Is "PBR" a useful art style direction term?

insane polycounter
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Brian "Panda" Choi insane polycounter
I've heard my AD and other artists use 'Physically Based Rendering' as feedback term, or style term.

Is it just me or does it not at all denote a precise art style  direction in the same way  "impressionism" or "abstract" does?

For example, how useful does "Make it more PBR" sound like?  Only thing I can really think of  is when Dragon Age Inquisition went super shiny and 'metal-y" with a LOT of the metallic surfaces in the game.  Steel, Aluminum, Mithril, doesn't matter, they all shiny bruv as  away to flex early PBR.

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  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor hero character
    If I were to take it literally, I would think they were saying "make the material definitions more accurate to real world conditions."

    But, my hunch is they have a certain aesthetic in mind -- like you said maybe certain games that came out around the time PBR was becoming the big thing -- and they have just assigned that with the term. 

    This is a chance to ask the boss every bosses favorite question : "Yo, Top, what the hell are you talking about?"
  • Obscura
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    Obscura high dynamic range
    This is an interesting question, and I think its somewhat hard to answer because if you think about it, you could say both yes and no. But I think mainly no. Because any art style could be pbr. For example there is Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. They both use the same very stylized direction. Stylized shapes and surface texturing. But they are pbr, or at least partially pbr, because of how they shaders work. There are also a bunch of another stylized games made in Unreal with semi realistic material representation. But on the other hand, one could say that our art style is pbr because materials and lighting is represented physically based. But I think this just stupid. Because then one could just say that their art style is like video games because it looks like video games. But... Pbr could, or could not be the part of one's art direction.

    In my view, pbr is a tech that you can use to make your *whatever art style more life-like from some certain viewpoints.

    Edit - We had this weird guy but I think he got banned. I cannot remember his name right now. He kept coming up with a thing that he called cartoony pbr and we were like booo. By going this way of thinking that I just wrote above, actually he could have been right. At least it certainly exists but its more like what Blizzard does nowadays and not something that you can draw with pencils.
  • Eric Chadwick
    It was JordanN and it was not really cartoony pbr, it was basically just verbal diarrhea. We lean heavily towards leniency, but this was a sustained burden. 

    https://polycount.com/discussion/154329/physically-based-3d-cartoon-art/p1

    My feeling is PBR is merely a tool, not a style. Like, would you call diffuse-specular a style?
  • pior
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    pior insane polycounter
    "I've heard my AD and other artists [...]"

    That probably just means that neither this AD or these artists have ever worked with a roughness map themselves.

    In these cases I think the best course of action is simply to play dumb and ask them "what do you mean ?".

    ... and then, showing them a picture of a stylized action figure like this , to check if in their opinion it is "PBR".


  • Gaurav Mathur
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    Gaurav Mathur polycounter lvl 8
    On my team, "PBR" is shorthand to describe a workflow, it's not a style in itself.  We've used it to differentiate between authoring a full suite of supporting textures describing various real-world material attributes from the "old school" way of painting shadows and highlights into a single texture.  You can use the PBR workflow or not and still have to describe where an art style falls on the stylized to realistic spectrum.
  • Zack Maxwell
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    Zack Maxwell interpolator
    PBR definitely isn't a style. Just a rendering method.
    Since it's used to make things more physically accurate, I assume what they mean is that it should be more realistic/accurate. I'd ask to be sure though. I'd also never proliferate its use as a reference to realistic styled art. Not only is it needlessly confusing, but non-realistic games make use of PBR as well.
  • Blond
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    Blond polycounter lvl 5
    PBR definitely isn't a style. Just a rendering method.

    /thread
  • throttlekitty
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    throttlekitty Polycount Sponsor
    PBR is basically the new Next Gen.

    My two cents: if someone was asking for a "PBR Look", I feel they're thinking more about the nice lighting than the nitty gritty of maps and materials.
  • Ruz
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    Ruz greentooth
    it refers to 'paddington bear reboot'
    the first one was terrible imho
  • oraeles77
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    oraeles77 polycounter lvl 2
    i would associate the PBR word with AAA studios which produce first person shooters, you know industry oily greasy shiny metal things with chipped paint, thats sort of how I've sterotyped that word.

  • marks
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    marks polycounter lvl 11
    If your AD thinks "pbr" is a stylistic choice, your AD doesn't know what they're saying.

    In that kind of context it is a buzzword, and people who liberally use buzzwords usually don't know what they're doing all that well. Disney's Moana was PBR. Call of Duty Black Ops 4 was PBR. You don't really have to look very hard to realise there isn't much stylistic commonality between them.


