As with a model’s classification, a mesh usually has a specific style associated with it. A style refers to a specific philosophy, goal, or look. Realism, impressionism, abstract expressionism, and surrealism are common styles found in traditional art. Although a digital model could easily fall into any of the traditional art styles, the 3D industry usually places them into one of two different model styles: photo-real and stylized.
When a model depicts an object with realistic accuracy, the term photo-real is applied. Digital artists use photographic reference and their observation skills to transfer the realistic properties to the details that make up their models.
It’s important to understand that the subject matter is not required to be a real-world object, like a car, human, or architectural structure. Models of robots, dragons, and other fictional subjects can also be modeled in a photorealistic style using real-world reference as a guide.
When a digital model consists of artistic forms and conventions in a non-realistic style, it is referred to as a stylized model. Simply put, a stylized model is one that is not photo-real. Cartoon characters and environments are classic examples of stylized models.
The best stylized modelers I know still gather and use just as much real-world reference material as a photo-real modeler. The only difference is how they interpret it and apply that information to the model.
Choosing a Style
Although many artists would argue otherwise, I don’t find either style of modeling to be more difficult than the other. Both styles require the same attention to detail, and the same care needs to be put into the poly-count and topology of the mesh. At the end of the day, the only real difference between the two styles is where the points are arranged on the model, as shown in the head models in Figure 4.18
[Figure 4.18] Each of these head models consists of the same elements, but only the head on the far left would be classified as photo-real.
Most artists gravitate towards a particular style. I prefer creating stylized models and creating meshes that have otherworldly proportions and attributes, but I also tackle photo-real models on a regular basis. My modeling toolset and techniques don’t change depending on the style of the mesh I’m tasked with. Digital modelers’ goals should be to hone their observational skills and to have the ability to work across styles.
Learning to work in both styles will only enhance your ability in the style of your choice and will open up more opportunities to you as a professional modeler.