Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Hate the Term Photo-Realistic

Now before you come at me with pitch-forks, I don't hate photo-realistic scenery, and X-Plane's performance with orthophoto-based scenery is very, very good. But...the term "Photo-Realistic" makes me crazy. Here's why:

First, photo-realistic scenery links the use of photographs in scenery to realism in its very name, and I don't buy it.

Yes, some photo-based scenery packages are realistic looking, by today's standard of flight simulation. Some are not. Just look at any old photo-realistic package to see what I mean...realistic is a relative term, defined by how much fidelity we expect, and that expectation has steadily gone up. Even with a modern package, a photo-based scenery pack might not be realistic if the photos are not used well.

(For example, is a package that uses orthophotos on the mesh but provides no 3-d in a city still considered realistic now? What kind of review would such a package get?)

Nor do photos have a monopoly on realism. They can look nice when well used, but I would put Sergio's custom panel work up against any photo-based panel. (Sergio does not manipulate photos for his panel, he constructs them from scratching. He has thousands of photos for reference, but the pixels you see are not originally from any photo.)

Second, the term photo-realistic (in the scenery world) is most commonly applied to scenery that applies orthophotos to the terrain mesh in a non-repeating way. But orthophoto base meshes don't have a monopoly on the use of photographs, which can be used to form land-class textures or to texture objects.

Okay, so "hate" is a strong word. But I feel some frustration whenever I see scenery discussed in terms of "photorealism".


Steve said...

Unless the satellite was directly overhead at high noon, photo-realistic terrain is "realistic" exactly one time per day, in good weather. Shadows are just as important, perhaps more so, than pretty pixels. The procedural shaders in X-Plane work astonishingly well, and IMHO provide a better sim experience over the entire spectrum of flying possibilities. Photo-realistic airplanes are another matter, and that just keeps on getting better too. No complaints here, Ben.

Benjamin Supnik said...

Right - right now you can pick "baked photo shadows" or "no shadows"...both of which have problems. :-(

Anonymous said...

I was going to suggest that we try and take back the term 'Hyper-realism' which has been hijacked by advertisers all too often and add a link to the wikipedia entry. Then I read it. The first line reads:

'Hyperrealism is a genre of painting and sculpture resembling a high resolution photograph.'


However, when you get down to the fourth paragraph of the history section it does get what I was thinking of across:

'Hyperrealism, on the other hand, although photographic in essence, can often entail a softer and much more complex focus on the subject depicted, presenting it as a living tangible object. These objects and scenes in Hyperrealism paintings and sculptures are meticulously detailed to create the illusion of a new reality not seen in the original photo. That is not to say that they are surreal, as the illusion is a convincing depiction of (simulated) reality. Textures, surfaces, lighting effects and shadows are painted to appear clearer and more distinct than the reference photo or even the actual subject itself.'

Hmmm, that paragraph could have been written by Sergio's PR guy!

Anyhow, my point - though laboured - is that a photograph, while an accurate depiction of reality, is not necessarily as realistic as it gets. OK, it's as realistic as most of us can ever get but an expert can produce something which the human mind perceives as 'more real' than a photograph or even, in some cases, than reality. Perception is everything - especially when the concept is applied to simulation.

in other words - I agree - Now why didn't I just say that in the first place? - More coffee!

Nils said...

I think ortophoto scenery falls short in just about every aspect except one and that simply that it offers the true diversity and non-repetitiveness of the real world. I can actually find myself just flying around over ortophoto scenery just to explore the world – I sadly never do that with regular scenery. However great it looks, there are just no surprises.

Anonymous said...

One realizes that when trying to come up with 3D objects better than Sergio's 2D made-from-scratchtextures. Sergios' always look better from the intended viewpoint.

They are, of course, not more real than reality; maybe more attractive, more interesting or visually compelling.

Dave Duck said...

X-Plane textures can be excellent when seen at their highest resolution, but they remain merely representative never realistic. X-Plane + photoreal textures equal a sum far in excess of their parts.

Conversely, crapphotoreal is much worse to look at that XP default textures. While I'd like to mention a vendor name, I'll refrain.

As Nils says, you feel a genuine urge to explore good photoreal locations, something I rarely experience with the default textures. Tenerife is the latest example.

Anyway, Ben, since your post related more to the use of the term, do you have an alternative up your sleeve? Maybe something neutral, like "photo-derived" or "photo-based"?

pauli said...

no Ben
in general the photorealistic term is perfectly ok.
If you are generating all your images by hand as the MSFS public generates it, the outcome is like a COMIC. Nothing against COMICS because I love them as a form of Art.

Perhaps a match of both could bring the perfect simulation - drawing and photo.
Thats is my experience as a teacher in art.

paul czerny said...

realistic features are alway a part of art, photorealistic is now a modern technique of impression. For me Photo and real life is something equal, the impression of life or the moment.
Impression and Expression is another point and this makes art.
What we get today by x-plane is a field of reconnesance of reality, a new chapter of reality.
I do not care if something is like a comic drawing or a photo, because photos are never the reality, but photos are something like a bridge to reality, a sort of remembering.
If you are against the term of photo-realistic you are against all of our impressions, our general impressions are media designed, how can you hate it? There is no other way as interpret it and use it for your own interests.

Anonymous said...

One thing that always turned me off of addons like REX is the abuse of the term PhotoRealistic... ``we took photos with real film, therefore it`s photorealistic``..

Hence why I use Xgraphics...