HDView.at and The Panorama Blog

My good friend Bernhard Vogl - Panographer par excellence - keeps pushing the envelope.
Anything below Gigapixel resolution he finds just boring these days. Check out his (and his friends) new pieces on HDRView.at, an entire gallery dedicated to Microsoft's latest Super-Resolution-Panoviewer. HDView is currently in beta stage, but it sure is one of the smoothest viewers out there.

On his Panorama Blog Bernhard talks about the latest HDView feature: Auto Tone Adjustment.
Clearly, this is the foundation for on-the-fly tonemapping as it should be, especially since Microsoft's .wdp format is technically a stream-able HDR format. It's just the current implementation that is restricted to LDR images... but it's getting there, eventually.

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New Utility: Dynamic Photo HDR

Dynamic Photo HDR is the new kid on the block, joining the ranks of HDR utilities. It comes in a sexy outfit, that offers just the right blend of usability and eye-candy interface. And it's prized very competitive at $39 bucks.

Feature-wise I dig:
  • semi-manual ghostbusting with a masking brush (finally!!)
  • alignment via control points, that even warps the images to fit
  • good selection of 6 tonemapping operators: 2 Local + 3 Global TMOs + 1 Hybrid
  • post-adjustments (curves, colors) right in the tonemapping dialog.
What bothers me (at first glance):
  • doesn't run multithreaded, so I have 7 cores just lurking around...
  • tonemapping preview can't be seen at actual pixel size (even though the "Full Preview" button leads to the assumption).
  • no panoramic continuity option for Local TMOs.
If you want to know the full story, read Jack Howard's Review on PopPhoto (don't miss out on the tutorial slideshow), or take this baby on a test drive yourself.

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Outback Photo

HDR and tonemapping have become essential tools in photography. And I'm not talking about the trendy stylez on flickr, I'm talking real fine art photography!

My friend Uwe Steinmüller knows. He knows why, how, and how to do it like a pro. And he let's you know, too.
Uwe runs DigitalOutbackPhoto.com, where you can learn pretty much everything about fine art photography, and he also has an ever-growing tutorial section on HDR and Tonemapping online. Even better, if you want to pick his brain directly, you should sign up for his "Capture more Light" workshop. Hurry up, seats are limited!

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ProEXR for Photoshop and After Effects

Finally, the true power of OpenEXR is unfolding for our favorite Adobe apps! ProEXR from Fnordware is a replacement for Adobe's file format plugin, adding support for layers, full 32-bit FP, metadata, and more compression schemes.
Not only can you now work with all your precious render buffers in one file, it also allows to save Photoshop's layer stack in a single multi-layered EXR. It uses the brand new version 1.6 of the OpenEXR library, which adds the new (lossy) compression mode B44. This one is supposedly so good, that it can stream HD content directly from disk.
Way to go!

I guess it's time to set up a plugin shopping list, so essential links like this don't get lost...

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Siggraph 2007 San Diego

Great location, little innovation

The San Diego Convention Center is an incredible sight on it's own, with a futuristic lobby and lots of natural light. I was there for two days, mostly wandering around the show floor to look out for new production-ready tools.
Strangely enough, there isn't really much HDR-related stuff to report.

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Holographic projection

The real eye catchers were to be found at the Emerging Technologies show. This one is a spinning mirror, that is synched with a projector to always show a slice of a 3d object. As it spins, the slices blend into one static, albeit slightly flickering holographic projection. In other words, it looks precisely like a Star Wars communicator.
Super cool was the fact that the X-Wing demo from the paper could be rotated in 3d with a hacked WII-mote control.

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Microsoft Surface

Also great to see in action was this interactive table. Almost strange to see such great design and user interface come from Microsoft. They shot snapshots from the audience, laid the phone on the table, and the images would literally just pour out via Bluetooth. The device really holds up to the slick presentation on Microsoft's Website.
Rumor has it, that the initial price tag will be somewhat like 50 grand, so that might be the reason why it was shown at the Emerging Technologies show instead of the Show Floor.

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electronic paper coming out of age

ePaper has been around for a while, pretty much everywhere except the US. Personally, I am the proud owner of a Sony Librie, directly imported from Japan, and I love it and hate it at the same time. The US version, called the Sony Reader, is better in supporting PDF and open standards and built in better quality. But ultimately, it has the same fundamental flaw: You can't write on it. It might look like paper, read in bright sunlight just like paper, but you can't use it like a paper printout.
Not so with the iRex iLiad: You can write on it with a stylus, and save your scribbles back to file. Bigger screen, and a notepad-only mode! Now that would be a true paper replacement, even though $699 is still a little bite more pricey than a notepad from Staples...

eInk Corporation, the sole makers of the display, has also showcased a prototyping kit of the latest generation: the Vizplex imaging film. It runs Linux, sports a higher resolution and 8 shades of gray, which really makes photos look like fine art prints.

