VFX Tips #1 

NoEmotionHDRs by Peter Sanitra is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License . Based on a work at http://noemotionhdrs.net.

Quick HDRI Setup in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2.5

Learn how to quickly setup Image Based Lighting in 3ds Max using V-Ray. This tutorial is intended for anyone looking to implement IBL into their workflow and covers setting up an HDRI environment in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2.5. 

STEP 1

Open an existing scene, import a model or build something from scratch. I'm going to make this as simple as possible and just use a sphere and a plane.

 

Once you have something to work with, Assign V-Ray as your renderer by hitting F10 or go to Rendering > Render Setup. Under the Assign Renderer rollout, set your Production Renderer to V-Ray.

 

In this case, I'm using V-Ray 2.5, so I'll choose V-Ray Adv 2.50.01 from the list and hit OK.

Now that V-Ray is set as the renderer we can start setting up the scene.

A Note on HDR Images

 

The next thing to do is to bring in the HDR image you want to use for lighting. There are numerous websites you can download free HDRI's from. Some are good, some are shit, but you'll want to look for ones with two basic parameters - a large image resolution and an .exr or .hdr file extension.

 

If the image is in an 8-Bit format like a Jpeg - don't waste your time. The values will be clamped and it's not going to give you good results. Always try to use a true 32-bit image whenever possible.

 

I'd recommend heading over to noemotionhdrs.net to download your HDR image(s). In my opinion, they are without a doubt the best out there and they're free to boot! (You could also hit up the SIBL Archive, but they're not nearly as good and have a much smaller image resolution. But hey, wherever floats your boat.) 

 

For this tutorial, I'm using "08-21_Swiss_C" which can be found under the Otherhdr section on noemotionhdrs.net. This is a 32-bit image with a resolution of 15000x7500, which is massive!

Here's a preview - it's beautiful!

STEP 2

To load our HDR image into 3ds Max we'll open up the material editor by pressing M or by hitting the Material Editor icon at the top of the Max UI. 

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Quick HDR Image Based Lighting Setup in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Next, scroll down the Material/Map Browser list on the left until you find VRayHDRI. Then drag & drop it into the active view, and Double-click it to access its parameters.

 

Note:

If you're using the compact material editor, hit the Get Material button, scroll down and select VRayHDRI from the list - then Double-Click to load it into the material slot. The parameters rollout will be the same as in the slate editor.

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Quick HDR Image Based Lighting Setup in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Hit the Browse button and find your HDRI, pick it and hit Open.

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IBL in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Once the image is loaded, close the material editor.

Technique

 

There are several ways we can light our scene using an HDRI. It can be done solely through V-Ray without using the HDRI through a light source. And if you've watched any of my old tutorials from back in the day, you'll know this is typically the way I setup my HDR lighting. But over the past few years, I've kind of got into the habit of piping the HDRI through a V-Ray dome, so that's what we'll do here.

STEP 3

Let's go to the Create panel and the Lighting tab, and change the pulldown menu from Photometric to VRay. Choose a standard VRayLight and drag it out in the viewport. Don't worry about the size or location, it doesn't matter.

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IBL in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

With the VRay Light still selected,  go to the Modifier panel and change the light Type from Plane to Dome.

With the Dome selected, Right-Click on the Move tool and zero out the X, Y & Z values under Absolute:World. You can do this by Right-Clicking on each spinner or by entering a value of 0 for each input. This will center the V-Ray Dome to the world.

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V-Ray Dome Lighting in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

STEP 4

Now that we have light in the scene, we'll start setting up V-Ray. Hit F10 to open the Render Setup, or go to Rendering > Render Setup to bring up the dialog. First things first, let's change the render size. By default that's going to be set to 640x480. Now since it's not the mid-nineties anymore, we'll switch to something more suitable. 

 

Let's change the Output Size pulldown to HDTV (Video) and choose 1280x720 for the time being. 

If we do a quick test render now (F9), you'll notice everything looks wrong. The technical term for something like this would be "totally fucked!  There are a few reasons for this, which we'll address next.

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V-Ray Dome Lighting in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Let's add our HDRI to the scene. Open the Material Editor (M) and select the VRay Dome Light in the scene. Go to the Modifier panel and scroll down the parameters until you find the Texture rollout.

 

With the material editor open, click on the Output handle of the HDR map and drag & drop it onto the None button under the Texture rollout for the Dome Light. When prompted choose Instance

 

Note:

If you're using the Compact Material Editor, just drag & drop the material preview onto the button.

