Animated HDRI with Red Epic and GoPro / by Xuan Prada

Not too long ago, we needed to create a lightrig to lit a very reflective character, something like a robot made of chrome. This robot is placed in a real environment with a lot of practical lights, and this lights are changing all the time.
The robot will be created in 3D and we need to integrate it in the real environment, and as I said, all the lights will be changing intensity and temperature, some of then flickering all the time and very quickly.

And we are talking about a long sequence without cuts, that means we can’t cheat as much as we’d like.
In this situation we can’t use standard equirectangular HDRIs. They won’t be good enough to lit the character as the lighting changes will not be covered by a single panoramic image.


The best solution for this case is probably the Spheron. If you can afford it or rent it on time, this is your tool. You can get awesome HDRI animations to solve this problem.
But we couldn’t get it on time, so this is not an option for us.

Then we thought about shooting HDRI as usual, one equirectangular panorama for each lighting condition. It worked for some shots but in others when the lights are changing very fast and blinking, we needed to capture live action videos. Tricks animating the transition between different HDRIs wouldn’t be good enough.
So the next step it would be to capture HDRI videos with different exposures to create our equirectangular maps.

The regular method


The fastes solution would be to use our regular rigs (Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800) mounted in a custom base to support 3 cameras with 3 fisheye lenses. They will have to be overlapped by around 33%.
With this rig we should be able to capture the whole environment while recording with a steady cam, just walking around the set.
But obviously those cameras can’t record true HDR. They always record h264 or another compression video. And of course we can’t bracket videos with those cameras.

Red Epic

To solve the .RAW video and the multi brackting we end up using Red Epic cameras. But using 3 cameras plus 3 lenses is quite expensive for on set survey work, and also quite heavy rig to walk all around a big set.
Finally we used only one Red Epic with a 18mm lens mounted in an steady cam, and in the other side of the arm we placed a big akromatic chrome ball. With this ball we can get around 200-240 degrees, even more than using a fisheye lens.
Obviously we will get some distorsion on the sides of the panorama, but honestly, have you ever seen a perfect equirectangular panorama for 3D lighting being used in a post house?

With the Epic we shot .RAW video a 5 brackets, rocedording the akromatic ball all the time and just walking around the set. The final resolution was 4k.
We imported the footage in Nuke and convert it using a simple spherical transform node to create true HDR equirectangular panoramas. Finally we combined all the exposures.

With this simple setup we worked really fast and efficient. Precision was accurate in reflections and lighting and the render time was ridiculous.
Can’t show any of this footage now but I’ll do it soon.


We had a few days to make tests while the set was being built. Some parts of the set were quite inaccessible for a tall person like me.
In the early days of set constructing we didn’t have the full rig with us but we wanted to make quick test, capture footage and send it back to the studio, so lighting artists could make some Nuke templates to process all the information later on while shooting with the Epic.

We did a few tests with the GoPro hero 3 Black Edition.
This little camera is great,  light and versatile. Of course we can’t shot .RAW but at least it has a flat colour profile and can shot 4k resolution. You can also control the white balance and the exposure. Good enough for our tests.

We used an akromatic chrome ball mounted on an akromatic base, and on the other side we mounted the GoPro using a Joby support.
We shot using the same methodology that we developed for the Epic. Everything worked like a charm getting nice panormas for previs and testing purposes.

It also was fun to shot with quite unusual rig, and it helped us to get used to the set and to create all the Nuke templates.
We also did some render tests with the final panoramas and the results were not bad at all. Obviously these panoramas are not true HDR but for some indie projects or low budget projects this would be an option.

Footage captured using a GoPro and akromatic kit

In this case I’m in the center of the ball and this issue doesn’t help to get the best image. The key here is to use a steady cam to reduce this problem.


Nuke work is very simple here, just use a spherical transform node to convert the footage to equirectangular panoramas.

Final results using GoPro + akromatic kit

Few images of the kit