I'm not a big fan of hyper-realistic pictures that look like photographs in general - and that's not just because I don't have the skill or talent to do such stuff! - but I do like pictures that have a certain amount of detail or rendering that makes them seem like they could exist in the real world.
This got me thinking as to what exactly the 'right' amount of detail is, something particularly relevant to matte paintings fro film which need to integrate seamlessly into real footage.
As far as detail is concerned, I don't think its a mathematical formula of a certain number of strokes, but more a sense of what suits each individual piece - and should come after mood and feel in the pecking order of importance.
Some stuff can seem incredibly solid but on closer inspection is made from a few perfectly placed brush strokes, a bit like an Impressionist painting.
This reminds me of a story I read about in a book once where a movie matte painter (the guys who paint fake backdrops such as landscapes or skies to be superimposed on live-action footage) spoke of the time a producer visited the set one day to inspect the painting of a ship that the guy was working on.
The producer said that it looked real when he walked in the door but as he got closer it just looked like what it was - a painting. The producer 'advised' the matte painter to add more details such as nuts and bolts to the ship painting. The matte painter nodded and smiled, knowing that it was unwise to argue with a Hollywood hotshot producer.
The producer left the building satisfied, but the matte painter knew well that adding details would ruin the illusion and actually make the painting look fake. So he left it untouched and the shot appeared in the movie (don't remember the name) as it was and was entirely convincing - so convincing that the producer actually took credit for his own involvement in making it so real!
Here's a couple of examples of how much detail is 'enough' detail. The first is from one of the greatest ever matte painters Albert Whitlock http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0926087/ :
#As it appeared on screen composited with live-action footage
More Albert Whitlock work here, this time from EARTHQUAKE.
#Whitlocks' destroyed San Francisco painting
#A close-up detail of the matte painting where the simplistic - but perfect - brushstrokes and suggested details are evident
*** You can read a brilliant back-story to the matte paintings in EARTHQUAKE at this website http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/2010/08/earthquake-it-really-was-event.html ***
Here's another matte shot, this time by Bob Cuff http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0191235/ , from The GUNS OF NAVARONE.
#Bob Cuff's original matte painting.
#A close-up of the painting. Look at the simple shapes of the buildings and suggestion of detail
#The matte integrated with the live-action footage as it appeared on screen
A good artist only used the lines and strokes he 100% needs to make his picture and excludes everything else. He streamlines.
NOTE: For anyone interested in matte paintings - or just general art technique ideas and tips - you should check out this cool website: MatteShot: A Tribute to the Golden Era of Matte Paintings http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/