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Alien Skin Software Snap Art

Instant artwork from photography By Ko Maruyama
Alien Skin Software has recently come out with its new plug-in called Snap Art. This is actually version 2, an upgrade to the previous offering which changes your photos (or any artwork you might have) into something that looks more painterly. What makes the software unique is its ability to simulate brushstrokes with the click of a button. In addition to simple button clicking, there are sliders and values which allow you to dial in and customize the look of your modified image.

If you're familiar with the previous version, there are some nice improvements that will give you a lot more control when using snap art. If you haven't tried the software from alien skin, now is the perfect time to take part in the new offering. On the CD you'll find all of the presets which are really the heart of the plug-in.

These presets had previously created a version of the image onto which the brush strokes were applied. Often, that interpreted version was fairly abstract. In the current version, Snap Art  2, you can achieve much higher levels of photorealism using controls which specifically address keeping your original image more detailed by using a slider.

Even a nasty clump of dried leaves, hanging in a spider's web can
add to an interesting composition when using Snap Art 2.

While there are 10 main components within the plug-in, you'll find over 700 different presets that pertain to those 10 component  styles. Some styles are more successful on certain images than other styles. Depending on the contrast and color within your original photo, the resulting image may require more than simple preset application.

When you apply the plug-in, you'll find a new feature which allows you to preserve more detail, using special regional focus controls. Areas of interest, like fine branch detail, intricate patterns, or facial features, can be preserved by adding these regions to the layer before you accept the changes made within the plug-in panel. 

While you can add many of these to your scene, you cannot INVERT the application of these areas in order to make the area OUTSIDE the focus more realistic, concentrating only on what is inside the mask.   Also, while the mask shape can be transformed from circle to oval, it can't be changed to follow a custom path.

Falloff in the focus area softly blends the effect

While some may look to this tool in order to simulate applied paint brush strokes on portrait painting,  there are several other creative ways that this plug-in can come in handy.

My son is a fan of Warhammer figurines, for the activity of both constructing them, and painting them. During a recent visit to the games workshop store,  he was inspired to photograph some of his soldiers in a battle scene. At the same time, I saw what appeared to be amazing airbrushed renderings of battle scenes -- similar to what my son had been describing.

In a matter of clicks of the camera, and clicks of the mouse, the Photoshop document change from a simple backyard photo into an epic image. This is just the start of the transformation from photo to final, but with some exploration of the various presets for oil painting, we got fairly close to what the final might look like.

In future tests, I will be looking to see whether or not this plug-in will work well if used within a Photoshop action. If it does, there may be potential for translating the same look across several frames. However, either at the random look, or a static look, may be the downfall of this experiment. For now, this is an excellent launch point for getting your artwork or photography looking more painterly or illustrated with the few clicks of your mouse.

Snap Art  2 sells for  $199. If you are a registered user of the previous version, you can upgrade for $99. If you purchased  the software at the time of my last article, after March 31, 2009, you're eligible for a free upgrade. The plug-in works with Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro, Adobe Fireworks CS4, and Adobe Photoshop CS3 or CS4.

If you have Adobe Photoshop CS4, Alien Skin  also offers a special utility panel that allows you to access the plug-in with a simple click -- in a panel, rather than having to navigate to the filter menu.

PROS: Easy to use (from installation to application).  It's very simple to quickly figure out what the plugin can do for you.  What's more, is that the result of the plugin looks fantastic.  While I've only seen the results of this in print, this is where it holds its greatest potential.  There are plenty of presets to get you started, but you'll probably wind up making your own.  Affordable.

CONS: While there are random seed options, and sliders for some aspects of the brush strokes, the brush shapes themselves can't be accessed through UI, or added to the usable library.  Also, focus area currently allows for multiple shapes, but not custom shapes other than the elipse form.

Find out more, and take a video tour at the Alien Skin website:

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Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator in Los Angeles.  In addition to working on film and broadcast animations, Ko teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design - focusing on motion design.  When working, writing or testing software allows, you can find him lending a hand in the After Effects board and lurking among the Cinema4D, Visual Effects and Photoshop posts within the DMNForums.
Related Keywords:tutorial, product review, photoshop, alien skin, painting effects, visual effects, painter, adobe photoshop

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