Stylized vs Realistic: Technique Comparison

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Starting out my Journey in CGI 15 years ago I always admired how they created characters like Gollum from Lord of the Rings or Dobby from Harry Potter, how realistic they looked, and how well integrated into their environments they were.

The Uncanny Valley

Nowadays I believe we have long crossed that uncanny valley that people used to speak about. If you don’t know the term let me explain.

In the past whenever you saw a rendered image of a character you immediately notice something weird, it’s not really whether it’s the eyes or the shading something that tells you immediately this is not a real thing. 

Crossing the Uncanny valley are you not noticing that this isn’t real, it’s not accurate and well rendered that you are unable to validate whether what you are seeing in front of you is CG or a real photo.

Check out this course on Drawing Stylized Characters – Link Here

Realism these days has gone to a really far extent, I remember when I played GTA2 when it was top-down (YES IT WAS TOP-DOWN PROOF BELOW) now with the latest release GTA5 it’s just crazy how far it has gone.

From Stylized in GTA2 to Realistic in GTA5 if there is a photo that would describe the difference between these 2 styles it would be the photo below.

GTA Comparison

The Shift to Stylized

As I grew and developed my skills as an artist I started hitting a mental wall when it comes to realism, and that wall was “What’s the point?” it seemed to me that I was trying to replicate reality, to be as exact as an image.

But we have cameras that are really good why do we need to go through all of that in 3D when we can just capture it with a camera??

It was in that period when my art style started shifting towards stylized, I found no point adding in sculpting different skin pores and taking days just to be as close as possible to an image.

I started experimenting with proportions, simplicity, and cartoony shapes.

Back then I didn’t know what stylization is, I was just trying something new and I was getting good reactions from people around me it felt that I was creating something original and not trying to recreate something that already exists and trying to compete with it, I had my own space and creativity was limitless.

Check out my article on the Best 3D Texturing Software

Stylized Art Techniques

Definition of stylized art

So what is exactly stylized art? Some people say its when you do something cartoony, others say it when you do something cute… others say it’s when you put vibrant colors and play with proportions or maybe simplify something… well they are all right in a way as all of these are components that could be used to create a stylized art piece.

Stylized comes from the term “Style” and style means having a specific and unique way of doing something, for example, I am sure there is one friend of yours that you would know from very far just by seeing his clothing even if he has his back turned right, we all do.

That friend has a clothing style, meaning he/she is uniquely identifiable because of the way he/she dresses, and the colors he/she picks.

So a style is having something unique and special and stylizing something is making it uniquely special and identifiable using colors, proportions simplification all of these are just tools.

Techniques used in stylized art

As we now know what stylized means now we will study more the techniques used to make a stylized art piece. The most commonly used one is exaggeration or simplification.

Exageration and simplification

Back when I used to be in the university there was a sketching class and i remember the teacher saying once that playing with the proportions of something turns it from being realistic to be stylized and that stuck in my head ever since. 

Maybe one of the rules of making a cartoony character is to make the head bigger, the eyes bigger body smaller hands and feet bigger so we are basically playing with proportions we are exaggerating them to create something unique you know to make stylized as we said before. 

Chibi Stylized

This also applies to Environment art as well, exaggeration of the roof tile of a building can turn it from a normal-looking roof to a very unique stylized one, take a look at one of the assets I did for a game called WeFarm below.

Building Stylized

Now let’s talk about simplification, it’s not as easy as exaggeration right, see its easy to make elements bigger and smaller but with simplification, it’s hard to know what to remove and what to keep without losing the identity of the element you are stylizing. 

For this I advise you guys to simplify step by step:

  • Start with simplifying the silhouette and reducing the noise of the contour 
  • Remove all micro details 
  • Keep only medium details 

Below are 2 images one of them is a simplification of a Rock and the other is a cat 3d sculpt where I removed lots of elements but kept the original silhouette and medium detail that immediately conveys that this is a cat.

Rocks Simplification
Cat Stylized

Realistic Art Techniques

Definition of Realistic art

Nowadays there are lots of nuances to Realistic Art, there are now semi-realistic art and hyper-realistic art.

But the idea is that realism is trying to mimic reality as closely as possible using shading, lighting, proportions details basically all the tools you could use to get an image as close as possible.

But even with realistic art styles we still see vibrant colors and some unnatural settings, the reason is when creating realistic art we are not going after 100% real-life likeness we are going beyond that.

Battlefield V Realistic

Artists working on a realistic art style are trying to create a perfect version of reality because in reality, it’s not always sunny, the colors are not always so bright and saturated there isn’t always that beautiful bloom so in a sense we are faking reality but creating an illusion of a perfect image, and what better example for realistic art style can I give other than Battlefield V (Image above).

Let’s talk more about the different types of realistic art techniques.

Semi-Realistic vs Hyper-Realistic Art Style 

As the name suggests, in this art styling the aim is not to get a 100% depiction of reality to give a clear example of this, imagine you are creating a character, a semi-realistic art style would not sculpt the skin pores of the character’s face but rather concentrate on creations just realistic proportions.

On the other hand, a Hyper-realistic approach would sculpt those micro details and go beyond that in creating the wetness and reflections of the lips and eyes. With the hyper-realistic style, we are trying to go above and beyond to capture reality with the tiniest detail.

Finding Your Style 

After reading what I have explained so far you might be wondering and asking if you have a style of your own. And if not how to find your own style? What uniquely defines your art from other artists?

I know everyone can identify certain artist works even without having to see their names because it’s especially tied to that artist’s style of work.

Finding your own style isn’t something to be tied to a timeframe and isn’t something that can be taught step by step. It’s a self-discovery, a journey you have to take to define what you like, and start blending between certain elements and one art piece after the other you will start developing your own interpretations and the thing is, you won’t notice it!

Other will tell you this they will come to you and show their appreciation of your style and you would be like MY STYLE! Yup, that’s the moment when you realize that you actually have a style but you are so used to it that it comes naturally in every art piece.

Now comes another problem, a professional artist is an artist that can change style at will! This means sometimes you have to create an art piece that isn’t in your style but in a specific other style and this takes experience and expertise to snap out of the style that you are used to and apply another specific style but all is achievable with time and practice.


So in summary stylized is a uniquely identifiable style that uses techniques like exaggeration and simplification, it’s a creative way of visualizing something that already exists. On the other Realistic is striving to recreate reality but with a pinch of salt, meaning creating the perfect conditions of reality.

Which one is better? I don’t believe that’s the question to ask because each has a specific use, you wouldn’t want to play a realistic version of Mario Cart, would you? Or are you interested in playing Battlefield in stylized? 

That being said some artists find themselves more comfortable or leaning toward stylized than realistic and that’s okay its an exciting journey every artist makes to find their own unique style.

Hope this article was beneficial to you, don’t forget to share it with others and keep tuning in for more exciting articles soon.

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