HDR video for Visual FX

Another day, another revolution!

This time it’s a real-world application of HDR video, brought to you by some smart Swedes. More precisely, a research group headed by Jonas Unger at the Linköping University. Together with Spheron-VR they created this insanely awesome HDR video camera. I’ve blogged about it before, but recently I had the opportunity to play with some footage and contribute this demo video:

HDRv sequences used for image based lighting in VFX on Vimeo.

So far the Teaser, stay tuned for a full Making-Of where I will show you a few things that I learned in the process. In the meantime, check out the new home of HDR video on the web:


If you're heading to Siggraph, make sure circle the talk on Next-Generation IBL using HDR Video in your must-see calendar. There will be even more exciting things shown regarding 3D reconstruction (sneak peek here). And if your ticket is only good for the exhibition floor, drop by Spheron-VR at booth 254 (floorplan here).
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4 Million

Looks like it's time to crack a bottle of champagne! Check out the website stats:

Thank you all for coming here, I know a lot of you are regular visitors. And that number even excludes the community forum, otherwise it would be completely overwhelming. I really appreciate the continual support.

For the future, let's make a deal: I keep delivering original HDR news content, and you post a comment every once in a while. Because it feels weird when I'm the only one talking.

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Everything changes in the new Photomatix

The reigning king of all HDR utilities is getting a facelift.

New, darker interface colors are not a big surprise. It's the new standard, and for a reason: it lets the interface visually take a step back and helps you concentrate on your image. The real surprise is that all the really important sliders have been renamed and regrouped.

Here is an overview:

Highslide JS

Otherwise, all sliders behave pretty much the same, even your old presets will still work. There are many more improvements in Photomatix 4.1, among them thumbnails in the selective ghost reduction module and a brand-new selection mode in the tonemapper. Super-useful for replacing an area with one of the source images (i.e. sky or crowds).

4.1 is currently in public beta, if you want to give it a whirl just download it here.

Update: Photomatix 4.1 is officially released. Once again a free update. Hurray!
Just go ahead and grab the Mac version or PC version.
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New HDR video camera: AMP HDR

There's a new playa in town, or rather put, in the field of HDR cameras: Contrast Optical.

Check out this hip trailer for the hipsters:
[ AMP Digital Video from Mike Tocci on Vimeo ]

All the funky music and toning choices aside, this is video actually shows a seriously powerful device. It's based on a beamsplitter, means semi-transparent mirrors redirect the light from the lens to 3 sensors. A little bit like the 3-chip CCD cameras we used to have in the nineties, except it has 3 CMOS chips with roughly 3.5 EVs between each other.

The clips they show would be tough to do with most other HDR video systems.
Highslide JS

For example, HDRx on the RED Epic struggles with fast motion, just like any other short+long shutter speed method. But since AMP HDR splits the light optically, all 3 sensors all have the same exposure time, the same motion blur, in perfect sync. The other method, repurposing a stereoscopic 3D-rig as beamsplitter (like this or this or many others), makes it a real challenge to shoot a focus-pull or push-in shot. As cool it may be to shoot two exposures with two Canon 5D's, keeping them synchronized gets tricky in such real life situations. Putting the beamsplitter behind the lens makes much more sense.

Bottom line: So far this is really the closest contender to the Spheron HDRv I've seen... See more examples on the official AMP HDR website.

It is, however, still a bit of a prototype with no real connectivity for cine-standards. That would be the next prototype. Personally, I'd raise my hand for direct EXR frames pushed down a P2 RAID, but internal tone-mapping to an HDMI stream was also in the talks. Hopefully that would be at least HDMI 1.3 with DeepColor. Guess, technically there would even be room for a Mac mini in that box. Or let me pop an iPhone in as programmable controller, like the fancy new CLAUSS Rodeon panohead. Anyway, it would be interesting to see that AMP tech show up in a real product. Contrast Optical have no ambition to become camera manufacturers for things you could pick up at Best Buy, so let's hope they find some big partners/licensees.

Mike Tocci, the inventor of the AMP camera, has a great Siggraph paper on his method. Totally recommended read! You'll learn that each sensor is aligned with sub-pixel accuracy, which gives him a chance to merge the pure RAWs to HDR, even before demosaicing. Which turns out much much better, because saturated pixels in individual color channels are discarded before they even get a chance to mush up the colors of their neighbors. This really sounds like the right way to go from RAW to HDR.