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HDRI in 3ds Max with V-Ray Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Once done, set the map's Resolution to something higher. In this case, I'm just going to go with 2048. You can also close the Material Editor for now.

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HDRI in 3ds Max with V-Ray Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

The color of the VRay light is now being over-written by the HDR image - changing it will no longer have an effect. The color is now generated solely by the color range of the HDRI.

STEP 5

Back to V-Ray

 

 

Let's head back to V-Ray by hitting F10. Go to the Indirect Illumination tab and enable GI under the Indirect Illumination rollout by checking the On box. Also, set the Primary Bounces GI Engine to Irradiance Map. And the Secondary Bounces GI Engine to Brute Force (if they're not already set.)

 

Under the Irradiance Map rollout, set the Current Preset to Low and dial the HSph. subdivs amount to something lower, like 20. Although minor, this will provide a small speed increase when doing test renders.

 

If you want to see the irradiance map passes, enable the Show calc. option by checking the box. This will help you spot problems without having to wait for the final image to start rendering,

 

And finally, I like to add a little more Ambient Occlusion to the render, so head back up to the Indirect Illumination rollout and check the On box under Ambient Occlusion. And increase the amount to 1.0.

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V-Ray HDRI Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D 3ds Max

If we hit Render now (F9), you can see not much has changed. The image basically looks the same as it did earlier, even though we have turned on Global Illumination, Ambient Occlusion and tweaked some settings.

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V-Ray HDRI Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

The reason for this is because we're not rendering from a camera (just the Perspective view.) And V-Ray is very much designed to render through a camera lens. So let's add one.

STEP 6

We'll add a camera to the scene by going to the Create panel and the Cameras tab. Change the pulldown menu from Standard to VRay and choose a VRayPhysicalCam

Go to the Top view and drag it out in the viewport from bottom to top.

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V-Ray IBL Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Now select the Perspective view by clicking in the window. Change this to the camera view by left-clicking on the Perspective text (in the upper left corner of the viewport) and going to Camera > VrayPhysicalCam001. We are now looking through the camera lens.

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V-Ray IBL Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Use the Orbit Camera and Dolly Camera tools ( located in the bottom right corner of the Max UI ) to rotate and zoom the camera.

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3ds Max V-Ray IBL Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Find an angle you like, and then do a test render by hitting F9 or the Render Production icon at the top of the Max UI.

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V-Ray Rendering Tutorial 3ds Max Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

As you can see the render is no longer blown-out and looks much better overall. It's a little dark and noisy, but we can clearly see the HDRI and Global Illumination are now working correctly.

STEP 7

REFINEMENTS

Now that we have our basic HDRI setup in place, we'll start making some tweaks and refining the lighting.

 

There's one more thing we need to do to the HDR map, so let's open the Material Editor by hitting M. Double-Click on the HDRI map thumbnail to get a bigger preview. As you can see the image looks distorted.

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V-Ray Rendering Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

To fix this and correctly orient our image, we need to change the Mapping Type pulldown to Spherical (rather than the default of Angular.) This will correct the image distortion and correctly wrap the image around our VRay dome.

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V-Ray Rendering Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Now if we do another render - we can clearly see we get a much better result from the HDRI map. The light is more directional and we have better color distribution from the pixels of the image. This is again due to the Spherical mapping matching better with our spherical dome light.

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3ds Max V-Ray Angular Mapping vs Spherical Mapping Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com
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3ds Max V-Ray Angular Mapping vs Spherical Mapping Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

LIGHT IT UP

To further improve the render, let's first increase the amount of light the HDRI is contributing to the scene. We can do this two main ways - Either increase the dome light's multiplier, or increase the brightness of the HDRI map itself. Typically I do most of my main adjustments via the map, rather than through the light. So let's do that.

STEP 8

Open the Material Editor again (M) and Double-Click on the HDRI to access the parameters if they're not visible. Under the Processing rollout, you'll see two values - an Overall Mult: and a Render Mult: - both will be set to a value of 1.0 by default.

 

These two values can be used to directly control the overall brightness of the loaded HDR image. The Overall Mult: value will affect both rendering and the image preview in the Material Editor. While the Render Mult: value will only affect the image at render time.

 

Let's start by cranking the Overall Mult: amount to 1.5. You'll immediately see the HDRI's preview get brighter. 

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Quick HDR Image Based Lighting Setup in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Now hit F9 to do a test render and you'll notice the brightness has increased. 

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Quick HDR Image Based Lighting Setup in 3ds Max with V-Ray 2 Ben Tate Tutorial VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Let's take it a little further and increase the Overall Mult: amount to 2.0 and do another render.

