CS5 and Magic Bullet

Photoshop CS5

Adobe started a countdown page, in search for some big social networking hype. The big selling feature is Content-Aware Fill, and it looks very useful for cleaning up panoramas after stitching.

Here's a less popular, but much more informative sneak peek video:

More feature goodness:
Better Edge Selection and Masking - Sounds simple, but may turn out to be most awesome.
Paint Tools - new brush bristles, and several handy shortcut enhancements.

If it would be for me, I'd be happy with a simple Curves Tool in 32-bit mode. But let's see, maybe there's more in CS5 than they dare to disclose yet...

Magic Bullet PhotoLooks

Magic Bullet used to be one of our secret weapons at Eden FX when it comes to color grading and finding just the right look. And now you can have that same magic in Photoshop as well.

According to the feature list it works in 32-bit. And yes, it includes Curves and all the other tools you're missing in Photoshop (until CS5?). Haven't yet tested it myself, but if it's half as good as the original After Effects plugin it's worth its weight in gold.

Read more about it on Stu Maschwitz' blog.

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Introducing the Open Camera Controller

What if you had a programmable touchscreen remote with an 8 hour battery life, that can be fitted to any DSLR? With free apps for extended HDR shooting, timelapse, controlling an affordable telescope mount, sound triggering, and more. All Open Source, driven by a community of enthusiastic photographers like you.

Then you must have an Open Camera Controller.

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The catch: you have to build it yourself. Out of a Nintendo DS.

It will be a cool garage project, easy to do and very rewarding. We've done everything to document the whole process. The hardware is subject to Open Source rules as well, so if you're a wizard with electronics we highly welcome your improvement ideas.

This project is brought to you by Steve Chapman, HDRLabs' newest collaborator.

Steve is sort of a legend in Hollywood, known as the go-to-guy for scanning actors, props and sets. In fact, in 2001 my very first job duty in the VFX industry was to character-rig Captain Archer of the Enterprise, which I later found out to be scanned by Steve Chapman himself. And Steve's quite a character as well, which you will discover when you're looking at the comments in his source code...

The Open Camera Controller (OCC) was previously known as PanoCamera. It’s just that the project has grown out of bounds, and while the core program is still the ultimate HDR-panorama-bracketing machine, it now also does astrophotography, sound triggering, e-book manuals, the whole nine yards. And who knows what the Open Source community will come up with… That’s why we put the emphasis on “Open” as in “Whatever you want your camera to do”-platform.

OCC fits HDRLabs like a glove, similar in spirit and open accessibility. That's why it is a top-level project now, housed in the main menu right next to Picturenaut. What was previously the PanoCamera forum, is now a category in the HDRLabs Community. It had only 15 active members, but a ton of great discussions and ideas. If you’re one of these 15 early adopters, congratulations and welcome!

Read more on the OCC project page.

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And the Oscar goes to … Paul Debevec

I’m talking about the Technical Oscar, the stepchild Academy Award that was already out handed last month. It’s dedicated to the unsung heroes of the movie biz, the inventors of groundbreaking technology that makes those flickering lights more and more spectacular every year. After all, it’s still the “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences”, right?

Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, John Monos and Mark Sagar got honored for the design and engineering of the Light Stage capture devices and the image-based facial rendering system developed for character relighting in motion pictures.

Their Light Stage is what fueled the production of Avatar, Benjamin Button (VFX Oscar Winner last year), Harry Potter, Superman 3, ect. So, it really is the star behind the scenes; the “thing” that makes photo-real digital actors possible.

Read more on the Lightstage Project page or watch Magic Paul's TED Talk on Digital Emily.

Oh, and my congratulations to everybody who worked on Avatar. Well deserved VFX Oskar. I seriously considered quitting my job and opening a t-shirt shop when I walked out of that movie. It's disturbingly good VFX work!

Christian Bloch

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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 www.hdrlabs.com/siggraph/. 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.

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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.

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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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