Update: Here is the serious version of the video. Without the tekkno music, instead with more explanations of the camera and the technology.
[ AMP HDR - SIGGRAPH 2011 from Mike Tocci on Vimeo. ]

If you go to Siggraph in Vancouver, don't miss Mike's Paper Session. Maybe you can elbow your way through the crowd and get some hands-on time!
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Oloneo PhotoEngine out in the wild

After all these pre-announcements it should not come as a surprise that PhotoEngine v1.0 is out. Flickr is currently getting swamped with interesting shots, and the Oloneo Flickr group doubles as official support forum.

If I had to pick out just one innovative feature, that would be the ingenious use of the main tone-mapping slider, simply called Strength. Instead of changing only a single parameter from low to high, it cycles through a whole variety of look adjustments. From 0 to 100 it reduces the global contrast, from 100 to 200 it additionally enhances local detail, and beyond 200 it aggressively boosts every contrast it can find.

Combined with live feedback, that single slider alone can already lead to instant satisfaction. In fact, when you work in Auto mode that Strength slider is all you have. Local mode gives you more control over exposure, detail, and contrast. And Advanced Local finally drills the detail setting further down, so you can tweak every individual aspect of the tonemapping engine. Really clever.

Here's a quick summary of what I like most about PhotoEngine:
  • The main tone mapping slider goes through a wide variety of adjustments
  • Realtime feedback all the way
  • Advanced Local Tone Mapper mode exposes tons of detail controls to fight halos
  • 360 Panorama mode
  • Lots of color controls for creative styling
  • BIG tone curve window
  • Automatic DeGhosting that is rather capable (see my previous test)
  • History Replay shows a timelapse of all the adjustment steps
  • Display with Color Management

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It pays off to right-click in the Curves interface. You'll see that the curve type is freely configurable. Although the Bezier curves are implemented exceptionally well, you can also change it to Linear or Catmull Rom Splines (a.k.a. Photoshop-style, without the extra Bezier handles, shown here below).

In the color equalizers, which pack a lot of power in a compact interface, choose Free Mode to target your adjustment to a very specific color.

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Not so awesome in my book:
  • No OpenEXR support, not even loading.
  • Can't save any 32-bit files, so it's only useful as end of the HDR pipeline
  • ReLight mode doesn't work with 32-bit HDRs
  • No noise reduction, neither in RAW development nor in post
  • A mysterious tendency to add dark color fringes around bright highlights
  • PC only

It’s a great start, however. If PhotoEngine manages to stick around it definitely has what it takes to rise to the top.


PS: Meet me at the RED user group meeting this Saturday

June 11 has approached quickly. If you're in the Burbank area, come and say Hi.

There will be breakfast buffet. And possibly cookies. And i'll be giving a presentation on the Foundations of HDR Imaging, every 30 minutes from 9:00 AM to 12:00. First time I'm giving 6 shows in a row, we'll see how that goes...

Avid reader of this blog might not learn much new in my talk. But the event has now turned into some sort of Mini-HDR-Convention; there will be several RED EPIC cameras to play with, some totally sweet door prizes, and a very interesting lineup of presenters.

www.REDusergroupLA.com / Kappa Studios, 3619 W Magnolia Blvd. (Map)

See you there.
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Rapid Prototyping, 3D reference cube, 5 free sIBL sets

Here comes another blogging experiment: a guest article.

Bob Groothuis is a longtime member of the HDRLabs family, known for shooting the most stunning HDR panoramas and sharing them as Smart IBL sets with the 3D community. Today, he's got an exciting story to tell...


This is my first article on the HDRLabs website and hope it's not too much of a chaotic ratatouille of information (and poorly written english ;) ). I wanted to publish it sooner but had too little time last year. In this article I will talk about 3D, HDRI, Rapid prototyping & 3d tracking / measuring, and how all that comes together. And you even get 5 free sIBL sets. 

Rapid Prototyping

Most of you already know about that great technology. It's an ideal tool for artists, industrial designers, architects etc. It can be used for uncountable different kind of projects. Just use your imagination and it turns into reality!