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V-Ray HDRI Multiplier Comparision Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

With an amount of 2.0 for the multiplier, our render is essentially 2x as bright as it originally was. Let's leave it a value of 2.0 for now and move onto making some other adjustments.

DIRECTION

As you can see in the renders above, we're getting a nice directional shadow cast from the sphere. This is directly caused by both the sun's position and intensity in our HDRI. The sun is by far the brightest part of the image, and because of this - it's acting almost like a direct light in our scene, giving us that directional shadow.

 

This is the main reason you'll want to use a 32-bit image for lighting. If we were using an 8-bit image instead, the hot spot's values would be clamped to a max of 255 for the RGB. Which is simply not bright enough to give us a good, or even decent result when rendering. 

STEP 9

 

 

Let's change the direction of the light in our scene. Again, there are numerous ways to do this. Simply rotate your camera to another angle being the simplest. Or you could always rotate the VRay Dome manually. But there's an easier way.

Let's open the Material Editor again (M) and Double-Click the HDRI. Under the Mapping rollout, you'll notice two fields - Horiz. Rotation & Vert. Rotation. Much like the Overall Multiplier, we looked at earlier, these two settings control the orientation of the HDRI.

 

Enter a value of 90.0 for Horiz. Rotation and hit F9 to render.

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HDRI Directional Lighting V-Ray IBL Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

As we can see below, the light direction has changed and the shadow has now moved 90 degrees clockwise around the sphere.

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GI Rendering with V-Ray Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Let's bring it around a little more by entering a value of 120.0 for the Horiz. Rotation, and increase the Render Mult. amount to 3.0 to increase the brightness.

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GI Rendering with V-Ray Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Hit F9 to do another render.

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V-Ray Overall Mult Example Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

We'll leave it like this for now and move onto making some final tweaks. I'd recommend spending some time playing around with the HDRI settings to see what you get - Try changing the Vert. Rotation value (which will rotate the image vertically), or checking the Flip Horizontally & Flip Vertically boxes to see what happens. And of course you can also experiment more with the brightness.

STEP 10

Let's create a couple of new materials for the scene, so open the Material Editor (M) and scroll down the Material/Map Browser until you find VRayMtl.  And Drag & Drop two copies into the active view - Double-Click on the first one to show its parameters.

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V-Ray Material Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

We'll leave the first material at the defaults and just change the color slightly. Click the Color Swatch next to Diffuse and set the color to something like 100 for the R, G & B. This will give us a slightly darker material - which we'll use on the plane.

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V-Ray Material Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Next, select the Plane (or ground object if you're using something else) by clicking it in the viewport, or by pressing H and picking it from the list. Then Right-Click on the material in the editor and choose Assign Material to Selection.

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3ds Max Slate Editor V-Ray Material Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

For the second material, we'll do something reflective. Double-Click on the second material in the Material Editor. Then Double-Click on the thumbnail to get a larger preview. Finally turn on the Material Background by Right-Clicking at the top and choosing Show Background In Preview. This will allow us to see reflections in the preview.

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3ds Max Slate Editor V-Ray Material Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com

Change the Diffuse Color to 15 for the RGB, and set the Reflect color to an almost pure white - let's do 230 for this one. This will give us a highly relective material - almost a chrome.

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V-Ray Chrome Material Setup Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Next, select the Sphere by clicking on it in the viewport, or by pressing H and picking it from the list. Then Right-Click on the material and choose Assign Material to Selection. Finally hit F9 and do a test render.

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V-Ray Environment Lighting Reflections Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

As you can see the Sphere has basically a mirror-like reflection. You can clearly see the HDRI's refection, as well as the ground plane's. But you'll notice there's a weird looking dark reflection through the middle. This is a reflection of the 3ds Max environment - which is set to black by default. The reason we're seeing this is because our VRay Dome light is only set to a half dome by default.

 

Re-select the VRayDome Light in the viewport or press H and pick it from the list. Go to the Modifier panel and scroll down to the Dome Light Options rollout. Check the box for Spherical (full dome) and hit F9 to re-render.

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V-Ray Environment Lighting Reflections Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

As you can see that dark reflection is now gone and we have a correct reflection from the image. If you prefer not to see the HDRI in the background of the render. Scroll back up the ModifIer panel and check the Invisible checkbox under the Options rollout. This will hide the light from the camera in the render, but not affect our ability to see the HDRI's light or it's reflection in the Sphere.

