Bob strikes back

Our friend from the Netherlands, Bob Groothuis, has started a new project: Dutch Light 360. After his excellent trilogy of Dutch Skies 360 HDRI collections, this new project will bring a wider variety of lighting situations. The dutch light has always been a great source of inspiration for the old master painters, and thanks to Bob, now it is for CG artists as well.

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More diversity, same professional quality. Bob Groothuis knows his game.

To kick things off, the first Dutch Light 360 promo set is our free sIBL-of-the-month. For more freebies from Bob, keep your eyes open for the new edition of 3DWorld (#140)!

Update: 3DWorld actually lets you download two exclusive sIBL-sets from Bob in their full glory! Yay!

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Open EXR Alpha plugin for Photoshop

Adobe just released a new OpenEXR file format plugin, that changes the way Photoshop deals with an Alpha channel. It used to load them as transparency, which looks like this.

Well, that may be fine for many photographers, but certainly not for panorama shooters and VFX artists.

The problem is that Photoshop actually cuts the transparent parts away during loading. But sometimes you still want to do some painting on the Alpha mask before applying it as transparency. Panorama photographers do that a lot. Or you might just want to use the Alpha as selection, to treat foreground and background separately. This is in fact very common in VFX work.

In all these cases you probably want your EXR file to be loaded like this:

So, the default cuts the background away. Get Adobe's OpenEXR Alpha plugin and it doesn't do that anymore.

There was actually a historic thread about this issue in the Adobe forum. It became pretty heated when Adobe engineer Chris Cox started schooling customers about what an Alpha channel is (despite the fact that the bug reports came from Pixar and other leading VFX houses). It's a very technical thread, not an easy read. But it became hilarious when Mr. Cox kept referring to the official Open EXR specification, to proof the point that Photoshop does it right and everybody else does it wrong. Turned out the gentleman he was arguing with was Florian Kainz from ILM, the original inventor of the OpenEXR format, who promptly replies "Reload that OpenEXR specs page, I just clarified it for you." Epic.

Of course, this doesn't really affect users of ProEXR, because they had this option for years. As a reminder, if you hold the option key while loading an image, ProEXR will come up with this options panel.

But the good news is, if you have no need for layers, snazzy compression schemes, or full 32-bit precision, then you don't have to buy ProER anymore. Photoshop's free OpenEXR Alpha plugin at least takes care of the most annoying shortcomings. Now you can save an Alpha channel in your EXR, that PTGui can use as blending mask during pano stitching. Or you can load a 3D render, where the Alpha is used to separate background and foreground.

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Happy 2011

My personal New Years Resolutions: I smoke no more cigarettes (there, I said it!). Oh, and finish the second revision of the book.

Yes, the second revision is what I already promised last year. My excuse is that I'm a working photographer/VFX artist, just like you, constantly tackling new challenges. And especially last year I learned new things faster than I could write them down. Catching up, though. For now, here is an example of what I did last summer:

[ Watch The Cape Reel from Eden FX on Vimeo ]

Not just me, but the entire gang at Eden FX was cranking out a massive amount of CG cloth goodness for this pilot. Thanks to a dedicated sIBL-set for each location, shot by yours truly, lighting and rendering were really the least of our worries. So we could concentrate on comping, cloth simulations, and roto-animation.

Check out the premiere of The Cape on NBC, Sunday 9PM. Damn - sounds like I get paid for saying that. Frankly, you be the judge if that show is any good. For me, it was a great experience on set, which was the Queen Mary. And for you, such opportunities result in some exclusive sIBL-of-the month.

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Holiday Updates and Specials

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Just in: 50% on HDR Darkroom and new HDR Photo Pro

EverImaging joins the bargain party, offering incredible 50% off with the coupon code MCNY2011. They also have a new "Pro" app, because that seems to be the most popular name appendix this year, which has many more features compared to HDR Darkroom.

15% off HDR Express

HDR Express is out in the wild, currently on holiday special for $84.15 instead of $99.-.