  • sacboi
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    sacboi polycounter
    For example, how useful does "Make it more PBR" sound like?

    Not much!

    It's like saying "add more polish", seriously.

  • marks
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    marks polycounter lvl 11
    These days anything not rendered with a PBR workflow is the exception. So saying "PBR" is sort of like saying "rendered on a computer".
    In a lot of ways that says a lot about how much our industry sucks at stylistic diversity though. 
  • EarthQuake
    marks said:
    These days anything not rendered with a PBR workflow is the exception. So saying "PBR" is sort of like saying "rendered on a computer".
    In a lot of ways that says a lot about how much our industry sucks at stylistic diversity though. 
    Only if you think PBR is an art style. I was going to point you to an above post re: Disney etc, but you wrote it lol.

    But no, I don't think this is an indication of anything sucking in the industry. Frankly, I'm happy that studios seem to be embracing PBR for both stylistic and realistic art styles. If we never have to paint in abs or use awful hacky shaders again I'll be just grand.
  • Eric Chadwick
  • marks
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    marks polycounter lvl 11
    marks said:
    These days anything not rendered with a PBR workflow is the exception. So saying "PBR" is sort of like saying "rendered on a computer".
    In a lot of ways that says a lot about how much our industry sucks at stylistic diversity though. 
    Only if you think PBR is an art style. I was going to point you to an above post re: Disney etc, but you wrote it lol.

    But no, I don't think this is an indication of anything sucking in the industry. Frankly, I'm happy that studios seem to be embracing PBR for both stylistic and realistic art styles. If we never have to paint in abs or use awful hacky shaders again I'll be just grand.

    That's kind of my point though - there are some really interesting stylistic areas that simply aren't possible using technology that's built to mimic the real world - and the fact that it's such a rarity for anyone to explore those areas is ... disappointing. I'm not saying using PBR is a stylistic choice, I'm saying it restricts the stylistic choices that are available to you. 
  • Eric Chadwick
    I don't think it's a rarity because a specific tool is now in wide use... more likely that extreme stylistic choices are relatively expensive propositions.

    Custom toolset, custom content pipe, training, difficult to find art director talented enough to see it all the way through, small potential audience, etc. 

    In short, extreme stylism is a risk. 

    Not something that should stop an artist necessarily (speaking as an artist here!) but artists don't usually fund the project, risk assessors do.
  • EarthQuake
    In addition to what @Eric Chadwick mentions, I think it's important to point out that there is a pretty big range of style that one can pull off within a PBR system. PBR doesn't have to mean photo-realistic military sims. Style comes from very many things, not just the shaders your engine uses. Overall art direction being the biggest factor.

    Even if you're going for extreme stylization, NPR style rendering, PBR concepts can provide a solid foundation to construct the rendering style. If you're doing cartoony, cell shaded, or painterly style, it still generally makes sense for metals and insulators to reflect light... as metals and insulators should. This is a big reason why Pixar / Disney use PBR for their stylized work. The logical behavior of material properties helps to ground an otherwise unrealistic visual language, which makes it more relatable to the viewer/player.
  • Shrike
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    Shrike greentooth
    Technically its not a style although imo its nearly synonymous with overly glossy surfaces with strange roughness variation and people putting 'base materials' on their models and calling it a day. I think with PBR and quixel/substance, the barrier of entry for things looking 'fine enough' got pretty low.

    This is what I think of when I think 'that PBR look'
    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/8EeVS0UiuqE/maxresdefault.jpg


  • Amsterdam Hilton Hotel
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    Amsterdam Hilton Hotel polycount lvl 666
    how useful does "Make it more PBR" sound like?
    Not. 
  • Shrike
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    Shrike greentooth
    Shrike said:
    Technically its not a style although imo its nearly synonymous with overly glossy surfaces with strange roughness variation and people putting 'base materials' on their models and calling it a day. I think with PBR and quixel/substance, the barrier of entry for things looking 'fine enough' got pretty low.

    This is what I think of when I think 'that PBR look'
    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/8EeVS0UiuqE/maxresdefault.jpg


    But this has nothing to do with PBR, as in physically based rendering. Everything you've mentioned here is a content creation issue, and has little to nothing to do with rendering tech. PBR doesn't force artists to be lazy or make bad choices when doing material work. Really, it's not even remotely related. For each generation of tech I could find both half-assed and exceptional material work. It's sort of like saying when someone mentions oil paint you think of bad proportions - the tool or tech is not to blame for the execution.

