The ambiguity surrounding Hyperrealism stems right from its definition.
Based on Oxford Languages, the word ‘hyperreal’ has the following meaning:
exaggerated in comparison to reality.
"his characters are hyperreal rather than naturalistic"
(of artistic representation) extremely realistic in detail.
Or, as Merriam-Webster puts it:
: marked by extraordinary vividness
Where’s the catch? Is it something exceeding reality or just something that looks very real? To find out, let’s trace the origins of hyperrealism.
Realism. Camera obscura and manual artistry.
Even though hyperrealism exists in music, literature and even philosophy, its roots are in the field of visual arts. So let’s follow the story through the evolution of painted images.
Before visuals could be hyperreal, they just had to be… well, real enough.
Over the centuries, painters all over the world have been trying to make their masterpieces as accurate as possible. Think Caravaggio and the artists he inspired (and the chiaroscuro technique that allowed for stunning contrast and a never-before-seen juxtaposition of highlight and shadow).
Caravaggio, Saint Jerome Writing, circa 1605–06. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Obviously, it wasn’t easy to achieve that kind of precision without lengthy practice — and, sometimes, some help.
Artists as early as Leonardo da Vinci have known and used a device called ‘camera obscura’. If set up properly, it creates a projection of what you’re looking at onto a surface. So if you project it onto a canvas, you just have to have enough skill to copy.
Johannes Vermeer likely used one to produce more lifelike images as well — the whole thing is explained in a curious documentary called ‘Tim’s Vermeer’. Key takeaway? It’s pretty damn time-consuming.
Johannes Vermeer, Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman, 'The Music Lesson', circa 1662–65. Via Wikimedia Commons.
There had to be a way to capture an image faster.
New realism and the era of Kodak.
Introducing: ‘camera obscura 2.0’ — the photographic camera. The world of images has never been the same again.
Naturally, there was debate on whether photography had the right to be called art at all, then ‘death of the painting’ was declared. Blah. But painting never died. It’s just that the question now was: if photographic realism can be so easily achieved through photographs, what does that leave the art of painting to?
Oh yes. Welcome: impressionists. Emotions instead of precision. Art’s new chapter: something above just trying to capture a moment. Something above reality.
It’s hardly a surprise, but the digital age of architectural visualization followed a very similar pattern.
Our previous article covered the evolution of the craft starting with manually-produced sketches. But it’s really when computers came around that things started to get interesting.
Initially, creating a photorealistic image took a massive amount of time and effort. Remember camera obscura that asked for complicated setup and a bit of luck from the gods? Same with early days of CGI. On top of off-the-shelf software and powerful machines, the whole thing took crazy hours to render.
Now? It’s approaching the stage where anyone with a decent PC, some latest software and a dash of artistic skill could do it. We’re very close to a ‘just a click away’ situation in creating something that feels real.
What’s next then? Looks like it’s something above reality, too.
In a way, hyperreal visualizations are ‘impressionism within ArchViz’. Hyperrealism is like simulating a reality that could have happened. Not surreal, but almost too good to be true. It’s an image with an extra layer of magic produced through the artist’s vision and imagination. Taking your basic 3D exterior rendering and turning it into an instant imprint. And that’s still keeping the image real enough to do its job — just in a curated version of reality.
It seems perfectly logical for ultimate realism and distinctive artistic style to go hand-in-hand and to supersede each other, only for the tables to turn again. When it comes to architectural visualizations, originality is definitely on the rise now, illuminating the uniqueness of the imagery that surpasses mere technical skills. Hyperreal visualizations are here to stay. Finally, they ARE the new black.