Studio Artist

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Chalk, pencil, paint . . . most paint programs' tools try to mimic materials found in the real world. Synthetik Software's Studio Artist 1.0 goes a step further, producing images that combine natural media with amazing digital effects. Harnessing the program's power and range of painting options can be daunting, but the patient user will reap the reward with creations that would be impossible to achieve with real-world media.

Billed as a "graphics synthesizer," Studio Artist is loosely modeled on musical synthesizers. Just as you would select instrument patches on a synthesizer, in this program you select from 600 paint patches , or brush effects, which you can refine and combine to create a nearly endless variety of effects. And the patches are more than simply textured brushes or variations on a few themes; they can also be procedural. For example, if you select one of the Cubist patches and start painting, your brush will create an array of multicolored, straight-line strokes. You can move the brush around to change the lines' direction and rotation or choose a patch such as Canvas Liquidifier 1, which smears and distorts the underlying ink.

In the Paint Synthesizer, you can customize existing patches to create new effects. A pop-up menu listing 14 parameter categories lets you control everything from the shape of a brush path to color variation and how the brush interacts with underlying layers and paint. If you have a pressure-sensitive tablet, you can assign brush parameters to the pen's pressure, direction, tilt, and bearing, so a brush's behavior will vary depending on how you move the pen. New users may find the Paint Synthesizer daunting, but with more than 600 predefined patches to choose from, you'll probably never need to create or customize a patch.

In general, Studio Artist's interface is usable once you learn it, but you'll have to spend some time with the manual. Unfortunately, the program ships with PDF files rather than a printed manual, so you'll also have to spend some time printing out the documentation. And the program uses a rather un-Mac-like alternative to the traditional tool palette, asking you to choose a "mouse mode"–either the normal brush mode; the automatic-drawing mode; the Bézier mode; or the region mode, which lets you define areas you'll fill with brushstrokes.

Like MetaCreations' Painter, Studio Artist can sample colors from a source image to create new images based on existing photographs or paintings. When you click on the Action button, Studio Artist begins cloning your image by making brushstrokes with the selected tool. If you've chosen a picture of a duck as a source image, the shape and color of the duck will gradually emerge as you paint, but the image is rendered with the paint patch you've selected.

Studio Artist is much more sophisticated in its color sampling than Painter or Adobe Photoshop plug-ins such as Xaos Tools' Paint Alchemy. Rather than blindly sampling underlying colors, Studio Artist does an astonishingly good job of identifying edges and contours in your original image and brushing along them. And if you start with a source image, you'll understand the utility of some of the brush effects–they're meant for layering on top of existing paint to build up texture and color over time. Through a combination of automatic painting and manual brushing in of strokes, you control how much of the underlying image gets cloned as well as the textures used.

Its painting skills are impressive enough for a first release, but Studio Artist has much more to offer. When you activate the program's path functions, it stores every stroke separately as a Bézier path. Because you can reshape and repaint the paths, you can edit complicated bitmapped effects as you would in a drawing program. And if you want to enlarge your drawing later, Studio Artist can scale up your paths and then rerender each brushstroke to create a larger painting with no jagged edges.

Studio Artist includes an array of distortion and special-effects filters and brushes. Although the program lacks support for Photoshop filters, the built-in effects tools are probably all you'll need. Studio Artist does support QuickTime–you can paint on a movie's frames by hand or have the program paint each frame using a predefined effect. Movies that Studio Artist paints tend to resemble video viewed through a filter, however; for better effects, you'll want to posterize or blur your original video to remove detail.

Plenty of filters and programs try to mimic real-world painting by manipulating an image to replicate the look of particular textures and media. Studio Artist is the first program to copy the way real painters choose their strokes, letting you apply brushstrokes that follow the shapes and contours of a source image. In addition, Studio Artist's still- and video-painting features are impressive for a first release. The program's nonstandard interface can prove frustrating, and it's a little pricey for nonprofessionals, but print and video pros looking for new tools will find it's worth the price and learning curve.


3.5 mice
PROS: Huge assortment of brushes; automatic cloning feature creates hand-painted effect. CONS: Overwhelming number of controls; nonstandard interface. COMPANY: Synthetik Software (888/808-4188, ).

November 1999 page: 59

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