    Definitely agree but the difference is that now the 'lazy work' looks fine enough and often gets a pass, while previously it was rather obvious to even non artists that it was sub-par and would less likely be approved. Is the tech to blame? No of course not, but it is a consequence of the instant flashiness of IBL, strong norming in the render pipeline so everything looks fine right away, and 1 click materials of generation PBR software.
  • Amsterdam Hilton Hotel
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    Amsterdam Hilton Hotel polycount lvl 666
    The shiny look can be a content creation issue, often comes from misreading the lighting conditions in reference images. But it can also be a style, some people intentionally push a glossier direction, just as a matter of taste. In any rendering system there's wiggle room with regard to dramatic vs understated material properties. I don't think it has much to do with PBR specifically because I remember even back in handpainted days you'd have guys who did a lot of, e.g., "racing stripe" painted metal reflections and guys with a more matte approach.

    The ability to re-use material configs to cut down on production time and raise the content produced by all artists to a higher minimum standard, such that it can "get a pass," seems to me like a plainly good thing. I think that mostly has to do with the development of better texturing programs than vanilla Photoshop though. For example in Substance you can make reusable smart materials that produce diffuse-lit results, so the reuse phenomenon isn't inherently tied to physically based rendering.

    One thing you really can credit to PBR is that you don't have to compensate against the quirks or limitations of the rendering system much anymore (remember having to "cancel out" diffuse colors in the spec to get a neutral highlight?). Something having the "right" material values is much more guaranteed to look right in all contexts. I can only imagine this makes it much easier to learn texturing principles today than at any time previous.

  • Meloncov
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    Meloncov polycounter lvl 8
    Both Disney Feature Animation and Industrial Light and Magic rigidly follows PBR workflows. I think that tells you all you need to know about the notion of using PBR as an art direction.
  • Praglik
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    Praglik polycounter lvl 7
    "Make it more PBR" just means it's not PBR.
    I give this feedback a lot with artists that do everything "by eye" and give me flat black albedo maps, half grey metallics and other impossible materials. Of course I explain in detail what goes wrong in their textures, with examples and charts.
    You are guaranteed that your assets will look off/wrong in certain lighting conditions. We shouldn't need to have two sets of assets for daytime and night-time, it's exactly why the whole industry went PBR in the first place.
  • gnoop
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    gnoop polycounter lvl 9
    While either flat pure black or white  is a big no-no in our not U4 engine    rather grayish diffuse color, maybe not half but still,   is ok for kind of dusty/rusty metal things having greyish metal channel too.     I have an impression pure white metallic channel  is a thing from an imaginary hi res perfect world with lots of halo artifacts

    As of too shiny thing it's IMO a common disadvantage of typical PBR  coming from a fact it usually misrepresent not so micro imperfections of materials like asphalt, worn wooden planks etc.  Those not so micro imperfections usually just have not enough resolution in normal maps to reflect light in proper direction so they usually require some non physically correct tricks otherwise looking rather plastic especially at sunset/dawn

    It's especially noticeable on asphalt surface and pretty hard to do with typical PBR.  With a sun higher than 40 degree you wouldn't see any highlight shining at all while in real world there are always lots of asphalt grains reflecting light straight to your eyes  and your normal map doesn't.  And at sunset it's other way around.   
     So in a word any shader approach restricting users from manual hacks is a bad idea imo an a big pain in the a..
     
  • fmnoor
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    fmnoor polycounter lvl 12
    Praglik said:
    "Make it more PBR" just means it's not PBR.
    I give this feedback a lot with artists that do everything "by eye" and give me flat black albedo maps, half grey metallics and other impossible materials. Of course I explain in detail what goes wrong in their textures, with examples and charts.
    You are guaranteed that your assets will look off/wrong in certain lighting conditions. We shouldn't need to have two sets of assets for daytime and night-time, it's exactly why the whole industry went PBR in the first place.
    I am going to second this train of thought. Without more information, perhaps the AD is saying there is something off with your assets? Maybe your albedo maps are too dark. Perhaps you are baking in AO pretty heavily in your gloss/roughness or diffuse maps.

