Smart IBL gets on the 3D-World Cover DVD

It's sometimes funny how communities develop.

At this point there are 4 vendors offering HDRIs as ready-made sIBL sets:

You'd think they're competitors, but no. It's actually a very friendly community that helps each other out all the time. And as Bob Groothuis lands a gig with 3d-World, he happily gives us all a lift.

Winner of this situation is you, the 3d artist community. You'll find a most precious gift glued to the cover of the March issue of 3D-World:

8 Premium sIBL sets for free.

My contribution is an exclusive select from Tokyo, the Tatami Room B. And there's Helipad Night A from our in-house library at EdenFX, with all best wishes from my boss John Gross. This is something you'd normally wouldn't get your hands on. Ever.

See, pure gold on that 3D-World DVD. The US issue comes out in April, UK readers get it mid-March already. Make sure to check for the DVD - not all of the mags actually have one.

This issue also has some really interesting topics about the Linear Workflow and new-school Color Management.

Christian Bloch

PS: As you've come to expect, there's also a new sIBL-of-the-month and new chances to rise to the top in the Hot-on-Flickr gallery.

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Updates: HDR PhotoStudio, Promote Firmware, Smart IBL

The HDR world is in constant flux, there's always something new around the corner.

HDR PhotoStudio 2 on the Mac

HDR PhotoStudio has been last year's shooting star. I already raved about it here and Jack Howard has a great article here.

Even Kirt Witte wouldn't stop mentioning to our Tokyo crowd the awesomeness of HDR PhotoStudio and it's unique Veiling Glare tool
. And I absolutely agree! Wait, no - I like the Whitebalance and Color Tuning tools
tools even more.

Or maybe, what I love best is the philosophy behind HDR PhotoStudio: it lets you edit and tweak an HDR image, while taking full advantage of all available HDR image data at every step.
That's way beyond tonemapping. That's professional image editing on a production-quality level. These are color tools formerly only known in $4000,- VFX Compositing packages like Fusion or Nuke! And maybe even a bit better. I find it invaluable now for preparing HDRIs for lighting.

And now Unified Color answers the #1 user request: Make it work on the Mac! What they deliver is not just some lame conversion, instead they rewired the entire program to feel native on any OS. They also made a 64-bit Windows version, which I personally appreciate even more. And as special surprise with cherry on top it also installs a Lightroom plugin. Now it's just a matter of selecting my brackets in Lightroom, Right-click Export to HDR PhotoStudio, and done (just like the Photomatix plugin).

Promote Control Firmware Update 1.16

The other revolutionary newcomer from last year has been updated as well. With the Promote Control most Canons and Nikons get a a turbo-charged Autobracketing mode.

See, the folks from HDRSoft are sharing with us this list of AEB modes of all cameras (which a great collaboration - thanks Geraldine!). It's a very long and mostly sad list, because the standard is 3-frame bracketing and/or 1 EV spacing. How pathetic.

The Promote Control fixes this situation, and allows arbitrary number of frames, with any EV spacing. No, it's not perfect, and I'm still having my complaints about the user interface and button layout - but it's the best we have right now and it does a damn great job in shooting pictures.

And now, with the new firmware, it also displays a preview of the HDR sequence, captures 9999 frames of timelapse, and can be intelligently slowed down to wait for slower cameras. All features that user requested in the most epic thread of our forum - so why am I telling you all this anyway? Promote developer Arty also says new holster accessories are on the way, soon you can strap that baby right on your tripod or panohead.

Get the Promote Firmware Update here.

Smart IBL for Lightwave v2.2

Great, my own software update now pales in comparison.

It's a maintenance update, okay: faster, more stable, a few more preferences and presets. Ready for the linear workflow in LW HardCore. Highly recommended.
If you have Auto-Update enabled your Smart IBL plugin should update itself, otherwise get it here.

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Tokyo Transmissions

I just realized that I haven't told you anything about Japan yet.

Yes, I went to SIGGRAPH Asia in December.

Did a Guerilla book signing session and held, together with Kirt Witte, our annual course on HDRI for Artists.

I really think our presentation was much better than last year in LA. We did better hand-offs, spiced it with more production examples, had more visual eyecandy all over the place. We did some extensive taping of the show, but it didn't turn out to be as useful as I was hoping.
One of these days you'll get to see our show, I promise - either in person or in some properly remastered digital equivalent.

For now I can only offer you the course notes at It's basically an update of last year's course notes, and if you're a frequent visitor of HDRLabs you have seen most of the material already....

My favorite area at SIGGRAPH is always the Emerging Technologies floor.
Here's what I discovered:

Inflatable Panorama Dome

Why should your niece have all the fun in that bouncy castle? I find the idea of an inflatable panorama dome ingenious. Throw it on the back of a pickup truck, and you're ready to run your own tripped out festival. Just the entrance looked strangely uninviting, like it would swallow visitors. I wish there would be a better design solution for that.

Panorama Ball Vision

As an alternative, how about a fully spherical LCD monitor on your desk? This puppy uses a 500 RPM spinning LCD line to show equirectangular panoramas. Resolution isn't stellar, but the design with the outer glossy glass ball is so gorgeous!

More info about this device on this blog.

Highslide JS

Project Dragonfly

This looked interesting for all you home inventors. Apparently Microsoft Reseach is involved in the development of a hardware sandboxing platform. Similar to the popular Arduino platform, but with much fancier modules - amoung them a touchscreen and a Wi-Fi radio.

Strangely enough, there's zero info about this on the web. Does it even exist? Was it a dream? All I have left is this flyer.

Highslide JS

Robot Attack!