It's the new tone-mapper from Unified Color, that is super-fast and super-easy to use. Read my preview report here. Recommended for beginners, maybe as last-minute gift for that old-school photographer buddy of yours? Pros probably need more controls, and won't be happy about missing EXR and Radiance support. But the 15% holiday special actually applies to all Unified Color apps, just use the coupon code HOLIDAY2010.

40% off Magic Bullet Photolooks

Magic Bullet Photolooks, however, is on the opposite end of the professional scale. It brings curves, vignettes, blurs, targeted colortweaks, and a myriad of other adjustments to Photoshop - all in full 32 bits. And right now you can get it for $119.40 instead of $199 with Red Giant's store-wide 40% special. Use the code BIGSALE2010 on checkout. If you're a compositor, this might also be your ticket to grab a discounted copy of Primatte or everything from Trapcode (all plugins I couldn't live without in my day job).

12% - 24% off HDR Efex Pro 1.1

Nik Software's HDREfex Pro was updated to 1.1 already. Since the major selling point of this software are artistic and creative looks, this update answers the popular demand to work in 8- and 16-bit modes in Photoshop CS 3/4. And makes it faster and more stable in general.

It's on a 12% sale right now ($139 instead of $159), along with all other Nik plugins with the coupon code HOLIDAY10. Or get 24% off when it's bundled with the sharpening plugin DFine2.0 with the coupon HEPDF10.

Update: Dynamic Photo HDR 5

DPHDR 5 is out, now with Exposure Fusion goodness and a whole lot of other amazing features, that have accumulated over the years. Match Color, direct Light Mask painting, and an Anti-Ghosting brush that blows Photomatix' clumsy lasso selection out of the water. Doesn't beat the actual anti-ghost algorithm that ends up processing the mask, though. But compared to all the others here, the regular price of $55,- is a bargain already.

Update: PTGui 9

PTGui, the leading pano stitcher, also has brushes in version 9. Here they're used to mask out things like the tripod, pedestrians, or your own shadow from the source images. PTGUI 9 is also faster, has better blending on HDRs, uses the GPU for the preview, and can export panos to HTML5. Most recommended update, even if you fall out of the grace period and actually have to pay for it.

So there ya go, now you know where to spend all the cash you have left over this year.

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Grand Finale of True Vision HDR Contest

It's time for you to decide who will find a brand new MacBook Pro under the Christmas tree.
Head over to Unified Color's HDR Contest page and to put your vote in! And drool over the amazing visuals of the finalists:

Promote Firmware 2.0

Finally, a Mac updater for the Promote Control! HDR Timelapse, bracketing sequence preview and much more in Firmware v2.0! Get the news straight from the horses mouth, in the developer's post in our forum.

Monthly site update:

December's sIBL-of-the-month reflects the fact that I'm sitting here in sunny LA, yearning for some moody winter atmosphere. Like that one eve in a Czech forest. Ahhh...

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Pre-Announcement: HDRI Handbook 2.0

Amazon doesn't tell you the truth when you try to order the HDRI Handbook now. It's not likely to ship in 2 to 6 weeks, because there simply are none left anymore. We're all sold out.

But fear not, the Second Edition is coming up.

I have actually taken an extended hiatus from my day job, working feverishly for the last couple of months on The HDRI Handbook 2.0. What started out as a little update turned into a major overhaul. Pretty much everything had to be revised, extended, rewritten and reconsidered. The puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place now, but I must admit it's far from finished.

You can already pre-order v2.0 if you want my publisher to send me encouraging and slightly anxious emails. My best guess is it will be available in March 2011, but don't be a hater if that turns into April. I'd rather do it right and polished than rush it out the door.

Soon I will disclose some details, but for now I would like to thank all my readers for the overwhelming support of the first edition. It sold an estimated 40,000 copies in English and German alone, not even counting the Korean, Polish, Czech, and Chinese translations. Considering the fact that at the initial release 2007 it was the first HDR book for the mainstream, this response exceeds everything I could have ever hoped for.

Thank you so much, and stay tuned for v2.0.

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