October 25, 2006

Featured Articles

Serving the Savannah College of Art and Design Community

Featured Articles
SCAD leads the way in High Dynamic Range Imaging education

By Jennifer Long

Published: Friday, May 5, 2006

For students in the visual effects program at the Savannah College of Art and Design, access to cutting-edge technology such as High Dynamic Range Imaging may be key in getting a foot in the door of such high-profile digital animation and gaming companies as ILM, Pixar and Electronic Arts.

SCAD first offered a High Dynamic Range Imaging course in Fall 2005, taught by visual effects professor Kirt Witte. The course shows students how to integrate computer-generated objects or characters into real-world video or film footage. HDR technology also allows students to develop and integrate photography, lighting and rendering into various 3-D and compositing software applications.

HDR is a photography and lighting technique that uses a simple chrome ball to take 365-degree pictures of a space, such as a room or an outdoor setting. After the user takes multiple exposures of the space, the images are used to generate an HDR file. This HDR file contains the wide range of light necessary to replicate lighting in a computer-generated environment. With this file, 3-D artists have a realistic setting in which to create 3-D computer-generated figures or characters. The characters or digital props look more life-like because the lighting information in the HDR file can be used to simulate sunlight or similar effects.

Witte has been teaching visual effects at SCAD for more than four years and is known for his interest in cutting-edge technology, photography and 3-D animation. “I’ve always liked looking ahead at what’s coming down the road,” he said. He started researching HDR technology almost four years ago and has been following the evolution of it along the way. When the visual effects department was interested in introducing an HDR course into the curriculum, Witte volunteered to teach it. “I’m in kind of the right place at the right time,” he said. “With my background, it was a natural progression of my skills and interests.”

Witte said that while 3-D animation and modeling have progressed greatly over the last decade, the results still don’t always have a photo-real quality; viewers can easily identify poor lighting in movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Toy Story.” “The biggest technical issue today is lighting,” said Witte. “If you’re going to take a 3-D character and put it into a live-action plate, if you don’t match the lighting, it’s going to look fake. Lighting is the last major hurdle for making 3-D photo-real.”

As one of the hottest new tools in 3-D technology, HDR is being used more and more frequently by both the movie and video game industries. “All these new movies are coming out that use HDR, because it’s a great way to match computer-generated images with live-action content,” said Witte. “HDR is revolutionizing the video game and movie industries.”

Because of SCAD’s size and commitment to making new technology available to students and faculty, the college has actively acquired tools and techniques like HDR to use in the classroom. “We’re able to buy more hardware and software than most other schools, and because of that, we’re able to teach classes that other schools don’t have,” said Witte.

For many of Witte’s students, HDR technology was new territory. “I had experimented a little with HDR lighting in Maya and I was curious to know more,” said visual effects junior Liz Cross. “I would like to be a lighter, and knowing various lighting techniques is both personally interesting and valuable. HDR lighting is a great tool in creating real-world lighting and matching 3-D objects to a live background plate.”

While HDR technology has been around for a number of years, it has been taught mostly in technical or engineering schools. Witte believes SCAD is one of the only art and design schools in the world to offer HDR classes. “What we’re doing is teaching the science behind it, the photography behind it and the art behind it,” he said. “Our students are getting jobs straight from SCAD to ILM. To me that’s the holy grail of 3-D.”

Students agreed that the course has given them the advantage of learning about HDR before other students in their field. “I had dabbled in using HDR images before coming to SCAD, and the chance to learn more about them was appealing to me,” said visual effects senior Paul Bush. “HDR technology is just now starting to gain a wider usage in the world, and having a knowledge of it can only help me.”

“Having experience in HDR is a great thing to put on your résumé,” said visual effects junior Sarah Fuller. “It’s a newer method of lighting that is taking off in the industry. It really does make your work look much more realistic, so it can make it stand out among the hundreds of demo reels sent to the major companies every day.”

The HDR course will be offered again Fall 2006 as VSFX 430, on Mondays and Wednesdays, 2-4:30 p.m. The department plans to offer the course every spring and fall quarter. For more information about the course, e-mail Witte at kwitte@scad.edu.

Long is a publications editor.

Search Our Archive:

Classified Ads
Ardsley Park — 217 E. 56th St. Large 3 BR, 2 1/2 BA carriage house in great location. C H/A, combo LR/DR combo with F/P. $950/mo. Call (912) 656-2898.
Downtown, walk to everything — 2 BR, 1 BA, C H/A, dishwasher, W/D. Fully renovated. 18 W. Oglethorpe St. No partiers. Only quiet people need apply. $900/mo. Call (912) 844-4313.

Contact Us
Savannah College of Art and Design 2006 ©