genuinely are trying to make things look real. Take Mass Effect 2 again, since I'm playing it right now. I just noticed that the stars flicker and shimmer incredibly unnaturally... an over-emphasis. Real stars don't do that, but people THINK that they do, at a glance, and we've been trained by years of B Sci-Fi graphics into thinking that they do. But the character animations are still about as advanced and realistic as you are going to find in games these days.
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« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2010, 02:35:29 AM »

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Calling Raytraced images "stills" isn't really accurate...

I meant still images, which is why I said "still shots" and not "stills."

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Riven... you bring up an interesting point. Riven, and by extension "Myst 4" (if you haven't already played it), was almost completely all non-human graphics. The few humans that are depicted are simply actors rotoscoped in. I do think, and Riven is a great example, that when it comes to environments, we will be able to depict reality. But the subtleties of human expression, I'm not sure we will be able to be fooled so easily.

Not rotoscoping. They just superimposed actual live actors. Myst 3 did it too. As did Myst 4, but Myst 4 sort of looked worse because they had some actual 3D, non-pre-rendered objects that stuck out like a sore thumb and they stuck random-ass peter gabriel music in it.

Human expressions another kettle of worms because that's also got musculature involved. If you want to get human expression right you literally have to simulate the underlying musculature or it'll always look a little off.

Alternatively, don't go for realism and you'll wind up with something that looks a lot better with only a modicum of the effort, hence my original point. It's less a matter of can than should. Which I know really isn't answering your question, but again, as I said, yeah, it's technically possible. Even now if you put in the man hours. It'd be EASIER if you had a good framework for it though.

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Real stars don't do that, but people THINK that they do

You also start experiencing... I don't want to say hallucinations but if you stare at the stars long enough they start like, jiggling and flickering and doing odd things. I mean not really but it LOOKS like they are.

Oh, I wanna bring up avatar again since it sort of fits here.

The alien plants in that movie did not look anywhere alien enough. See, in sci-fi, when people design plants, they tend to do it without realizing how odd actual plants can be. So, with Avatar, you basically have giant oak trees that fly and have huge, viney roots. Wow, now we're in a Yes album cover.

Examples!

http://bonsaibc.ca/peninsula/Monkey_Puzzle_Tree__T.JPG
http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2006/platycerium-superbum-pl-600.jpg
http://www.plantsofperfection.com/PICTURES/Passiflora_Alata_thumb.JPG
http://www.kaowinston.com/adenia.jpg
http://www.smgrowers.com/imagedb/Aloe_plicatilis.jpg
http://www.sustainableoutdoors.com.au/wp-content/gallery/grasstree/grass-tree-final.jpg
http://welcometocactusland.com/Succulents/Personales/Belleza/Images/huernia_zebrina.jpg
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3137/2949755041_b73a829eef.jpg
http://www.beautifulbotany.com/STOCK%20D-F/Euphorbia%20ingens.jpg
http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au/science/timage/13908ic1.jpg (Not weird till you find out this isn't a pine tree).
http://www.yunfeng-gardens.com.cn/images/Podocarpus/Pseudolarix%20kaempferi-1.jpg
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Cirio_columnaris,_boojum_tree.jpg
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« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2010, 06:10:27 PM »

I think you're thinking of Myst 5, that was the one that had 3D characters. Myst 4: Revelations, still used real actors, and so far in the game, no Peter Gabrial that I can tell. Myst 3 Exile was also a good example of great graphics like Riven... but let's not talk about that game because it kinda blew, and it wasn't made by Cyan.
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« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2010, 06:50:47 PM »

Relevations had some random scenery objects, such as the meteors in... one of the brother's ages, that were actual 3D models that weren't pre-rendered. They looked really bizarre. Also there's literally a five minute long peter gabriel music video as you enter the last age of the game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pr4pZ6tsONc
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