sIBL-GUI 3 released, along with a flood of new sIBL sets.

The new version of our automagical HDR lighting tool turned out awesome:
  • Real Google Maps inside
  • Seamlessly ties into Max, Maya and XSI via socket connections.
  • Fully customizable interface
  • Extendible with components
  • Database for managing huge amounts of sIBL-sets

Get sIBL_GUI 3 here, and check out this QuickStart screencast:

NOTE: If you're upgrading from sIBL_GUI 2, do a fresh install, DO NOT install over the old version. And in particular, make sure you're installing the new helper scripts for Maya/Max/XSI - the old ones are not compatible and won't connect to sIBL_GUI 3 correctly!

Veterans should also take a minute to see what's new in this in-depth screencast:

To celebrate this historic launch, Alex Hart from the Rhode Island School of Design donated 12 new sIBL sets for our archive. Awesome, thanks Alex!

On top of that, our dutch friend Bob Groothuis donated not one, but 4 unique sets for June's sIBL-of-the-month! It's a recently discovered bunker from the world wars, looks spectacular in this pano tour.

LightBitch 1.4

Lightwavers, on the other hand, can enjoy a brand new version of LightBitch - the down and dirty alternative way of HDR-lighting by extracting light sources.

LightBitch is now fully 64-bit compliant and has a special Export Compatible mode. That will ensure the generated light rig works perfectly fine in Maya, Max and XSI, via Lightwave's standard FBX export.

One more thing...

... in case you'd like to know what I'm doing in my day job. NBC just picked up The Cape for next season, which is the pilot I was recently working on at EdenFX.

We did the cape for the training sequence in CG, of course lit entirely with Smart IBL (in Lightwave). For this I spent some fun nights on set at the Queen Mary, shooting about 40 custom sIBL environments. And spent some more nights lighting, rendering and compositing. Also, we did several smoke effects here that required LightBitch to work nicely with MAX+FumeFX. See, I wasn't kidding: Smart IBL and LightBitch are production-proven, quite frankly I don't see how we could roll without them anymore.

Here's the trailer:

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May Shortcuts

Unified Color announces HDR photo contest winners.

11 contestants were selected by a jury of professional photographers, taking home pretty awesome prizes. Congratulations to all the winners. You're now one step closer to snatching the grand prize: a MacBook Pro + National Geographic Workshop.

The contest will continue all throughout the year, now accepting submissions for round two.

Find out more in the Press Release and check out the Winner Gallery.

Open Camera Controller v3.2b

Our OCC project has been quickly adopted by photographers worldwide. We already see the fruits of this community spirit, forum member Achim Berg came up with some significant improvements:
  • uses more widely available parts
  • features a 'heartbeat' LED
  • no wire bridges needed on the circuit board itself

Achim also developed a slim version that fits inside a regular-sized GBA module. Assembly is currently too tricky to share, however Achim doesn't mind making OCC cables for the electronically challenged (like myself). Just drop him a line in this thread.

Read the updated OCC Cable tutorial.

Smart IBL is now truly universal

The "Big Five" in 3d software are Maya, MAX, XSI, Lightwave and Cinema 4D. And now, that Steve Pedler single-handedly wrote a Cinema4D Loader Plugin, we have them all covered. Yay. It was a welcome reason for me to update the Smart IBL Software page.

Smart IBL already found great acceptance in the Cinema4D community. Here's a sweet rendertest from

they are back - example of sIBL loader for Cinema 4D from Marcin CzerwiƄski on Vimeo.

See more praise for sIBL in C4D on, on CGTalk, and here.

Lee Perry-Smith posted some breathtaking renderings on CGFeedback using Smart IBL (in a variety of renderers: VRay, mental ray, Ligtwave).
Elvis Blazencic's Corvette renderings (using Smart IBL in Lightwave) were chosen as Picture-of-the-Month in the Lightwave3D newsletter.
And the 3D-World Magazine #130 once again features some free sIBL-sets on the DVD, exclusively provided by Bob Groothuis, HDR-VFX, and yours truly.

ProEXR 1.5 Photoshop Plugin

Now that you updated to CS5, it's time to update the plugin that fixes Photoshop's OpenEXR support. Yes, it's still needed, which is a case for another post...

ProEXR version 1.5 is faster, better, and free for existing users. It also comes with a new EZ plugin for people that get easily confused with multi-layer support but still prefer to have control over Alpha Channels and file compression. Although After Effects CS5 ships with ProEXR, you should still download the update to get the excellent EXR Comp Creator.

Reminder: My readers get ProEXR for $76,- instead of $95,-. Just answer the security question on the the software page to pickup your coupon.

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Tucson 2010, Part 2

Welcome back to my coverage of the Pano Conference.

