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James T. Todd, J. Farley Norman; The visual perception of metal. Journal of Vision 2018;18(3):9. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.3.9.
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The present research was designed to examine how the presence or absence of ambient light influences the appearance of metal. The stimuli depicted three possible objects that were illuminated by three possible patterns of illumination. These were generated by a single point light source, two rectangular area lights, or projecting light onto a translucent white box that contained the object (and the camera) so that the object would be illuminated by ambient light in all directions. The materials were simulated using measured parameters of chrome with four different levels of roughness. Observers rated the metallic appearance and shininess of each depicted object using two sliders. The highest rated appearance of metal and shininess occurred for the surfaces with the lowest roughness in the ambient illumination condition, and these ratings dropped systematically as the roughness was increased. For the objects illuminated by point or area lights, the appearance of metal and shininess were significantly less than in the ambient conditions for the lowest roughness value, and significantly greater than in the ambient condition for intermediate values of roughness. We also included a control condition depicting objects with a shiny plastic reflectance function that had both diffuse and specular components. These objects were rated as highly shiny but they did not appear metallic. A theoretical hypothesis is proposed that the defining characteristic of metal (as opposed to black plastic) is the presence of specular sheen over most of the visible surface area.
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