Lightmap’s HDRI creation and editing tool HDR Light Studio 5.4 was released this week, with a solid slate of improvements. The app presents a live HDRI environment map that updates in real-time as the lighting design is created and tweaked.

Artists start by importing an existing HDRI taken on set or by starting from scratch with a blank scene. They can then add and position new lights from a selection of HDR lights which ship with the app or from their own custom HDR images. The resulting HDRI is exported from the app manually and used in a 3D app such as Maya or by using one of the (highly recommended) “Connections” which serves as a conduit between HDR Light Studio and the 3D application.

HDR Light Studio was initially developed for creating studio lighting for products, especially for highly reflective products. That being said, many facilities are using it to enhance HDRs taken on set to light characters as well as objects, especially for commercial and industrial projects.

An example of this would be the work that has been done on various GEICO spots, under the direction of Creative Director and Head of CG at Framestore NY, Andy Rowan-Robinson. He used to approach supplementing HDRs by using Nuke in a manual way to add light sources and enhance the environment. “Then I came across HDR Light Studio, and I go, ‘Oh, that kind of does it, already, in a really nice way’,” he says.

The HDR Light Studio 5.4 interface.

As he showed it to members of the team at Framestore, they saw how it could be used in an intuitive way. “There’s always been tools around that you could place your specular highlights,” Rowan-Robinson relates, “but it does it in such an intuitive way that you can craft lighting really quick.” While the features pipeline and its physically based rendering isn’t designed to use Light Studio, the commercials division has fully dived in, with enough floating licenses to service about half the lighters on staff.

The Geico spots are especially suited towards designing the lighting in HDR Light Studio. Obviously, due to the fact that they are placing the hero CG gecko into plate photography, there’s no way a DOP on set would be able to light the lizard in the way one would like the primary character.

“We use it a lot on those sorts of jobs, because they’re quite reflection-based creatures, it’s really nice to be able to place your highlights in specific places,” he says. “Make sure the eye highlights are working really nicely….get a rim on the top of his head…it’s perfect for that.”

The application comes with with a library of over 200 high quality HDR photographs of soft boxes, spot lights, windows and even clouds artists can use to build up the lighting. The recently released version 5.4 brings 32 new light sources to the mix.

Lightmap offers “connections” from Light Studio to various 3D apps such as Maya, 3DS Max, Houdini, Cinema 4D, Modo and more. These low-priced additions allow artists to work with HDR Studio and have the results synced via a live connection to the primary 3D app. Adjusting a light in HDR Studio updates the IBL in the app and any interactive render view in the primary app.

From Rowan-Robinson’s perspective, one of the best things about the connection to Maya is the fact that the HDR Light Studio setup is saved as part of the Maya scene file and users don’t have to manually manage file versions in two different applications. He’ll still generally do final tweaking of the lighting setup in Maya before hitting off the render, but much of the work is done in Light Studio prior to that.

This connection was improved dramatically with the addition of “Area Lights” which were released with version 5.3 early in 2016. This is available with the 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D and MODO connections.

This feature allows the user to promote HDR lights in Light Studio to 3D lights in the native application simply by ticking a check box. Once this is done, the light is moved out of the HDR image and into the native 3D light. This allows additional light parameters to be adjusted that would not be otherwise possible (such as falloff, for example) and they appear as light objects in the 3D application.

Video: Area Lights as implemented in 3DSMax

Even with the new preset light sources in the 5.4 release, Rowan-Robinson would like to see even more additions to the presets available in the software. While there is a wide variety of lights available, he finds himself only reaching for a handful of presets to light a scene. “They should hire out some photography kit or some actual lights, and take really good quality HDRs of the lights, and then add them as presets,” says Rowan-Robinson. “That would be something that I feel would be really useful, is work on their library now.”

He’d also like to see adjustments for finessing the color temperature of the preset lights. That’s not really possible right now, as they use the workround of turning a light to monochrome and then multiplying a color ramp in order to adjust the temperature. However, this loses the original fidelity of the natural and subtle variations in colour within the source, since it gets turned to monochrome.

HDR Light Studio 5.4 new features

2016 closes out with the 5.4 release, featuring adjustable light handles, advanced rotations, 32 additional new light sources, Cinema 4D connection support for R18, and more. With help from the team at Lightmap, here are some highlights from the new release:

Advanced rotations

3D mapped lights are no longer limited to being orientated ‘normal’ to the lighting sphere, or for area lights, facing directly at the LightPaint location. X and Y rotations allow lights to be orientated in any direction. The light orientation is controlled with X,Y,Z rotations click and drag controls, these work relative to the light’s current orientation, so are easy to use.

Full 3 axis rotations allow new content to be added into a HDRI map and precisely orientated to simulate any 3D positioning. This provides far greater control over your existing HDRI maps.

Rotation modes

Rotation Modes allow the user to change the orientation characteristics of a light, providing useful behaviours for the lighting artist.


There are four rotation modes:

Free: Behaves the same as when the Advanced Rotation setting is off (lights are normal to the lighting sphere and area lights face the LightPaint location), but you are able to manually adjust the X,Y,Z rotations of the light.

V-Lock: Light is always vertical, and aligned with the LightPaint location – This is ideal for pack shots, maintaining the vertical alignment of lights.

H-Lock: Light is always horizontal, but aligned with the LightPaint location.

Fixed: Ignores the LightPaint location, default to horizontal and aligned with world X axis – Ideal for placing the light over a car with a fixed orientation.

The X,Y,Z rotations are applied as an offset to these default behaviours, and this offset is maintained even when moving the light. So for example if V-Lock mode is used, the light can be tilted a little off vertical and wherever the light is place it will face a little off vertical.

Adjustable light handles

Since HDR Light Studio 1, lights have been positioned by their centres, as indicated by the orange dot – we call this the handle. But sometimes when using LightPaint to position lights on the 3D model, you don’t want to place a light by its centre. HDR Light Studio 5.4 introduces adjustable handles that can be positioned anywhere within the light.

The handle is easily moved using the sliders or by dragging directly in the Light preview image.

Light handles.
Adjustable light handles.
New light sources

32 additional Studio Light Sources have been added to the Preset library.

The 32 new light presets included in the 5.4 release.
The 32 new light presets included in the 5.4 release.



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