I mentioned in part 1 that is about to make their huge library accessible on the iPhone browser. It's currently in beta stage, and just not quite there yet.

Charles Armstrong: Remote Realities

The real potential of the iPhone is in native Apps.

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This is where Tour Wrist from Spark Labs comes in. It may not have as many panoramas as 360cities in the database (yet), but it presents them in super-slick way. It basically turns your iPhone in a window into the panorama. Using compass and accelerometer it tracks along with your motion and shows whatever you would see at the pictured location. It's also GPS-aware, with community ratings, linked tours, and all that jazz.

The killer feature is that you can even shoot, tag and upload your own panorama tours with this App. For that you just need a clip-on fisheye lens, and the App walks you through all the steps. They call this feature an "AmaTour", and while that obviously won't compare to professionally stitched panos, it's pretty cool for the casual shooter. And the best: Tour Wrist is free.

So, how do they make money then?

There are three pretty innovative revenue models.
  • Users can book hotels and flights associated with the pano locations, right within the app. That is handled through affiliate programs, and the revenue is shared 50/50 with the photographer.
  • People can order a custom VR Tour for their business, which is then commissioned to photographers in the area. So the app is your agent, in that case.
  • As professional VR photographer you can order a custom branded version of the program, which will make you shine in front of your clients.

Currently they are working on the iPad version, which is probably going to steal the show.

Mark Segal: Aerial Panoramas

Granted, that has nothing to do with HDR (again), but it's still pretty awesome:

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Mark Segal from SkyPan Internationl hangs a pano camera under the belly of an RC helicopter, and shoots gorgeous balcony views from not-yet-built skyscrapers. Or other places of interest like golf courses or event locations. If you're asking me, these people are just looking for any excuse to go wild with their heavy-duty electric copters. ;)

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Their pano copter features:
  • feet lift up with hydraulics
  • remotely controlled gimbal head
  • can carry 26 lbs
  • up to 400 feet

And it shoots images like these:

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Check out Skypan's Gallery or Mark Segal's website for more aerial eyecandy.

Mark knew some interesting stories about "Always keeping the copter in line-of-sight" and "Trying not to crash into waves on ocean fly-bys". With the new small HD cameras he also gets an live signal to a ground-based control monitor. That's your low-budget opening shot right there. Although I must admit that the footage on the website could greatly benefit from some good old-fashioned After Effects motion stabilizing.

If you're looking into getting your own RC helicam off the ground, Mark recommends checking out!

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Notes from the Pano Conference Tucson, Part 1

The International Panoramic Photography Conference 2010 was happening the other week in Tucson. It was a 4-day gathering of the best pano shooters worldwide, along with some exclusive previews from pano gear vendors.

Here are some of the things I picked up, straight from my notepad:

Jook Leung: The Panoramic Narrative

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Opening the conference, star shooter Jook Leung shared some great tips for adding artistic value to your panoramas:

  • Anticipating and visualizing the outcome is the most important skill for selecting just the right spot to shoot a panorama from.
  • Including people (carefully choreographed) is an excellent tool to tell a story, convey scale, and pull the viewer in on an emotional level.
  • HDR Ghosting can be put to artistic use to indicate motion and add some life to your panorama.

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  • You can include yourself in the pano by separately shooting a self-portrait and photoshopping it in later. Even better, when shooting with a horizontal tripod or pole, you can use that self-portrait to cover up the blind spot.

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To see more panoramic excellence download a PDF with Jook's slides.

Greg Downing / Eric Hanson: XRez Studio

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Big ideas are born at XRez. Their mission is to apply techniques from Visual Effects and cutting-edge photography to projects of scientific significance. Many of these techniques they invented themselves:

  • Large environments are best captured from a higher altitude. For a regular panorama you'd put the camera on top of a pole, but that doesn't work so well for Gigapixel images. Because then you need to use a remotely controlled robotic head, and the additional weight introduces severe stability and safety problems. The solution is a tripod of epic proportions, constructed from three flagpoles.

  • Gigapixel images can be printed out in enormous size. Unlike your regular large-scale print, a Gigapixel print reveals more and more detail when you step closer. However, XRez's experience shows that the average trade show visitor is not aware of this, and instinctively keeps the distance to see the image as a whole. Turns out, you'll have to motivate people to have a close-up look. Simple tricks like hanging magnifying glasses from the ceiling or printing footsteps on the floor really help the viewer to appreciate a Gigapixel print in its full glory.

  • Dome projection cinemas are on the rise. Most planetariums are converting to a fully digital projection, and they are hungry for panoramic content. China is sprinting ahead here, with several brand-new dome cinemas opening doors in metropolitan areas. The latest trend is stereoscopic 3D laser projection in 8k resolution. Yay!

