Animation Mentor now offers VFX classes

When it comes to online schools for aspiring CG artists, Animation Mentor is right at the top.

They have this incredible way of enlisting seasoned professionals from PIXAR, DreamWorks, ILM, ect., who share their knowledge and practical experience in live web seminars. It's all very personal and direct; the next best thing to actually attending a class in person. And that really works. It's such a tremendous push for your skill set, that even many production studios periodically send their artists to Animation Mentor to brush up their skills.

Just check out some of the student's animation work:

And this summer, for the first time ever, Animation Mentor offers not only Animation courses, but also on VFX courses. That includes lighting, look development, and compositing–the complete studio pipeline as it is common in the entertainment industry. I'm especially proud that my HDRI Handbook 2.0 was chosen as text book for these new classes.

Download the official press release, read more about the new Studio School system, or sign up right here:

PS: The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is also used as course material at the Ferris State University and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Hooray! What better proof could there be that you can actually learn something from my book?

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Recreating a room from HDR panos in MARI

Scott Metzger sure knows how to impress. In this video he's recreating an entire room in 3D, by projecting HDR panoramas on geometry that was derived from a FARO (3D laser) scanner.

Head on over to to watch the presentation. This is not only a must-see for VFX artists, but also very fascinating for photographers. It will blow your mind how much can be done with HDR panoramas and how much of the 3D scene is in fact coming directly from photographs.
Watch fxguideTV #163: Scott Metzger on Mari and HDR

If that tickles your creative thumb, and you have my new book, then you should take a look at the workflow tutorial in section 7.4.3: Reconstruct a Set in 3D (pages 602 to 616). It's not as sophisticated as Scott Metzger's method (only photos used, because I have no FARO scanner, sadly). So, my tutorial is more along the lines of "what you can do at home on the cheap", but the result is still pretty okay.

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The real HDRI Handbook 2.0 now in stock on Amazon

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Yes! The real HDRI Handbook 2.0 (that is, the paper edition) has been spotted in the wild. Amazon has it in stock and the first pre-orders have already arrived on people's doorsteps.

Happy reading, everybody!

I really hope you enjoy my book and find something nice to say about it in your Amazon review. But take your time. This book is meant to be worked with, and my hope is that after 3 weeks it should have inspired you to try something completely new or tackle a project that you didn't know you can do. It's not just another pretty photo book. I personally measure the success of this book on the effect it has on your skill set. Let it sink in. Allow the book to take you on a ride. See where it can take you.

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New High Line HDR pano and an unexpected find

The free sIBL set of January was taken at New York's fabulous High Line park. It's one of these elevated subway lines you probably remember from BeatStreet, but converted into a public park. It's really cool. On your next New York visit you should definitely put the High Line in the Meatpacking district on your sightseeing list!

This pano was shot back in 2010 when this section of the High Line was still under construction. What attracted me was this unique mix of outdoor/indoor lighting, and I imagined all these fluorescent tubes would look great in reflections. And sure enough, they do! Here is a CG car model placed in this environment:

Rendered in modo and post-processed in Magic Bullet PhotoLooks. Mind you, setting up this scene took 10 seconds. With sIBL it's all automatic, including the ground shadow. Here is a screenshot.

Aside from the easy lighting setup, the sIBL system also provides a much better way of organizing and cataloging HDR environments. Searchable keywords, metadata and the GPS map make it a real joy to browse for the right environment for a CG model. Here is what that looks like it sIBL-GUI.

Of course, the browser can only be as good as the metadata entered in each sIBL set. So for creating these sets I habitually pinpoint the location by revisiting it in Google Earth. That often sends me on a nice trip down the memory lane. When I was looking for the High Line I noticed how well defined Google's 3D model of New York nowadays is.

The big surprise came when I zoomed in further. Suddenly I found myself in Google Street View, witnessing this strange scene:

Hmm. A couple, a photographer, two cops, and a man on the ground. What is going on here? Does anybody have a good caption for this image? Because I'm at a loss…

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Here comes the ebook!

Happy new year! Today the ebook version of the HDRI Handbook 2.0 was officially released. It is now available from these sources:

However, the book was designed as hardcopy. The ebook alone does not give you the full experience. The ebook has lower resolution, does not include the companion DVD, and the continuous text flow eliminates the sophisticated layout of the real book.

Advantages of the Paperback Edition

The ebook isn't bad. I tried it. But the paperback is better. Here are the reasons:

Paper Advantage #1: Higher Resolution

This book has coffee table qualities and is filled with great high-resolution prints in full color. In the ebook all that is compressed down to screen resolution. It has to be, otherwise the ebook would be a 2 GB document. This book is massive, it's much larger than the average. Even after compression it's still 160 MB, which triggers a file size warning on the Kindle and slightly slows down browsing on the iPad. That's due to thousands of images embedded in the ebook, and they all look even better in print.