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V-Ray Environment Lighting Reflections Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

The final thing we'll do for this tutorial is look at cleaning up the render to get rid of the noise. In this case, we have two different areas we need to address. Some of the noise is coming from the light, and the rest is coming from the reflections. So let's see what we can do to clean it up.

STEP 11

With the VRayDome still selected, go to the Modifier panel and find the Sampling rollout - Set the Subdivs value to something higher, let's try 32 and re-render (F9).

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How to Remove Noise in V-Ray Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

We can clearly see a value of 32 Subdivs gave us a render with a lot less noise. We could, of course, continue to increase this value to get rid of even more noise, but before we do that, let's look at some other settings we can play with. 

 

Open up the Material Editor (M) again and select the Reflective material. Under the Reflection section, increase the Reflection Subdivs to 32 as well.

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How to Remove Noise in V-Ray Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Do another render (F9).

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3ds Max V-Ray Noise Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

The difference is very minor and there's only a subtle reduction in noise. Again we could continue to increase this value, but we'll pay for it in render time.

Let's hit F10 to open the Render Setup or go to Rendering > Render Setup, and select the V-Ray tab. Expand the VRay:: Image Sampler (Antialiasing) Rollout and set the Image Sampler Type to Adaptive DMC (if it's not already). We'll leave the Antialiasing Filter on Area - which is the default filter in V-Ray 2.

 

Next, expand the V-Ray:: Adaptive DMC Image Sampler rollout and Uncheck the Use DMC Sampler Thresh. option. This will enable the Clr Thresh option above it. The Clr option is basically the main V-Ray value you'll want to adjust when trying to remove noise. By default, it's set to 0.01, but let's reduce that to 0.008. This will add render time, but give us a much smoother result. 

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V-Ray Render Settings Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Let's render again to see what we've got.

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V-Ray Render Settings Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

OK, so as you can see we've gotten rid of most of the noise in our render and depending on what you're doing, it may be fine to leave things like this. But if we really want a final, noise-free, high-quality render, there's a couple of final adjustments we'll make to the settings we've already looked at.

Note* Keep in mind that if you choose to add additional lights to the scene, the amount of noise will likely be reduced - as the new light's rays will help even out sampling. So it's best to finalize your lighting setup before dialing in your final 'High-Quality' render settings.

STEP 12

Select the VRay Dome and increase the Subdivs amount from 32 to 64 under the Sampling rollout.

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V-Ray Sampling Subdivs Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Open the Material Editor (M) and select the Reflective material. Double-Click it to access its options. Increase the Reflection Subdivs to 64 as well.  

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V-Ray Material Subdivs Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Open the Render Setup by hitting F10, head back to the VRay tab and lower the Clr Thresh: value to 0.005

Switch to the Indirect Illumination tab and the V-Ray:: Irradiance Map rollout. Here change the Current Preset Pulldown to Medium and increase the HSph. Subdivs to 90

Finally, switch to the Settings tab and increase the Min Samples amount from 8 to 12. Then hit Render.

V-Ray Render Settings Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max
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V-Ray Chrome Ball Tutorial Ben Tate VFX Tips CG 3D Brokenverts.com 3ds Max

Your render should now be virtually noise free with nice crisp reflections. Of course, this was just a very basic look at setting up an HDRI in 3ds Max. And like I mentioned at the beginning, there are many different ways to do this. This is just my own personal workflow that I've worked out over the many years I've been using Max and V-Ray.

 

This setup should work for any HDR image. Just be aware that if you do change to another image, you might need to either increase or decrease the HDRI multiplier values in the material editor, depending on that image's brightness. 

OVERALL MULT: 3.0
OVERALL MULT: 6.0
OVERALL MULT: 5.0

FINAL THOUGHTS

For the most part, this tutorial is just a decent starting point. You'll want to continue to refine and fine-tune your scene/render further by adding additional lights. One thing to keep in mind is. As you add new lights, things will of course get brighter. And you'll no doubt start to lose some of the directional shadows from the HDRI. You'll need to compensate for this, and each new light by adjusting the HDRI's brightness values to get what you want.

Again, keep in mind, changing the HDR image will completely change the look of the render (not just the reflections you see.) As I mentioned earlier, both the color and brightness values are coming directly from the image. Meaning each pixel of the HDRI is contributing not only it's color, but it's brightness value to the scene. Changing it to another image will completely replace this information, yielding a vastly different look - As you can see in the three examples above.

 

So yeah, I guess that's it. Thanks for checking out this mini tutorial. I hope you found it useful and learned something new in the process. Keep an eye out for new tips, as I plan to do more of these in the future.  

 

Cheers!

Ben

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