Rapid Prototyping has grown very quickly in the last years. Wait a bit longer and everyone has her/his own 3D printer at home. There are pre-build printers like the MakerBot or you can build a RepRap for a few bucks yourself. One of the things that we can see in the future is that you can print your own skin when you had an accident, so the healing process is going much quicker (these are not my own thoughts, it has been mentioned somewhere else, but think its nice to mention). 

"Be Your Own Souvenir!" is a perfect very creative example of Rapid prototyping. Check out this video...

Be Your Own Souvenir! from blablabLAB on Vimeo.

This is the kind of creativity I'm really keen on.

I will not go too deep into the overall process. What I want to show you is that you can use Rapid Prototyping to building your own 3D Reference Cube, that will be helpful for tracking and measuring. Only give you some hints on how to start, the rest its up to you.

Rapid prototyping companies | online printing services

There are several online companies where you can upload your 3D model and they will build a Rapid Prototype of it.

One of the most known is Shapeways.com. Another one is Ponoko.com. There are off course more, see a complete list here (not sure if this list is still up to date).

Such facilities are commonly called "Fablab", and the technology is now cheap enough that they don't have to be giant corporations anymore. There are probably some mom-and-pop Fablabs in your corner of the world (just google the word or visit Wikipedia's Fablab page for more info).

Rapid prototyping process

I asked Shapeways & Protospace Utrecht if they could send me some images of the rapid prototyping process. The images from Protospace will be shown below in the tracking / measuring device subject. On the right you can see the Shapeways images.

Protospace Fablab Utrecht

In the Netherlands we have several Fablabs and the number is still growing. In Utrecht there is a very interesting collaboration between a Fablab and the Dutch inventors association Novu. Its called Protospace Fablab Utrecht (english translation here). I'm also a member of the Novu, but just for fun. Do not expect break through inventions from me, I like to "invent" almost useless "inventions" haha! If you are interested in a few of them just see my product page. I have much more and will publish them in the future.

Shot for the Novu / Protospace several HDRI panoramas that can be downloaded for free below.

So what's a 3D Reference Cube?

It's a device that assists in 3D tracking and measuring. If you photograph it along with your background plate, you'll have the perfect placeholder for your CG objects. Let me show you some examples:

See at 04:29 at the following seminar Happy Finish: Photography Isn't Dead Event. The complete tutorial is absolutely worth watching.

[ YouTube ]

A more in-depth tutorial, that explains the process in 3D, can be found on the Luxology's Modo tutorial website: HDRI environments with matching back plate. Skip to 02:21 to see the alternative measuring device. Note, that the tutorial is made for Modo but can be used as example for other 3D applications off course.

Another very interesting tutorial is a bit off topic but worth watching: Happy Finish: Using CG Elements on Location

My own 3D Reference Cube

I wanted to build my own piece for a while, and combine it with Rapid Prototyping. The first prototypes I build are way to ridiculous to show you here. Finally came up with a very simple form: just a cube with 3 holes in it.

Protospace made the first cubes for me in wood due to complete mis-communication, but eventually they made one true Rapid Prototyped version.

The process can be seen in this image:

I used aluminum tubes to connect the cubes into the tracking device:

So the device you see is not completely rapid-prototyped, but think you will understand that its the new goal to make a device that's 100% Rapid Prototyped.

Note: there are off course cheaper and simpler methods of building your own tracking device. Also, the shape of this example is probably not completely optimized for transport and quick deployment. But I think you get my point; its so much fun to design and rapid prototype your own (maybe foldable?) version!

Final thoughts

If you can build a better, more effective Rapid Prototyped tracking device and you want to share it here, just mail me at mail att bobgroothuis dott com.

Originally I planned to shoot HDRI panoramas complete with the device but it turns out that this takes too long. I have limited time in that moment.

Free sIBL sets

Rapid Prototyping is an open source technique so think these sIBL-sets should be free too. Protospace gave the permission to put them online for free (thanks Siert & Joris!)

Download all 5 free sIBL- sets!

These HDRI panoramas were shot in April 2010 at Protospace Fablab Utrecht.
Have fun with them!


Specially want to thank Protospace (Siert & Joris) and also Shapeways who provided some images of the Rapid Prototyping process. The cool interior color scheme was designed by Joris van Tubergen from Protospace Utrecht.

Bob Groothuis

PS: Bob is giving us a real treasure here. This location is ideal for WIP renders of character models; they will look just like real figurines! Here's a quick render I did last night, using the "Protospace E" set.
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