Hogwarts Gets HDRIs in Blender 2.8

I’ve been eagerly tracking the progress of Blender 2.8, the upcoming version of the free 3D software I’m using for this project. It’s still in beta, so it’s not recommended for use in production. There’s always that small chance that it will crash and eat all your data. And unfortunately, I don’t know any spells that will uncorrupt a .blend file.

Nevertheless, yesterday I made the switch! 2.8 has some truly incredible new features that will be really helpful for this project, and I just couldn’t resist any longer. It’s not worth getting into the technical side of things here, but suffice it to say that for me, this is an upgrade that’s worth the minor inconvenience of performing manual daily backups.

At the same time, I’ve been adding in some HDRIs. HDRI (high dynamic range imaging) refers to a particular type of environment for the model. It allows a lot of possibilities for dynamic, realistic images, and one of the easiest ways get started is to use HDRI photography made available online. (Thanks for the incredible freebies, HDRI Haven!) The results can be pretty cool:

Note that the castle isn’t actually sitting on those pretty mountains; those are just part of the photographic HDRI background that’s also providing lighting for the model. This angle just happens to make it kinda look like it’s sitting on the mountains. (My plan is to model the landscape around the castle later on.) Also note that this was rendered with Blender 2.8’s new EEVEE engine…it’s not nearly as accurate as Blender’s more robust path tracer, Cycles, but it’s insanely fast. The render above was done within 6 seconds. I can move around the model in real-time and it looks almost exactly like that.

You’ll see some blocky shapes in the back of that render, too. Those are just placeholders for some of the structures in the back of the castle; I’m trying to figure out height data by matching camera angles from the films. Compare these two shots:

Pretty close in terms of angle, right? (This was rendered prior to the switch to HDRIs in Blender 2.8, hence the plainer sky.)

Simultaneously, work continues on the separate Alnwick Castle model. On the right, the octagonal towers beginning to take shape, rendered with the slower but more accurate Cycles engine. (This is what Hagrid was dragging the Christmas tree toward in the first film.)

And here’s an EEVEE view from slightly later in the process. They’re a lot taller here than in real life, since Stuart Craig and his team basically took the footprint of this building and stretched it way higher. You’ll also note that I’ve loaded another HDRI sky into this model.

Still soooooooo much more to do…I’m really still just getting started. But the new features in 2.8 are going to be a big help! I’m also making slow but steady progress on a mega-post that will use stills from the films to illustrate some of the major design changes that this blog is all about. Stay tuned!