Sliding Scale of Realism vs. Stylization
A Sliding Scale of how stylized the visuals in a work are

(permanent link) added: 2011-11-16 14:30:14 sponsor: Folamh3 (last reply: 2013-02-28 16:56:30)

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There are a potentially infinite number of ways to represent objects in visual media. There are portraits of people that are so lifelike they could easily be mistaken for photographs, whereas the art of, for example, Jackson Pollock is so abstract and formless that it could scarcely be said to represent anything at all. This is a sliding scale of how realistic or stylized the visuals in a given work are.

Please note that this trope only refers to how realistic or stylized the visuals in a given work are. It has nothing to do with the realism of the setting, plot etc.

Very Realistic

  • Visual art which quite closely resembles real life. There will be a strong preference for natural, rather than artificial, lighting. Shooting on location will be more common than shooting on sets. Special effects will be at a minimum, if present at all, and there will be no use of CGI (in live-action). In film or animation, editing techniques will generally be limited to cuts, fades, dissolves and other minimal techniques of this nature, and individual shots will tend to be unusually long. Colour will generally be preferred to black-and-white (exceptions are made for films produced prior to the advent of shooting in colour). Post-processing of all kinds will be used sparingly, if at all. At no point will the audience be in any doubt as to what a given object is meant to represent.
  • Examples include many documentaries, mockumentaries, Dogme 95 films, Italian neo-realist films etc. This point on the scale is essentially limited to live-action (and some of the fine arts, typically of the "warts-and-all" school): it's not really feasible to pull this off in animation. This rarely appears in mainstream, commercial films precisely because the audience has become so used to more stylized films that the realistic art style itself looks unrealistic.

Quite Realistic

  • Still very realistic, but more stylized techniques will begin to creep in. Artificial lighting will become more prominent, as might coloured filters. Simple special effects might be used, along with minimal use of CGI. More elaborate editing techniques may be used.
  • Most live-action films sit around this point, along with some animation and sequential art (especially rotoscoped animation). Most kinds of fine art sit either here or on the point below. Some entirely CG art will sit here as well.

Moderately Stylized

  • In animation, the art style will become rather more impressionistic here. Colour schemes will become increasingly artificial, sometimes employing black and white for artistic reasons. Special effects will become very popular, often used to represent events that are essentially impossible in nature. CGI will be used liberally in live-action. In animation, cel-shading will start to become apparent, buildings may start to employ increasingly unlikely architectural designs and human or animal bodies may begin to appear subtly out of proportion, for example employing angular character models or Most Common Superpower.
  • Most animation and sequential art are around this point, along with German Expressionist films, many music videos, some more over-the-top action films and many science fiction and fantasy works. In painting, surrealism starts to emerge here.

Heavily Stylized

  • Very stylized art style. While the audience will understand that objects onscreen are intended to represent objects in the real world, they may have some difficulty identifying exactly what they are meant to represent. Buildings will employ architectural designs which are physically impossible, as might also be the proportions of human or animal bodies. Colour schemes will make liberal use of colours which never occur in nature. Editing techniques will be extremely experimental and eccentric. Cel-shading will be very pronounced and alternative forms of shading will be less popular.
  • Lots of animation and sequential art (including Stick Figure Comics and Stick Figure Animation) resides at this point. It is unusual for commercial films to reside here; anything live-action residing at this point will typically consist of short experimental pieces, often without plot or characters. Many music videos (especially of the surreal kind) reside here. In painting, most impressionism is somewhere between this point and the point above.

Completely Stylized/Abstract

  • Artwork which is so stylized it can be almost impossible to identify what any of it refers to. No two people will agree on whether a given object in the work is meant to represent a dog, a house, a gun or whatever.
  • As noted above, popular in abstract paintings, along with experimental music videos, animation and short films.

Note: the scale runs from "very" at one extreme to "completely" at the other extreme. This is done to avoid a philosophical debate about what constitutes "completely" realistic art; for the purposes of this trope, it is considered an artistic impossibility.

Related tropes include True Art Is Incomprehensible and Art Evolution. See Art Shift for when multiple points along the scale are employed in a single work.
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