HDR Light Studio 5 Review

gToon · July 28, 2015 2:21 pm

Tags: , 3D Lighting, 3D scenes, HDR Light Studio 5, Lightmap

Light Studio 5

Lighting is one of the most important elements of digital storytelling. Good lighting can add a specific mood to a 3D scene or guide the viewers focus to a single element. How a scene is lit makes all the difference in the audiences emotional response to everything from a character to the overall environment.

Of course, 3D production applications like Cinema 4D and Modo, pay close attention to how their users create and use lighting. And lighting options in these programs are very powerful. But what if there was a dedicated application that focused exclusively on lighting. One that gave the user an easier time with lighting set-up and provided a wider variety of lighting possibilities for their scenes including a focus on HDR (high dynamic range) lighting?

Such a program does exist. It's called HDR Light Studio. Lightmap, the creators of HDR Light Studio have just released version 5 of their lighting application and I think it's terrific.

HDR Light Studio is a lighting tool for 3D artists. It can be run as a standalone application or connected to third party modeling and rendering packages such as Maya. It has been designed to quickly and precisely help you place lights on a spherical environment map to illuminate your 3D model. It automatically applies the correct geometric projection of the lights onto a 2D canvas. The output from HDR Light Studio is a high dynamic range, high resolution image to be used as an input to your own renderer.  (from the HDR Light Studio 5 manual)

What's New in HDR Light Studio 5

  1. New Full-Screen Interface. with panels that can be moved, scaled, docked/undocked and tabbed
  2. Presets: drag and drop from a library of lights Double click a preset thumbnail to add the light to the canvas
  3. Load your own LDR and HDR imagery as lights
  4. Instant re-lighting in the Render View
  5. Uber Light - One light type - so many possibilities
  6. Over 80 new features and enhancements to the application.

For a complete list of improvements and updates, be sure to visit the Lightmap website here.

What's New in Light Studio 5

Using HDR Light Studio 5

HDR Light Studio 5 is easy to set up. The interface is clean and all the controls you need to start lighting are intelligently arranged; similar to most 3D applications with the detail controls on the right, a central viewport and toolbars on the left side. I found the interface so easy to use that I had a .obj model imported and lit within 10 minutes. And this was my first time using the program.

A very effective workflow in HDR Light Studio 5 is their "LightPaint" mode. This is where you place the lights you want to use (either presets, images as a light or standard light types) directly in the model viewport. Here's how the very useful Light Studio 5 manual describes the 3 LightPaint modes:

  • Reflection - in this mode, the light is positioned to reflect at the point on the surface (P) where you clicked.
  • Illumination - in this mode, we calculate the normal to the surface of the object at the point where you click (P) and then position the light source along that normal. This is best for lighting diffuse objects where you are not concerned about the reflections of lights but simply want to shine a light directly at a surface.
  • Rim - in this mode, the model is ignored allowing you to position lights behind the model.

What this amounts to is a very effective, yet simple way of getting exactly the quality/style of lighting you want using HDR Light Studio 5. The workflow is so efficient that you soon have literally dozens of lights in your scene. So many that it starts to get hard to locate them, but the application provides a good solution to this problem: when you select the light in the light list on the left, a crosshair shows on that light in the canvas view. Selecting the light also opens the detailed light controls on the far right of the interface.

Light Studio 5 Presets

In addition to the huge collection of presets,HDR Light Studio 5 gives you types of light to work with: round, rectangular, gradient, hexagon, sun shade, dark light (removes light) and gradient light. Each of these light types are infinitly adjustable. The application also gives you the ability to add a gradient background, a picture background and a sky background to any scene.

A short note on the Uber Light

One of the most innovative aspects of HDR Light Studio 5 is their use of the "uber light". Aptly named, the uber light is a "truly flexible light type that can be used to create more advanced lighting effects not possible with the other light types". Moreover, the uber light has so many different mapping and content types (planar, spherical, bulb, flat, etc.) it's entirely possible to light your entire scene simply using uber lights. This light type alone is nearly worth the cost of the entire program as no other 3D package comes even close to offering this kind of "super" light. Using uber lights had to be my favorite part of scene lighting while working in HDR Light Studio 5

Once you are done with your lighting scheme, you simply export it as an environmental light into the 3D application of your choice. Lightmap does provide plug-ins for all of the major 3D packages and renderers like Maya, 3DS Max and Cinema 4D. These plug-ins enable you to run HDR Light Studio 5 directly within the 3D application, which makes it much easier to get your lighting design up and rendered. These "Connection" plug-ins are purchased separately and are relatively cheap.

Light Studio 5 connections

Final Thoughts

HDR Light Studio is a powerful, standalone lighting application that gives the user an incredible range of tools to light a 3D scene. I found the program to be relatively easy to use, but with a depth of functionality that grew as I got better with the program. The amount of presets are huge and very effective. The quality and types of lights (especially the uber light) are in a class by themselves. Plus, there is a big fun factor that comes with using HDR Light Studio 5.

Lighting in many 3D applications can be a a slow and often tedious process of trying something, then rendering to see if it looks good. HDR Light Studio 5 removes all of the technical barriers between the artist and the work so that the process is much faster, more detailed and, yes, fun. That fun factor can't be over emphasized as it's often this feeling of fun and freedom that lead to discoveries and ideas that might not come with a more traditional lighting application.

No application is perfect though. Lightmap doesn't provide a forum for HDR Light Studio 5 and I found it difficult to get information on issues that came up for me. However, they did spend considerable time creating a very effective manual which pretty much answered every question I had. Still, it's hard to imagine a modern 3D application not having it's own forum.

Another factor that I think potential users should consider is the fact that you'll probably be spending extra to by the specific HDR Light Studio 5 plug-in for your 3D application of choice. This is one of those less obvious epenses that you'll have to consider when purchasing HDR Light Studio 5. That being said, the connection prices are a reasonable $30. I think Lightmap would make their pricing more appealing by including at least one connection with purchase of HDR Light Studio 5.

These quibbles aside, I found HDR Light Studio 5 to be one of the most effective and enjoyable applications I've reviewed in some time. It's beautifully designed, fun to use and will significantly cut down the time spent on lighting a 3D scene. Any designer or artist who needs a lighting system that is fast, powerful and connects easily to other application should seriously consider HDR Light Studio 5. 

Download the free demo from the Lightmap website and try it out, you'll be very happy you did.

Essential Info:


Ricky Grove [gToon], is the Managing Editor of Renderosity where he supervises the Front Page writers. He creates the "News of the Week" and "Gallery of the Week" videos for the Rendo YouTube channel. Ricky's day job is working as a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and animated filmmaker/voice actor. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his FB page here.



HDR Light Studio 5 Promo Video

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Article Comments

Cinthia ( posted at 3:44AM Tue, 01 December 2015

I have a seat of HDR Light Studio and it is a very good tool and I can get by just fine with the version i have. Technically, you can do the same with the resources in modo but it's a lot of set up and overhead to manage. I am not angry just disappointed. Im using mac os andr read a lot of guides like this one aurorahdr so wanna more guides here abour light studio. Thanks for review!

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