The effect of Bokeh on Photo-realism

Adding personality to the blur of your image

Reading time
4 min
Published on

February 10, 2024

Blauw Films

Since the beginning of Blauw Films we have been in the process of achieving photo-realistic results in our 3D-renders.
And due to our background in live-action filmmaking, the personality and artefacts of a camera-lens were always extremely important to us.

When I started using Chaos Corona as a render engine for Syntactic Labyrinths, and subsequently our other films —
I became obsessed with understanding the Corona Camera tool.

How could we replicate the details of real camera lenses in CGI? 

For that experiment we will be looking at the example scene below: 
*Notice the green frame inside the frame on the left. That is for the close-up renders to have a better look at the bokeh.

Viewport render of the Test Scene

Rendered Test Scene with no Depth of Field

As you can see above there are no blurred out areas. This is the scene straight out of the box.
I'm using our UV-Checkerboard to clearly see how the depth of field affects the shot.

I would like you to pay attention to the coloured crosses, as well as the cross-sections between the checkerboard squares.
That is where the bokeh artefacts will become most obvious.

Default Depth of Field turned on: Circle aperture

After turning on the Depth of Field in the Corona camera settings we start seeing a focal point and a plane of focus.
As we are focused on the foreground, the background fades into a blur. Notice how the depth of field "grows" each pocket of light until it blends with the next.

Crop of Default Depth of Field: Circle aperture

As you can see, each out of focus area overlaps its neighbour in the shape of the aperture.
Do you notice the circular magnification of light? 

The following graph explains the effect with a single focus-cross:

Light travels into the lens and hits "all over the place".
Most of the light is nicely focused onto the image sensor through a variety of lens-elements inside your camera lens.

Each lens is made up of different lens-elements. Thus delivering different results at different planes of focus, as well as having different levels of light-distribution.
Meaning, how the light is distributed within the cone of light.

Depending on the lens you choose, you will get drastically different results in your blurry areas.

Summarised your bokeh is primarily affected by: 

  1. Aperture Shape
  2. Light-compensation
  3. Blur Disk
  4. Surface imperfections

The same is true in 3D-rendering. If you change the aperture shape of your 3D-camera for a custom map, your depth of field will behave accordingly.

Below are a few examples of using different aperture maps, with different levels of light-compensation: 

Isn't that cool?

Now let's have a look at how that impacts the feel of our test scene: 

The difference between balanced, under-compensated and over-compensated bokeh is how much your want your blur to direct attention to itself.

Using an under-compensated aperture map will give you the smoothest "invisible" bokeh.
In a lot of use-cases, for example a portrait in which the subject is most important and should look smooth, it's good to use this bokeh.

Over-compensated aperture maps give a much stronger effect, creating a halo around every highlight in your blur.
This can be useful as well if you want your bokeh to be more obvious or have stronger characteristics.

Below is an example of the same test scene but with some candles scattered around: 

To clearly showcase an over-compensated aperture map, you can see how every highlight becomes a circular halo.
The blur has become a subject of the shot in its own and unique way.

Creating your own aperture maps is a fun challenge and can give you an infinite number of variations on your shot.

Both for when you are deciding on the look of your film as when you have to realistically composite a 3D-asset into live-action footage: 
it's great to use textured aperture maps for that extra level of detail.

Still from Syntactic Labyrinths using a pentagonal aperture map

To accelerate our workflow in creating 3D-renders (and to allow us to quickly iterate on the look of the blur) we've created the Bokeh Builder.

This product is both a collection of pre-made aperture maps, as well as a fully customisable After Effects setup to make your own maps.

Would love to hear your thoughts on bokeh and how you will use it for your own project! 

Stay connected with Blauw Films! 
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