Written by By Hari Sreenivasan, CNN
Any aspiring TV viewer knows that airbrushing can be an utter waste of time — trying to get the blur quality right can be a full-time job — but scientists are not convinced that it’s too bad. In fact, TV image detail can improve “detail-related functions, such as discriminating the edges of objects and marking the scale” and “clean, sharp pictures across a range of viewing angles.”
After a four-year study by Italian physicists, a team of them published their findings in the journal PNAS last month.
With the PNAS-published study they claim the benefits of airbrushing, and the amount of money they spent doing so, is more than offset by the “cultural artifacts” that airbrushing brings to the table.
What does airbrushing look like?
It’s not all about ‘reduce to scale’ (known as ‘reducing fluid)’ — the effect only occurs if every object has been reduced to scale. Previous research has shown that redressing all objects in the image will lead to a masking effect: changes in pixel density, which is a state of the ratio of a fixed point to its given background. In these representations, a uniform image is created, but this masks details on the edges, resulting in some very fuzzy and inappropriate shots.
Nonetheless, the effect of this has led to the well-known Redundant Photoshopping (SP) method , where important background objects are removed.
The trick is to measure how smooth the removal is. The higher the number the smoother the removal. It is also known as Reduction to Scale (RTS), which depends on the amount of decompression that occurs in the image.
The sky (or characters’ heads) is the biggest problem: if a producer doesn’t get the waves in the sky right, then we are left with a distorted, cloud-covered image. Other culprits include the mountains, planes, elephants and religious deities. These are just some of the more obvious examples, but the point is that even the lightest actors can look distorted and off-model.
But is it all a waste of time?
While the former works out of sight and mind, the latter addresses this issue, but not everyone is convinced by these findings. Erich De Meire of the University of Derby in the UK, a physicist specializing in infra-red imaging, was not part of the study but told CNN that it used too simple an analysis, and admits that the starchaining method of understanding is very difficult.
“When I watch TV now, I try to make sure that there is more than one focal point to every object because otherwise you are unthinkingly changing from image to image,” he says.