Review: HDR Light Studio 2.0 Pro
Creating your own HDR maps has always been a specialist field, however, HDR Light Studio aims to change that
Price: £599 / $934 / €705 (upgrade from V1.x £299 / $466 / €352)
- Creates bespoke HDR images quickly
- Powerful but intuitive and simple interface
- Live preview of illumination and reflection
- Includes many lights, all fully editable
- Integrated mental ray workflow
Given that HDR lighting is the preferred method of producing 3D imagery with realistic (and relatively fast) renders, there seems to be remarkably few applications that enable you to produce your own.
Most of the HDR market is populated by ready-made HDR images, and while for the most part these are reasonably priced, wouldn’t it be better to be able to produce your own unique lighting, quickly and interactively? HDR Light Studio is one application that lets you do just that, and with this new version 2.0, creating these maps has become even quicker and more intuitive.
Existing HDR images can have new lights added to enhance their effect
In its most basic terms, HDR Light Studio (HDRLS) is exactly what the name implies: a virtual studio for setting up a bespoke light rig that can be saved for later editing, or rendered out at your desired resolution in your preferred file format.
Included are a wealth of different light sources, from basic shapes to realistic-looking soft boxes, all of which are fully editable to give maximum control over your final HDRI.
This latest version adds the new Livelight window, where you can import your model in either .mi or .obj format to preview exactly how the HDRI will affect both the lighting and reflections in your final scene.
Once the light rig is complete, it can be rendered quickly to a HDR format and then imported into your 3D application of choice.
When first launched, HDR Light Studio presents you with a main HDR workspace (which can be viewed in two different ways) in which to place and edit your various light sources, as well as the option to use either a solid background, a gradient or an existing image as a starting point for your light rig.
Applying lights is as easy as selecting one of the basic shapes in the top menu bar, or by double-clicking any of the ‘picture lights’ from the pop up menu. All placed lights appear in the main window as a list, and each can be selected and edited individually.
Editing options start with simple scale and rotate tools, but also include options such as moving the light centre, the falloff and changing the illumination style.
Once you get to grips with the editing tools, it becomes clear that pretty much any style and shape of light can be created with just a few simple and obvious clicks.
Into the Livelight
The ‘Combined’ image in HDRLS (far left), with corresponding Illumination and Reflection views
The uncluttered and seemingly bare-bones layout of the main workspace is deceptively powerful, and with just a small amount of guidance (via supplied tutorial videos), you’ll be creating effective HDR images in minutes.
While HDRLS is seemingly aimed at users who wish to create ‘studio’ lightmaps, using a photograph as a backdrop and being more creative with the light settings could see you producing interior or outdoor HDR images as well.
The second window presents the biggest and most obvious upgrade from the previous versions, and also transforms the application from the status of ‘handy curiosity’ to ‘near essential’. Called Livelight, this gives the option to preview your scene or model in Reflection, Illumination or Combined modes (selectable via tabs in the Livelight options window), which really helps to fine-tune your HDRI and judge accurately where to
place flood and key lights.
The reflection in Livelight appears as a fully glossy material by default, but can be made more satin simply by toggling a button. While this change affects your model globally, it is very useful for determining how the HDRI
will affect different material types.
The Livelight window uses CPU power rather than GPU, so HDRLS should work well on a wider range of machines, albeit Windows boxes only.
If this all sounds like a perfect solution to creating new and interesting HDR images, you wouldn’t be far from the truth, but as with everything there are a few issues that stop this from being the perfect package. First of all, Lightmap says that while .obj files can be used, mental images .mi files are the preferred format to import into HDR Light Studio.
If you want very precise positioning of HDR illumination, Light Studio could be just the app you’ve been looking for
At first I wasn’t sure how much impact this would actually have to non-mental ray users, but after trying both formats, the advantages of using a .mi file over .obj are clear.
The .mi file keeps all of the camera information intact when used with HDRLS, which means that the model appears in the preview window exactly as it would in whichever mental ray-compliant package you used to originally create it.
Using .obj – which, being an object-only format, cannot carry any camera data – forces you to try to position the model in the window using the HDRLS viewport navigation tools, which are cumbersome to say the least.
Also, .mi files that contain subdivided objects show in the preview correctly, whereas .obj files import as basic polygons, with no option to apply subdivision.
Materials are not imported using either the .mi or .obj formats, which is fine, as the idea is purely to get an
accurate general representation of the illumination and reflections emitted by the HDRI. Of course, once the HDR image itself is rendered, it can be used with any 3D package.
There are plenty of presets to alter if you don’t want to start from scratch
HDR Light Studio is undoubtedly a great package, combining an easy-to-use but powerful interface with a speedy and accurate preview system that makes creating high dynamic range light rigs a breeze.
Version 2.0 makes good on the potential hinted at in version 1.5, but there is certainly further room for improvement in the next release.
If HDRLS added compatibility with more 3D scene formats, I could see this package becoming indispensable in
many, many studios. By essentially limiting its smoothest workflow functionality to mental ray users, Lightmap is also potentially limiting the client base.
The app is also fairly expensive, almost costing as much as some full 3D suites. That said, if you have a mental ray-integrated 3D package, or can otherwise work around the shortcomings of using .obj files, this stylish and powerful application comes with the highest of our recommendations.
A great little application that is fast and simple yet deceptively powerful. Limited compatibility with non-mental ray scenes might limit its value for some people.
• Simple, intuitive interface
• Surprisingly powerful
• Large light library
• Windows only
• Patchy .obj compatibility
• Fairly expensive
on Monday, April 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: HDR, HDR Light Studio, illumination, lighting, mental ray, review