Rapid Prototyping, 3D reference cube, 5 free sIBL sets

Here comes another blogging experiment: a guest article.

Bob Groothuis is a longtime member of the HDRLabs family, known for shooting the most stunning HDR panoramas and sharing them as Smart IBL sets with the 3D community. Today, he's got an exciting story to tell...


This is my first article on the HDRLabs website and hope it's not too much of a chaotic ratatouille of information (and poorly written english ;) ). I wanted to publish it sooner but had too little time last year. In this article I will talk about 3D, HDRI, Rapid prototyping & 3d tracking / measuring, and how all that comes together. And you even get 5 free sIBL sets. 

Rapid Prototyping

Most of you already know about that great technology. It's an ideal tool for artists, industrial designers, architects etc. It can be used for uncountable different kind of projects. Just use your imagination and it turns into reality!

Rapid Prototyping has grown very quickly in the last years. Wait a bit longer and everyone has her/his own 3D printer at home. There are pre-build printers like the MakerBot or you can build a RepRap for a few bucks yourself. One of the things that we can see in the future is that you can print your own skin when you had an accident, so the healing process is going much quicker (these are not my own thoughts, it has been mentioned somewhere else, but think its nice to mention). 

"Be Your Own Souvenir!" is a perfect very creative example of Rapid prototyping. Check out this video...

Be Your Own Souvenir! from blablabLAB on Vimeo.

This is the kind of creativity I'm really keen on.

I will not go too deep into the overall process. What I want to show you is that you can use Rapid Prototyping to building your own 3D Reference Cube, that will be helpful for tracking and measuring. Only give you some hints on how to start, the rest its up to you.

Rapid prototyping companies | online printing services

There are several online companies where you can upload your 3D model and they will build a Rapid Prototype of it.

One of the most known is Shapeways.com. Another one is Ponoko.com. There are off course more, see a complete list here (not sure if this list is still up to date).

Such facilities are commonly called "Fablab", and the technology is now cheap enough that they don't have to be giant corporations anymore. There are probably some mom-and-pop Fablabs in your corner of the world (just google the word or visit Wikipedia's Fablab page for more info).

Rapid prototyping process

I asked Shapeways & Protospace Utrecht if they could send me some images of the rapid prototyping process. The images from Protospace will be shown below in the tracking / measuring device subject. On the right you can see the Shapeways images.

Protospace Fablab Utrecht

In the Netherlands we have several Fablabs and the number is still growing. In Utrecht there is a very interesting collaboration between a Fablab and the Dutch inventors association Novu. Its called Protospace Fablab Utrecht (english translation here). I'm also a member of the Novu, but just for fun. Do not expect break through inventions from me, I like to "invent" almost useless "inventions" haha! If you are interested in a few of them just see my product page. I have much more and will publish them in the future.

Shot for the Novu / Protospace several HDRI panoramas that can be downloaded for free below.

So what's a 3D Reference Cube?

It's a device that assists in 3D tracking and measuring. If you photograph it along with your background plate, you'll have the perfect placeholder for your CG objects. Let me show you some examples:

See at 04:29 at the following seminar Happy Finish: Photography Isn't Dead Event. The complete tutorial is absolutely worth watching.

[ YouTube ]

A more in-depth tutorial, that explains the process in 3D, can be found on the Luxology's Modo tutorial website: HDRI environments with matching back plate. Skip to 02:21 to see the alternative measuring device. Note, that the tutorial is made for Modo but can be used as example for other 3D applications off course.

Another very interesting tutorial is a bit off topic but worth watching: Happy Finish: Using CG Elements on Location

My own 3D Reference Cube

I wanted to build my own piece for a while, and combine it with Rapid Prototyping. The first prototypes I build are way to ridiculous to show you here. Finally came up with a very simple form: just a cube with 3 holes in it.

Protospace made the first cubes for me in wood due to complete mis-communication, but eventually they made one true Rapid Prototyped version.

The process can be seen in this image:

I used aluminum tubes to connect the cubes into the tracking device:

So the device you see is not completely rapid-prototyped, but think you will understand that its the new goal to make a device that's 100% Rapid Prototyped.

Note: there are off course cheaper and simpler methods of building your own tracking device. Also, the shape of this example is probably not completely optimized for transport and quick deployment. But I think you get my point; its so much fun to design and rapid prototype your own (maybe foldable?) version!

Final thoughts

If you can build a better, more effective Rapid Prototyped tracking device and you want to share it here, just mail me at mail att bobgroothuis dott com.

Originally I planned to shoot HDRI panoramas complete with the device but it turns out that this takes too long. I have limited time in that moment.

Free sIBL sets

Rapid Prototyping is an open source technique so think these sIBL-sets should be free too. Protospace gave the permission to put them online for free (thanks Siert & Joris!)

Download all 5 free sIBL- sets!

These HDRI panoramas were shot in April 2010 at Protospace Fablab Utrecht.
Have fun with them!


Specially want to thank Protospace (Siert & Joris) and also Shapeways who provided some images of the Rapid Prototyping process. The cool interior color scheme was designed by Joris van Tubergen from Protospace Utrecht.

Bob Groothuis

PS: Bob is giving us a real treasure here. This location is ideal for WIP renders of character models; they will look just like real figurines! Here's a quick render I did last night, using the "Protospace E" set.
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