    You can still be physically based but be fairly stylized or have a non-realistic look as mentioned above.  Textures don't even have to be photo-realistic either: Walking Dead Season 3 and later at Telltale were physically based but relied on hand painted assets.
  • CG_Sadhak
    This could be a matter of cognitive/incentive salience.  People will categorize PBR as a subset of visual experience in their mind.  This will not make it into a distinct art movement in our social sphere. However, in everyone's brain, the feedback upon encountering 'PBR' could be identical to trying to discern an established art style.  But there's a big can of warms here,  Please bear in mind that my info is already old and I'm no specialist, so I can be wrong on this.
  • EarthQuake
    fmnoor said:
    Praglik said:
    "Make it more PBR" just means it's not PBR.
    I give this feedback a lot with artists that do everything "by eye" and give me flat black albedo maps, half grey metallics and other impossible materials. Of course I explain in detail what goes wrong in their textures, with examples and charts.
    You are guaranteed that your assets will look off/wrong in certain lighting conditions. We shouldn't need to have two sets of assets for daytime and night-time, it's exactly why the whole industry went PBR in the first place.
    I am going to second this train of thought. Without more information, perhaps the AD is saying there is something off with your assets? Maybe your albedo maps are too dark. Perhaps you are baking in AO pretty heavily in your gloss/roughness or diffuse maps.

    You can still be physically based but be fairly stylized or have a non-realistic look as mentioned above.  Textures don't even have to be photo-realistic either: Walking Dead Season 3 and later at Telltale were physically based but relied on hand painted assets.
    I suppose? It's just shitty feedback in that case. Akin to "make it more better". If there are specific requirements for the project in terms of style or PBR requirements these should be clearly communicated to artists.
  • fmnoor
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    fmnoor polycounter lvl 12

    I suppose? It's just shitty feedback in that case. Akin to "make it more better". If there are specific requirements for the project in terms of style or PBR requirements these should be clearly communicated to artists.
    With the only information being 'make it more PBR' in the original post - then yes I agree that it is poor feedback.

    But I don't think the feedback is being used to address a style, but more 'correctness' for the art pipeline. It's all a little vague but I'd like to assume that the artists using that term know better than to just say that. 
  • Brian "Panda" Choi
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    Brian "Panda" Choi insane polycounter
    The times I've heard it, it's been used to assert an aesthetic feedback as opposed to pipeline.

  • sacboi
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    sacboi polycounter
    Well, clear's that up then.
  • xChris
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    xChris polycounter lvl 5
    no

  • jinglesjosh
    I would say no and heres my arguement. all three of these games use PBR shading. 


  • Neox
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    Neox sublime tool
    calling fortnite PBR is a bit of a stretch

    it might use the unreal shaders with some tweaks, which are metalness roughness workflow. but it is definitely not very physical in terms of materialsetup
  • Noors
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    Noors polycounter lvl 10
    That's pretty much semantic but any shader using a BRDF that roughly respects the principle of energy conservation (vastly GGX), belongs to the "PBR" shading model, whatever the inputs or artistic style.
    Then "physical" and "photorealistic" are confusing, as you could go non-photorealistic with physically based lighting.
    So imo when they say "more PBR" it means "more photorealistic" as they probably don't know shit about the technical side.
  • PixelMasher
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    PixelMasher insane polycounter
    yea my first guess would be if it was a non technical person like most art directors, what they probably actually mean is: work on your material definition. Make the differences between metals and matte surfaces like concrete more apparent. a lot of games still suffer from not pushing their materials, leaving everything to look kinda meh and samey in terms of surface type when lit in engine.

    look at uncharted or something like anthem, they exaggerate their materials a bit more dramatically than in real life to help sell the overall image being made up of different surface types while in motion. metals tend to be really "metal-y" so reflections and highlights roll off them nicely during gameplay.

    that would be my guess as to what the original posters art director wanted. but yea "make it more pbr" sounds like someone who stopped working in engine years ago and is more focused on high level aesthetics while trying to sound like they still know technical terms.
  • Mark Dygert
    Yeah I have to agree with Noors. Artists aren't always articulate with their words or technical terms, that's not their job, so they can talk a lot of pseudo-tech. You have to distill what is they're tying to say from what they actually said and give them some slack for it not being perfect with their terms.

    Anyone who has dealt with clients or coworkers that aren't particularly schooled in your area of expertise, will run into this, a lot. part of being a decent human being is not giving people shit when they reach outside of what they're familiar with, especially if you want them to do more of it. Don't be "that guy" that sneers and gets all judgmental when someone doesn't pick exactly the right words. Try to understand what they're saying and help them use the right terms.

    It's often good to restate what they said like you're clarifying, but use correct terms so they at least start to become familiar with the vernacular, but even that can bruise an ego and derail a conversation. It really depends on your relationship with that person, if it's even worth it to bring it up. 
  • Ruz
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    Ruz greentooth
    isn 't pbr just short for materials as opposed to textures - or could it stand for 'paddington bear reboot.'

    I think its only used by people who want to make objects that are copper or gold, maybe even rubber:)
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