Read more on the XRez Blog or watch the recent interview on CGchannel.

Jeffrey Martin: The 360cities Community

What Flickr is for regular photos, is for panoramas. Actually it's better even, because the content is moderated to maintain a quality standard. Jeffrey Martin is the creator of 360cities, and he had some interesting stories to share.

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It started with Jeffrey taking panoramas all over Prague and collecting them on a website called Prague360. The hard part was to convince businesses to pay for getting featured on there, but he kept going guerilla-style nevertheless. And it grew beyond capacity. When his second-generation database system went online, it turned out to be so versatile that it could easily map out the entire world. At this point it blew up completely, and now 360cities is featured in the default installation of Google Earth, has 5 fulltime editors, and hosts about 50.000 panoramas. Still growing.

So, if you want your panoramas to be seen, 360cities is the place to be.

They just added batch submission and a really cool web-based Virtual Tour Builder. Publishing is free, as it's always been, and you get paid for prints sold through the website. Or you can embed their player in your own website, enabling you to have a supercool pano gallery without typing a single line of code. Also, they just recently figured out how to show all panos on the iphone (currently in beta).

Soon 360cities will also introduce Pro Accounts. That one will allow you to build websites for clients using their gallery system. I know from experience how exhausting it is to maintain a good panorama gallery, keeping up with the player software (krpano in this case), and linking hotspots by coding XML files. Considering all this is done for you, a Pro account may actually be worth it's €179,- per year. Well, plus another annual €19,- for each client gallery (which I think just makes things complicated, hope they drop that extra charge when Pro accounts get officially announced...)

UPDATE: Pro Accounts officially announced for June 2010.

There are many more cool things I discovered, stay tuned for part 2.

In the meantime, let me earn some street creds with this pano I shot earlier this month:

Downtown LA at Night

That's a 500 Megapixel HDR pano, taken over the course of 90 minutes. Picturenaut and Photomatix 64-bit (PC version) and were both able to tonemap this giant image. Hurray!

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HDRI in Photoshop CS5

Jack Howard had some time to play with CS5. Here's what's new:

  • No more need to buy Extended, HDR Layers and Brushes trickled down to CS5 Standard
  • Ghost-Removal
  • Better HDR Merge from RAW files
  • More controls in the Local Adaptation tonemapper

Read more in Jack's article on Adorama's TechTock.
There's another great review from Mike Seymour on FXGuide.

On the flip side, I'm getting a bit concerned that Adobe itself is promoting Pseudo-HDR and Merge-straight-to-Tonemapping techniques (video). Obviously intended to serve the Flickr crowd, they are following a trend just when it is about to reverse itself. Because if you're watching the Hot-On-Flickr gallery, you'll notice that "tasteful" is the new trend in tonemapping, and "catchy/cartooninsh" is actually on the decline.

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GigaPan EPIC is out and we're cracking the 2 Million Mark

First off, a big huge THANK YOU to all my readers!

HDRLabs has officially shot past the 2 Million visitor milestone. It's a bit intimidating to know that I'm speaking to such a large audience here. But also feels good to be heard.

What really pushed traffic over the edge was the Open Camera Controller project.
Since it's launch just about a month ago this project has made huge leaps forward: CircuitBoardsToGo started to feature the OCC board on their front page, volunteers are working on a list of European part suppliers, Achim Berg contributed an improved circuit board layout, and there is even talk about designing a dedicated cartridge housing. Great work guys, I'm really happy to see the community adopt this project so quickly.

GigaPan EPIC: First look by Greg Downing

Photographers that feel more comfortable with ready-made products will be happy to hear that the GigaPan EPIC Pro robot is now available.

The original GigaPan unit has been around for a while. It's very easy to use, and I shot several panos with it (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches, Hollywood Hills). Still, it bothered me to that it was limited to point-and-shoot cameras. GigaPan EPIC Pro changes that.

Compared to mine, this new unit seems like a worthy upgrade: Much better battery solution, real remote release cable (instead of that clunky lever pushing the camera's release button), and a U-shaped bracket to hold the weight of a DSLR.

Here's Greg Downing's review:

Gigapan Epic Pro (DSLR version) Review from xRez Studio on Vimeo.

The wobbly construction is easily fixed and seems to be a manufacturing exception. Michael James from reports the unit arrived in sturdy condition.

Read more: Greg Downing's full review on the XRez Blog.

More sIBL sets for you.

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If you missed the March issue of 3DWorld (or got one without DVD), this is your lucky day. Until May 4 you can download all 8 exclusive sIBL sets directly from the 3DWorld blog.

On top of that, I just updated the sIBL-of-the-Month. A little late, but worth the wait...

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