It wouldn't be Japan if there wouldn't be fancy robots on display. They were all behind glass at the booth of the Advanced Robotics Lab. So I really can't tell if they're just dumb puppets or self-aware killer machines. But I know for sure that their design rocks.

Eye HDR - Gaze-Adaptive display for HDR images

Here's one that better fits the topic of this blog. A professor from the Institute for Infocomm Research in Singapore built a system that tracks your eyeball motion, figures out what you're looking at, and adjusts the exposure of an HDR image in realtime. Nothing revolutionary on the hardware side, and probably nothing that will rival the iPad, but for sure an interesting idea.

Here is a video of my friend Alex getting a demo:

Eye HDR from Christian Bloch on Vimeo.

3D Multitouch Interface in Style

The french VR company Immervision makes this insanely cool touch-pad cube. It's so beautifully designed, and the multitouch makes it so joyfully interactive to use. You grab, spin, pich, and the 3d object / environment does what you want. Remember the first time you pinched a photo on an iPhone? This is the same wo-haaaa effect all over again, but this time in 3D on a Magic Mirror.

Let my assistant Alex show you:

Cubtile from Christian Bloch on Vimeo.

But most exciting about this trip was Tokyo itself. I shot a bazillion panoramas in a variety of traditional and futuristic places.
Check out the best of them in my newly opened Tokyo Pano Gallery.

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Picturenaut goes Open Source

Actually, not really.

We have something even better for you: an
Open Source Plugin SDK

It's the complete package with examples, documentation and installation guide. That will allow you to use the insane realtime multitasking power of Picturenaut for your very own tonemapping algorithms. Just check out the code example on the SDK page to learn how easy that is.

Oh, and by the way - there's also a new Picturenaut version out! Only one minor change: the tonemapping button now has a drop-down menu. That's to cope with all the fancy tonemapping methods you guys will be coding...

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HDR Source offers 120 sets for Smart IBL

I'm very happy to welcome HDR Source as official sIBL supporter. It's one of the oldest HDR stores on the web, with a huge library of over 120 sIBLs from a great variety of locations.

The man behind HDR Source is Charles Leo, who works in architectural visualization himself and is well known in the VRay community. Check out Lunar Studio for some breathtaking renderings! Maybe that's why his HDR libraries are so popular - because they just work.

Charles also wrote some great tutorials on setting up Smart IBL in MAX and rendering with Linear Workflow in VRay. I think that speaks volumes for his expertise.

To kick things off right, Charles friendly provided 7 promo-sIBLs for you. Very awesome!

Literally spent 30 seconds on this: I just grabbed a random object from our Eden FX asset library, and loaded up the Hotel Lookout sIBL. Rotated and moved the environment until I found a nice composition, and hit render. No adjustments to lighting or render settings, no post processing, it came out just like that... Which confirms: The lighting in the sIBL-sets from HDR Source certainly is in tune. The render may not be perfect, but clearly a great starting point.

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Welcome to the future!

We managed to get through the icky single-digits into the era of real science fiction. Hurray!

Let me start with a quick review of last year.

2009 has been pretty busy year in the HDR market.

Photomatix and FDR Tools have matured a lot. Both have polished their Photoshop Plugins which has helped workflow integration.

Picturenaut has become a real challenger to the commercial HDR packages, with its new interface and features. And thanks to your generous support it's still free.

• At least 4 new HDR programs entered the market, among them HDR Photostudio representing a real milestone.

• The Promote Control came out, the first professional remote controller to bring advanced bracketing to Canon and Nikon cameras.

That's all great. But let's rather look forward. At the chance to leaning myself way out the window, here's my...

Predictions for 2010

Dolby is likely to build an HDR display that will blow everyone away.
Nowadays every display company has at least one flagship model with Local Dimming technology. Their software is proprietary, tech specs are confusing to downright misleading, driver support to display real HDR content is non-existent. Dolby, having signed up the original inventors, will rule them all by creating the reference HDR display device. It will likely be ungodly expensive, but Dolby will license the tech out to the others, who will have to bite the bullet and obey. Because once established, consumers will look out for the Dolby Vision Logo sticker.

Microsoft will push hard on JPEG XR.
This highly flexible HDR format, formerly known as WDP or HD Photo, has real potential to become the workhorse of consumer-friendly HDR hardware. I imagine it to become a third option in cameras. The dynamic range of a RAW file, but the size and simplicity of a JPEG file. Sounds like the best of both worlds, doesn't it? And since the JPEG comite approved JPEG XR as official standard, there's no license restrictions. Hardware vendors just need an incentive to use it. As Windows 7 with full JPEG XR support gains more ground in 2010, all it takes is user demand and one daring underdog to jump ahead to unleash an avalanche of JPEG XR capable cameras.

Of course, these predictions are based on pure speculations. I'm curious myself if they actually turn into realities.

But I'm absolutely sure about my....

Plans for 2010

Steve Chapman is joining the HDRLabs family, contributing one of the most exciting projects to date. His infamous PanoCamera is going Open Source, a truly universal DSLR remote controller for handheld platforms. We're feverishly working on the documentation right now, so watch this space in January!

Smart IBL will continue to grow, on the software support side as well as the available content. Charles Leo from HDR Source has just joined the ranks of sIBL set vendors, expect some really awesome sample sets in the near future. Here's a taste of his 120+ sets...

And most importantly, I will be working on the second edition of the HDRI Handbook. It will probably take me all year, and it will be a very comprehensive update.

Happy New Year to all of you,
and Happy Shooting / Stitching / Rendering in 2010!

Christian Bloch
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