Turning a still image into a work of art is not a new concept; plug-ins such as Xaos Tools Paint Alchemy or DigiEffects Cyclonist or Aurorix were early examples of programs that processed still images with a "painterly" look (whatever the blazes that means).
Today Adobe Photoshop 5.5 has many of these built into its Styles section of the filters menu, where one selection will process the current image to look like it was sketched with charcoal or painted with wet oils. Unfortunately, most of the time the results are less than realisticoften you get the graphic equivalent of playing a saxophone part using a MIDI-sample keyboard sound instead of recording the real thing. Close, but no cigar.
Yet every so often, when the planets align and the White House makes a rational decision, something extraordinary like Synthetik's Studio Artist comes along that takes a somewhat cynical reviewer like myself and turns my head. No, let me restate that more pragmatically: Studio Artist enthusiastically spins my head clean off my shoulders.
This standalone program can beautifully process still and moving images to look like traditional sketched and painted images with
a complexity that hasn't been seen on any platform or without rotoscoping an image for days. So have I finally found Graphic Nirvana, a program that properly aligns all my aesthetic chakras so I can create great art with a push of a button? Well, yes and no.
Yes, Synthetik Studio Artist lets you do amazing things at just the touch of a command button and a space bar, but great art still lies in the hands of the artist. The program has enough feature automation to allow even the most ham-fisted computer artist to create some very interesting still or moving art. However, real artists will have a field day finding the seemingly endless variety of features and tools within what is an incredibly complex graphic tool. Even with the Web's unlimited capacity, there is still not enough time to go into every feature of Studio Artist.
To start adjusting your image, just select a paint preset and hit Command+Space. The program immediately begins processing the image a bit at a time. Pressing the space bar again allows you to stop the image and the amount of processing done to the image. By combining different paint presets and adjusting the level of processing you can create some amazing images.
and custom presets
The program also enables you to create warps, morphs and particle effects on still images. This last capability, using a feature called Time particles, is an interesting way to add diverse noise patterns and transitions to a still image.
Last but not least, you can save any sequence of image presets, paint synthesizer settings or distortion settings (warps) and apply them to each frame of a QuickTime movie. In other words, spend as much time as you need, add as many steps as you need to get just the right effect, and then Studio Artist will apply your effect sequence to every frame of the movie automatically. This feature alone is worth the price of admission, an auto-rotoscoping capability that can't help but add a significant enhancement to otherwise dull footage.
While you can create some impressive imagery, using the one-finger processing automation is Studio Artist at it's most simplistic. The program has a depth that after weeks of working on the program I feel I'm just barely scratching.
According to the company the program should be faster, but they have primarily tested Studio Artist on smaller files pulled from the Web (which, coincidently were already compressed). Still, the important thing to keep in mind is that the only alternative to waiting for Studio Artist to render is to pay Mr. Pricey A.S. Hell motion graphics animator to rotoscope the sequence one frame at a time or to do it yourself (that is, if you have both the time and talent).
The other irksome point was Studio Artist's inability to import alpha channels. While you can do some crude masking within the program, these tools don't begin to compare to Photoshop's masking capabilities. I'd like to see future versions not only import alpha channels, but also provide alpha tracking in the transfer modes.
Finally, you should be able to move layers up and down in the image hierarchy, which you can't currently. This is important, as different transfer modes will affect an image differently depending upon where it is in the composite hierarchy.
Erik Holsinger is the Vice President of Rich Media Production for Digital Media Online Inc. and a long-time digital media production crash test dummy. While he agrees that the pen is mightier that the sword, he points out that's only true for pressure-sensitive pens. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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