CGSkies open for business

FeatureSky

I’ve had many questions in the past year or so about the skies I’ve been using in my scenes. For a long time, I wasn’t at liberty to say much about them. No longer.

I’m happy to report that Marcel Vijfwinkel, the man behind the enormously popular CGTextures.com, and his accomplice Wojtek Starak have now launched CGSkies.com – source of the super high-res HDR sky maps I’ve been using as a tester in many of my scenes for months. Those of you who have been using CGTextures’s wonderful JPG sky maps will be glad to know that these skies are now available in HDR versions via CGSkies – not for free, it goes without saying, but they’re worth every penny. Indeed, these are in many ways higher-quality versions of the LDR maps: expertly re-stitched and cleaned up of all landscape elements at the horizon. It is hard to fathom the amount of work that has gone into preparing these maps for sale. No wonder CGSkies has been in the making for so long.

The beauty about CGSkies’ maps is that their very high resolution (up to 15,000 pixels wide) makes it possible to use them both as light sources and as backplates, eliminating the need for separate LDR backplates (though you will need quite a bit of RAM to use them).

The second thing I love about the maps, and probably the most important, is that, assuming you are using Vray as a renderer, their dynamic range allows you to generate very crisp shadows without the need for extra light sources, such as sunlights or direct lights, at least for the maps that feature a visible sun (you can obtain a broad range of hard to soft shadows depending on how overcast the sky is).

In order to generate these shadows without altering the colours of the original map in the environment and reflection slots, Marcel recommends using a more refined version of the HDR workflow I highlighted in this post last year. This involves using the gamma control of the VrayHDR texture map to modulate the contrast of the map (in addition to the multiplier for the map’s intensity). For all the details about Marcel’s own version of this workflow, head to the tutorial section.

The site has a number of free samples, which, although considerably lower-res than the originals, will allow you to test if this workflow works for you (though they won’t generate the beautiful reflections and backdrops of the original-sized maps).

The CGSkies gallery features a few renders of mine, including this one, which shows you what kind of lighting and shadows you can expect, using only the maps.

Converted Power Station in Berlin

19 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Is there an HDRI tutorial for Mental Ray that is just as in depth as the VRay one on the website? There doesn’t seem to be one definitive tutorial that covers the exact process in MR, whether you need a dome of some sort, etc.., but there are plenty of good ones (this, Peter’s, etc) for VRay.

  2. Pingback: 3D- CGSkies open for business | StudioLab

  3. Bobby says:

    According to their website, they’re all instant downloads.
    Thought about buying the VHDRI ones, which are 14000 x 7000.

  4. BBB3VIZ says:

    I haven’t actually. I should give them a try. The maps in their top range, at least, seem to be pretty good. If I remember well, though, they force you to buy the entire collection and ship them by post, which I found to be a major turn-off.

  5. Andrea says:

    Hi, I’ve read the tutorial about the two differents dome lights and I think that could be a good idea to have them separate but I would uncheck “cast shadow” for the refl light cause I don’t think that is a good idea to have two super high res HDR images that cast shadows…

  6. ciwata says:

    Salut Bertrand!
    I left a private message on your Fb account.
    I’m not sure you use fb every day..
    Please, take a look.

  7. BBB3VIZ says:

    Glad you guys found this interesting. I’m certainly thrilled about the results I’ve been able to obtain with these skies. It’s hard to point you to specific ones I like because the versions I used were named differently and do not follow the new nomenclature. Also, some of the early versions I used still had the horizon on them. From memory and looking at the website, I can say I had good results with “Overcast-SKY60″; “Overcast-SKY257″; “Dusk-SKY184″; Sunset-SKY87 (attention, strong yellow ambient cast). I would recommend pretty much all the sunset ones, the mid-afternoon sunny skies for somewhat elongated shadows, and the midday blue-sky ones for really amazingly sharp sun shadows. Don’t forget to play with the gamma value when testing the skies (you can do that with the free samples).

    Jakub: I use LWF as you describe. I rarely use light portals unless I try to light a vast space through a few tiny openings.

    And just as a footnote: I’m a great fan of Peter’s skies, which are very high quality, extremely competitively priced, and may indeed suit some workflows better thanks to the wealth of backplates they come with. I’ve been using both Peter’s and Marcel’s skies and will continue to use both as those I have complement each other very nicely.

  8. Jakub Cech says:

    Great news!
    May I ask you few questions about your workflow?
    Do you use skyportals?
    Do you always use Linear multiply with gamma set to 2.2 regarding color mapping?
    Thanks man, your work is outstanding.

  9. Mirko says:

    Thank’s Bertrand, this blog is the one that really gives very useful tips, thank you very much! Thank you for sharing with us!

  10. Rémi says:

    Impressive lighting without any other light source :)

    Could you tell us which skies you used for the various images in the CGSkies gallery ?

  11. Very very nice!

    I was wondering too for a long time what you had in your pocket!!! :P

    Hopefully this will bring more competitivity into the HDR businnes and hopefully Peter G. will update his HDR with better resolution!

    Thanks for the update, it comes in great timing for me!

  12. manu says:

    So, this was the surprise you were talking about! A very nice one indeed! Prices are very convenient too I think.

    I would love it if you’d tell us which ones are your favorites B…

    Thanks for the news.

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