Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I stumbled upon a nifty piece of software for doing natural media digitally. After having some frustration with Painter's stability, I thought I'd take a look around to see if there were any packages out there. I came across ArtRage. I was skeptical at first because of the price ($25). Then I started looking into the forums on their website and seeing what users were doing. I was blown away. I saw that one of the users actually uses both Painter and ArtRage and was kind enough to give me feedback on how they compared.

ArtRage is impressive in its ease of use and still able to deliver professional results. While it has a consumer price, the product quality and results go well beyond. The painting above was started with an image that came with the product. I spent almost no time in the manual or looking at the actual tutorial (just enough to figure out how to set up a tracing, which didn't take much!).

The programs tools have a nice feel. The choice of hot keys are user-friendly (I figured out all the major ones without resorting to reference). And even cooler is how the palettes get out of the way if your brush gets close to them. A small but nice feature is how the program opens up a document, ready to paint, without asking you questions first. Another nice touch is if you right-click, the only thing on your screen is the painting, all other distractions are gone. Best of all... it was fun!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


No, that's not a self-portrait! It's been quite a while since I last played around with Blender. Last weekend I decided to take a break from Flash/Flex/ActionScript and Painter activities and give Blender another try. Blender is a very powerful, stable, fast, open source 3d program. I'd found an excellent tutorial model on character animation and couldn't resist. I didn't get through the entire tutorial yet (I got through modeling and rigging), I hope to get through the rest of the tutorial soon. It's very exciting to start with just a plane (four vertices!) and build a model that you can then move around and render. It's like making your own toys :)

One of the problems with only occasionally working with a tool as complicated as Blender is that I end up having to re-learn a bunch of the basics. Blender's got a great user interface, it is very flexible and does a great job of allowing you to maximize your workspace. It's just that it is not similar to any other software I've ever used. Ironically, after using Blender a bit, I found myself wanting to use the "G" key to move stuff in Illustrator (which I've used since 1987). That says something about Blender's design.

I first got into 3d with Swivel 3d in 1989 (I think), it was the same year the IIci came out. Once I'd got all that 68K power I thought I'd try 3d. I didn't care much for Swivel because I was doing stuff for print. I did end up using it once to set up a scene in perspective which I then drew over it in Illustrator. I probably could have drawn the image quicker from scratch but it was a good experience. In 1992 I jumped into Strata 3d. After attending a 5-day training course put on by the Strata folks in beautiful St. George, Utah, I got hooked on Strata's outstanding rendering quality. The modeler wasn't great, so I dabbled in some other 3d programs as well at the time (like Infini-D), but I always came back to Strata for rendering. Strata in those days was as stable and dependable as Photoshop.

One of the other 3d packages I tried was Playmation. It had a very nice spline-based 3d, modeler. In fact the whole program, which was geared towards character animation, seemed revolutionary. Unfortunately, it was the most unstable program I ever owned. Over the years, I continued to upgrade it as it became Animation:Master. Never having much luck with the stability. When I crossed from the Mac world to the Windows world, I tried it a couple more times, hoping that it would be more stable on the platform it was developed on.

(And I'll just avoid mentioning Raydream's addDepth and Adobe Dimensions. While they're 3d and I enjoyed them both, they're not really in the same vein as they were vector tools and far simpler than your standard 3d program)

At work I got the opportunity to try Cinema 4d. It has a very approachable interface, is pretty stable, but a little on the slow side. The friendliness of its UI was reminiscent of Strata.

Eventually, I came across Blender. I downloaded it, installed it, opened it, then closed it and uninstalled. The user interface was just too strange! Some time later, I gave it another shot. This time going through a tutorial. I was hooked. The strange interface worked amazingly well. Blender was also very stable (like Strata), had a great modeler (different than A:M but just as powerful) and it was fast even on older machines. I worked with it in my spare time for a while but with mergers, job changes, etc. I'd let it fall lower in the priority cue until it fell right off.

I'm really glad to be back working with it (and 3d) again. I can't figure out what the appeal of 3d is for me, why it keeps pulling me back. Part of it is what I mentioned earlier, being able to create something from scratch and move it around (or move around it). Strata's animation ability is one of the things that led me to interactive multimedia... I didn't want to just animate, I wanted to interact with the animations, which in turn led me further down the programming path. Now I think I'm coming full circle. One of the cool things modern 3d tools have is scripting languages. Blender has Python (which I've never tried), so that might be on the agenda down the line.