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Light Stage for everyone

Paul Debevec's Lightstage used to rule the Emerging Technologies floor, showing quite impressively how HDR images can be used to light real actors. The latest version can go the other way again, and capture an actor so it can be re-lit digitally. Not an ordinary 3d scan, rather a so called lightfield: a true photographic capture that also stores all possible lighting influences.
But the big news is that this crazy high-end device was now seen on the general show floor. You can buy/rent it under the label Aguru Dome from Aguru Images.

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Virtual Reality

Speaking of strange devices: VR technology and immersive imaging have been out for a long time now, you could almost call them relicts of the last century.
Original voice from underneath the helmet: "OK, where does it turn off now?"

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Panoramic Video

The new trend is rapid panorama capturing. This neat little device, called the Ladybug captures 6 images and stitches them into a smooth 30fps video in realtime. Resolution is somewhat limited with 1024x512 pixels, but still fine for reflection maps or small web presentations.

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Drive-by Pano Shoots

More by accident I stumbled across this car, with two crazy japanese panorama cartographers inside. The turret on top looks like the big bully brother of the ladybug, and you can surely guess what it's for. Panoramic city tours!
If you dig the new Google Maps Street View, then you will love to hear that the folks from @city are for hire, and will do a similar kind of interactive panorama tour for your neighborhood.

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Crashing the Newtek Booth

I was sent to represent EdenFX, one of the finest visual effects company in the world. My employer. We use a hell lot of LightWave at work, and our buddies at Newtek love to show off our stuff. And we love have some prime time at their giant booth, so that is truly a mutual relationship. But what they didn't know, is that I took the chance to hijack the stage and introduced Smart IBL.
This was officially the first live sIBL demonstration in front of a larger audience, and it was perceived with a lot of Ahhs and Ohhs. But it also made it pretty clear, that many CG artists still have a lot of open questions about HDRI. "How did you capture these?", "Why is a high-res HDRI not good for lighting?", "And you're really giving Smart IBL away for free? I mean, free???"
So it felt just like the right timing to announce the HDRI Handbook, where all these questions are met. Oh, and by the way - I also premiered my new LightWave plugin called LightBitch - for sure you'll hear more about this one soon.

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So, that was it - my quick little subjective report from Siggraph 2007 in San Diego.
Next year will be in LA, and it will be even more exiting. I promise.

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Things to look out for at Siggraph

Siggraph 2007 is coming up. This used to be my personal deadline for the HDRI Handbook, and it kills me that it still isn't available in stores. Copy-editing and layout are just taking their time - especially since we got 500+ images and screenshots on more than 300 full-color pages. Rest assured that it will be very pretty, just hang in there...

However, I'll not let you head to Siggraph entirely unprepared. Here are some things from last year that might lead to some big announcements. Or maybe not. Who knows. At least this is some very promising stuff:

HDR Hallucination

A demo clip from Microsoft Research shows how to turn a single photograph into an HDR image. It "magically" makes details appear in burnt out areas.... sounds strange, right? Well, better see for yourself:

Especially the light bulb example might look unbelievable. It certainly tipped me off.
No, it's not entirely automatic. They do use a brush to paint in the center detail. Incidentally, there is a 3 page tutorial in my book that shows the very same thing in Photoshop. It's just that the special brushes used in this demo seem to be a lot smarter when it comes to restoring image details...
An interesting read, that might clear up some questions you might have, is also this interview the developer Li-Yi Wei, or if you really want to know read the paper.

Interactive Tone Mapping

Talking about crazy brushes.

In a tech demo from last year they use brush strokes to define regions for exposure adjustments and other manipulations in HDR images. Looks a lot like professional blue-screen keyers ala Primatte, with super-smart masks derived of very crude strokes.
Make sure to check out the video (47 MB DivX).

Looks like Microsoft Research is knitting on some sweet application... the brush strokes sure look ugly, but identical to the ones from the hallucination demo. Is it the same app, and is it called MS Dope? We don't know. But we sure want to see more of that this year!

Panoramic Video

This one is actually from 2003, but still kind of interesting: Interactive Virtual Tours. A movie that is both high-dynamic and panoramic. While the movie is playing, you can turn the camera all around, and have the image auto-exposed for your current field of view. Sounds cool, wonder when this will finally become available in a product? I am so willing to duct tape a camera rig on a motorcycle helmet, if I could just pimp out a movie like that!
Even at the risk of sounding like a Microsoft fan, there is quite a lot of cool stuff coming out of Microsoft's Interactive Visual Media Group. Check them out!

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