Published: 31st October 2016 | Updated: 15th October 2021
Tom Nowak is a VRED Artist and CEO at Lean Design GmbH, Germany. He specializes in computer generated imagery for the automotive industry. We caught up with Tom to ask him about his career in computer generated imagery and his workflow.
“We used to have a more or less normal workflow,” explains Tom. “Shooting with PhaseOne backs with post done mainly in Photoshop. But HDR Light Studio has vastly changed the way we work…”
Tom is no stranger to adopting best practices when it comes to photography workflows. His father, Frank, started as an automotive photographer back in 1978 and went on to build Nowak Studios in 1988, one of Cologne’s premier automotive photography studios. Tom’s Lean Design (www.wearelean.com), founded in 2010, now runs in symbiosis with Frank’s Nowak Studios.
Seeing the potential in digital cameras, from the mid-90’s, the Nowak team followed and utilized every stage of digital backs and SLRs, always embracing technology when it could replace or reduce manual labor.
It was that same foresight that led to them trying HDR Light Studio in 2011 as Tom reveals, “I tested HDR Light Studio with VRED” and it didn’t take long for him to know it could earn its keep, “When SEAT commissioned us to design and produce the CGIs for their concept car launch for the Frankfurt Motor Show, I went ahead and bought a license. It’s one of our best investments so far,” he confirms.
“It saves us approximately 30% of time, because the shots are more precise and detailed from the beginning,” he enthuses. Besides the obvious time saving, he’s also keen to extol a more flexible and pleasurable workflow, “In the past, a HDRI was a closed format for us. We had to use it as it was. With HDR Light Studio, these files are open and fully accessible: it’s like painting with light! This tool gives us total creative freedom and we absolutely love the VRED Connection,” says Tom. Furthermore, it isn’t just studio shots they use HDR Light Studio for, “It gives us total control on every HDRI we use; whether shot by us, or using stock footage. When there was trial-and-error in the past editing HDRI maps, we now have a tool that does exactly what we want in real-time,” he explains.
But what led to Tom moving into CGI from a more traditional photography background? “It’s not only the future of professional car photography but it also lets us create exactly what we have in mind,” says Tom, before adding, “no boundaries like the size of a studio or the well-known compromises on location.” Given all the virtual freedom CGI techniques and advanced tools like HDR Light Studio afford, how does an older hand like Frank now fit in? “Whilst still working as a car photographer, Frank brings his extensive photographic and lighting experience and supports our CGI projects as Lighting and Art Director,” reveals Tom. Seems that there is no substitute for experience and skill. And with Frank already being such a respected and successful practitioner, it begs the question of what led to Lean GmbH is the first place?
“Back in 2008 I was searching for local CGI agencies to team up with for an automotive-design visualization project here in Cologne,” begins Tom. “It was no problem to find professional 3D guys but it was really hard to find creative talents who understood the highly aesthetic requirements automotive clients have,” he explains before adding, “So I recognized there was a lack of design-driven 3D/CGI operators.” He then relates his plan to solve the problem, “My vision was to establish a design agency supporting both automotive-designers and communication/marketing agencies with truly creative, artistic work.” And with Lean now in its 6th year, he is clear on what differentiates it from others, “This is what sets Lean Design apart: pairing extensive photographic experience, state-of-the-art 3D and retouching skills with truly creative, design-driven support.”
With everything marching full steam ahead at Lean, is he still happy with his investment in HDR Light Studio?
“HDR Light Studio delivers exactly what we need,” summarizes Tom. “Fast and professional support and reasonable pricing.”
In terms of the day-to-day difference to their ever-refining workflow, he’s equally enthusiastic, “the main benefits are the improved quality of results, application stability and the fact we can use it plugged-in to VRED. Besides that, we also benefit from Preset Lights which give us a good starting point when enhancing HDRI maps.”