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Synthetik Studio Artist 3.0

Paint, rotoscoping and animation suite By Dave Nagel
I was introduced to Synthetik Studio Artist about four years ago when it was still in its 1.0 incarnation. From the first time I clicked on the canvas and drew a stroke, I knew this was it. This was the breakthrough. This was the technology that would elevate digital art out of the mode of mere emulation of traditional media and bring together not only the tools but also the process that would allow artists in print, animation and video to explore creative possibilities never before available in traditional or digital media. Through the relatively short years of this program's existence, I've seen it expand and mature from what was in version 1.0 an impressive but fairly rough application into what it is now at version 3.0: a unique and professional-level creative production tool that has earned a place in our elite list of Must Buy applications.

Studio Artist in general
Those of you who've read my articles over the years have no doubt been aware for some time that I've always considered Studio Artist one of the greats, maybe the great application of its generation. After all, the tools most of us use are essentially refinements of technologies from the generation of software that was born in the mid-'80s with the advent of viable computer systems with graphical user interfaces: our page layout software, our image editors, our NLEs, our audio production systems, etc. Many are fantastic tools; some are even indispensable. It would be incorrect to say that Studio Artist is "better" than these programs. It's simply different, something new and expansive that complements and supplements our core production tools and somehow manages to function as a universe within itself. Those of you who've used it know what I'm talking about. Those of you who haven't, well, read on, and I'll try to explain the situation a bit more clearly.

So what, precisely, does Studio Artist do? Many of you have asked me this question, and I've always been at a loss to explain it in fewer than a couple thousand words without leaving out important aspects of the program (or about 7,000 words, in the case of this review). Synthetik bills the software as the world's first "graphics synthesizer," a musical metaphor inspired, no doubt, from the developer's history in the audio industry. John Dalton, who heads up Synthetik, was the creator of Pro Tools (now owned by Avid/Digidesign) and Deck I/II (now owned by Bias). What it means is that the software is designed to be for professionals in the visual arts what a synthesizer is to pros in music production: a creation platform in which you can design and apply your own tools, theoretically without limit. It can:

  • Be used to create an infinite number and variety of painting tools, ranging from natural media emulation (like flowing paint, chalk, charcoal, etc.) to abstract media that defy categorization;
  • Produce still images or animations;
  • Process (rotoscope) video sequences with effects or brush strokes, manually or automatically;
  • Warp and morph still images and video;
  • Convert source footage to vector images or image sequences;
  • Create write-on/draw-on effects (QuickTime output) as you paint;
  • Generate textures;
  • Record, repeat and reinterpret any stroke, action or operation you apply to the canvas;
  • Apply any of hundreds of filter-style effects and image adjustments.

I'm sure I've left out some of the program's capabilities, but you get the idea. I hesitate to use the phrase "all in one" because it conjures images of past attempts at all in one solutions. So let's just call it "all-encompassing." Whether you're working with moving or still images or creating either of these from scratch, Studio Artist offers a wealth of possibilities.

If all of this makes Studio Artist sound like a complicated program, well, it is and it isn't. Again, think of an audio synthesizer. You can simply select a sound and start playing on your keyboard. Or you can take advantage of the synthesizer's full capabilities and explore all of the parameters, modulation, effects, etc. The same holds true for Studio Artist. You can click on one of the 3,000 brushes included with the program and start painting away, or you can go in and play with more than 400 parameters for modifying your tool or creating a new one. The same goes for effects. You can click a button and apply the default settings, or you can go in and tweak around. This program is what you make of it, and it offers instant gratification for beginners and years of exploration for advanced users. (As I say, I've been using it from the beginning, and I still have yet to try everything.)

We'll take a look at the key areas of this program below, followed by specific features for painting, animation and rotoscoping and then into any new areas that aren't covered along the way. One thing you should keep in mind as you read about the capabilities of this program is that every single thing you see applies to both still images and video, whether you're processing an existing video or building up an animation from scratch. Everything can be recorded and played back; and every parameter in this program can be keyframed--effects, paint strokes, image adjustments and filters. All of it.

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