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This images and layout in this book have coffee-table qualities.

Paper Advantage #2: Designed for Print

The layout of this book is refined to perfection and really plays with the medium paper. There are many double-page spread images, the guest interviews are presented as magazine-style portfolios, and annotated screenshots appear on the same pages as the corresponding tutorial steps (by insisting on the latter I drove my layout editor to the brink of insanity). More critically, there are interactive parts (crossword puzzles, page-folding comparison galleries, cut-out pages for your camera bag) and even a few easter eggs in the print layout. All that is kind of lost in the ebook translation. On the flipside, the ebook does not take advantage of the interactive opportunities the digital medium offers.

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Crossword puzzles are a fun way to test your knowledge; and they do work best in the printed edition.
If you shy away from scribbling in books (even though it's perfectly legal), you will find interactive Flash games on the companion DVD (which is also exclusive to the paperback edition)

Paper Advantage #3: Exclusive Companion DVD

The ebook does not come with a DVD. And you really miss out a lot, because all my original source files used in the tutorials are on that DVD. This is pretty unique in the world of photography books: every tutorial is 100% repeatable. You get everything you need to follow the tutorial steps and arrive at your very own version of the tutorial images. It's learning by doing, or at least learning by dissecting the layer stacks in the provided PSD file and tinkering with the material yourself.

Those are three strong reasons why I highly recommend getting the Paperback Edition.

Why am I so against ebooks?

I'm not. I love ebooks. I don't read novels on paper anymore, only on my Kindle.

But photography books and reference books are different. I always have bunch of photo books on my living room table that I like to browse casually, and I keep a bunch of technical reference books on my desk shelf as reassurance I can quickly look up anything, anytime. The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is meant to fit in both of these places.

Mind you, as far as ebook translations go, this was done very professionally. Headlines are properly tagged and cross-references are clickable links. But it's still a translation. To make a photography or reference book work well in a digital format, it needs a whole different structure than just a PDF translation. Tutorials would need to be video snippets (instead of screen shot sequences), galleries would need to be fullscreen gizmos with gesture-enabled browsing, comparison tables would need to pull updates from the web, and when we're talking about panoramic images they should be presented in an interactive pano viewer. Even writing for an interactive medium is different than writing for a printed book. Instead of a steady-pacing train of thought a well written ebook is delivered in smaller packets, more suitable for browsing than deep immersive reading.

So that's why I argue against my own book in ebook form. Making it the best possible hardcopy book was my focus, and had I designed it as ebook the result would be very very different. I honestly believe the printed edition will exceed your highest expectations. Whereas the ebook is pretty much what you expect: the PDF of a paper book. The ebook is useful as backup or secondary, always-with-you version, but it's not a substitute for the real book.

But when can I get the paper book, then?

Well, it can only be a matter of days.

The original plan was to release the ebook one week after the paperback, just to make a clear point that this is the primary version. But as it turns out, moving physical items around the globe is harder than flipping the switch to enable a download. Somewhere in America, there is truck loaded with 22.117 lbs of books. Yes, such surreal number is shown as "package weight" on the UPS tracking page. Apparently it is now in Hagerstown, which is 24 miles short of the destination: the central warehouse in Chambersburg, PA. That's where the Amazon trucks are standing by, with running engines, to distribute the colorful load all over the country. Well, maybe they are not, but in any case it can only be a matter of days until the paperback version becomes available.

Hang in there. Believe me, nobody is more frustrated with this delayed release than me. If you're waiting for your pre-order, do not jump on the ebook! Wait it out, it will be worth it. As early bird you still got it five dollars cheaper than everybody else, because Amazon just raised the price to $38. Still, worth every penny…

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Happy Holidays!

A bunch of things did not happen in the last few days.
The world did not end on the 21st (hooray!), but also the HDRI-Handbook 2.0 was not delivered by the 24th. I'm a bit baffled myself that this shipment from the Korean printing facility takes this long. Guess the container was stuck it customs (inside joke), or Amazon simply takes the projected release date very very literal. I'm quietly suspecting Amazon is just a machine, or some robotic computer monstrosity that doesn't really celebrate Christmas.

Well, then so be it. Holidays season is just getting started!

December 28 is the official release date, and that's when The HDRI Handbook 2.0 ships! I'm so excited that my book will finally have some readers (950 have pre-ordered it already). Can't wait to hear what you say…

Win This Book!

RockyNook is hosting a raffle on Facebook. Like them and you can win a copy.

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