Opinion Onion – Fantasy vs Realism

Dis iz sumtin’ to tink abut…

As a character and environment artist, I often see myself working on projects that rely on making something… impossible – spaceships the size of cities, giant lizards that fly, characters that bend the laws of physics and countless more, while I often find myself analyzing and studying real world subjects.

Why is that? Over time I have come to suspect that good fantasy art, as impossible as it may be still incorporates aspects of reality – for example; dragons don’t really exist, so while their anatomy cannot be compared to anything in the real world, strong designs will more often than not incorporate anatomy from real animals.

Why is that? Why do designs that depict impossible things hold real world references at their foundation? The general consensus to this between the art community is simple – relatability. If the audience sees the design of a giant mechanical walker, they often seek to relate it to close real world examples. As such if the design has hydraulics clearly visible, it signals how joints bend and different part of the machine more in relation to each other. If the design has exhaust pipes it shows that it might have a large engine on it that probably consumes fossil fuels – all of these subtle hints can help bring the design to life not only in the visual sense, but also help with building up the design with other the senses. If it moves is it noisy? Does it pollute its surrounding with this smog?

While non-universal, these best-practice design rules that are often seen in characters for films like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, do raise and interesting question – To what extent is fantasy art limited in its depiction of the impossible if it has to rely on what is possible? Moreover as times have changed along with cultural, ideological and technological shifts, has fantasy art evolved as well?

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