I’ve been on sitting on this review The HDRI Handbook (Rockynook Publishing) for a while. Not because there’s anything bad to write, I just wanted to let the material settle in. And I wanted to see how much I actually kept going back to the book.
Frankly, author Christian Bloch (“Blochi” as he’s known as on his blog) has created a complete graduate level college course in a book about CG lighting. Bam! This book is a must have for any serious CG artist.
The book is incredibly easy to read with direct examples and attainable results if you read the material carefully. What Blochi doesn’t do, thankfully, is serve any one master when it comes to 3D software. Now there are a couple of “Lightwave” only references in the book, which I find peculiar. Blochi is the only dude I know (and I’ve never actually met him yet) that is still using Lightwave. But I’m not going to argue that point because as far as I’m concerned, the imagery looks freaking fantasic, so who gives a crap what he’s using?
The book is organized with a work flow mentality. Start here, end here, this is what you need to know along the way. I love the section on spherical image capture because it settled several bets at the office about how much data was actually captured by a mirror ball.
The book is for basically 2 types of people. A photographer doing HDR panos and moving into CG; an experienced 3D artist looking to elevate his/her CG lighting game. But as I alluded to earlier, everyone in CG should read this book. I’ve been doing CG for 12+ years and have read TONS of books (I even wrote 2 on 3DS Max). This is one of a handful I’ve read almost cover to cover. Honestly, I don’t think I even read my own book this thoroughly when it was done. Some sections I glanced over because I needed more specific stuff. Some chapters are worn out. I read them repeatedly (there’s THAT much meat on the bones here.)
There are only a couple of weak spots. (But only because I’m a 3ds Max guy and I suspect Blochi isn’t). One weak spot was that there were painfully thin specifics on 3DS Max HDR integration. If you’re going to use HDR in 3DS Max, don’t expect this book to be a tutorial on how to do that. You will need to know 3ds Max pretty darn well to kick the tires here. But I’m OK with that. If fact, I think that attitude is a strength of the book even if specific tutorials aren’t present. No offense here, but this book, besides being chock full of tasty goodness, makes you think about implementation. So for 3DS Max, you gotta know what the hell you are doing with lighting to begin with. The only real thing overtly missing from the book is an index. There is none. Poof. That hurts. But it forces you to read stuff and hunt around. Its absence is either a glaring oversight or a stroke of brilliance to get peeps to read his book.
The bright spots in the book are plenty. Here are some of my favs. Chapter 2 and 3 on(work flows and capturing) are the shizzy. How to do it, what to use, and how to munge it are all right there. Page 270 is almost worth the price of the entire book all by itself (thats all I’m going to say about that) BAM! Chapter 7 is supposed to “demonstrate” how HDRI’s can be used in 3D rendering. Although the info in the this chapter is fantastic, its should be described as a chapter that “Illustrates” more than “demonstrates”.
The image above is an unretouched CG match to a LDR back plate straight out of 3ds Max. Its lit with an HDR Pano made with the techniques discussed in the book AND the new MR production shaders in 3ds Max 2008 (you cannot create that image easily in 3ds Max 9 or older, see below). The image to the right is a tone mapped HDR photograph I took in the Valley of Fire National Monument using the techniques described in this book and tone mapped with Photomatix (also mentioned in the book).
Word of caution, if you are new to 3ds Max, parts of this book will be a painful tease. Not because its full of “max-speak”; it isn’t. But if you haven’t mastered (and I mean mastered) how the lighting systems in 3DS Max work you will be struggling to implement the CG techniques discussed here. That being said, its still worth every penny if you’re new because you will be learning this stuff the right way from the start. (Warning; shameless plug here, avert your eyes if you’re offended, I’m available for custom training in the regard. Visit my training site) 3ds Max 2008 has shipped with the new production shaders and photographic exposure control. Those shaders, coupled with this book will really elevate your game in 3DS Max without Vray. You can do everything in Mental Ray.
The amazing thing is there is much much more that can be covered (like specific compositing work flows) . 300 pages isn’t enough to cover everything. But thats good because maybe there will be a part II or a next edition. Heck maybe I’ll even write a 3ds Max centric HDR book.
Blochi, well done. The guru rates this book 5 polygons.