Software Bargains: Be Creative

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Whether you make your living using your Mac to produce music, images, or animation or you’re just looking for ways to flex your creative muscles, there’s a slew of software available for starving artists that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg—or, in most cases, anything at all. Here are some of our favorites.

Aquallegro 3.1

  ; Andy Van Ness; free

If you want to learn music theory, Aquallegro can function as your personal deck of aural flash cards. It offers five categories of quizzes: Notes, Keys, Intervals, Chords, and Keyboard. Select what you want to learn, and Aquallegro creates a quiz and monitors your progress. Preferences let you set music notation for either the English (C, D, E) or the European (do, re, mi) system. You can also choose the sound that plays to praise you for a correct answer (any system sound or audio file). The Chords and Intervals quizzes can test your ear harmonically or melodically. Aquallegro won’t make you a maestro, but it’s great for studying the basics.—ROBERT ELLIS

Blender 2.3

  ; Blender Foundation; free

Blender is a full-featured application for 3-D modeling, animation, game creation, and rendering. It has a range of 3-D objects, including meshes, NURBS, curves, metaballs, and fonts. It supports Yafray, a popular rendering engine. You can save files to most common file formats, and import and export DXF and VRML files. The application’s unconventional interface makes it hard to learn, but an active user community provides ample documentation, tutorials, and other resources online. You can’t do everything with Blender that you can do with Alias’s Maya—but while Maya Unlimited costs $6,999, Blender costs $0.—ROBERT ELLIS

ColorDesigner 1.1

  ; Kasper J. Jeppesen; free

Designing pleasing color sets may be a joy for designers, but for the rest of us it’s a daunting task—often with muddy results. If you’re designing a Web site or a brochure, ColorDesigner can help you quickly create color combinations based on four different schemes (Complementary, Split Complementary, Triad, and Analogous). A palette lets you adjust brightness and saturation, as well as the angle, spread, and deviance of the color scheme. After you’ve created a color set, save it as a ColorDesigner file, export a CSS style sheet, or save a TIFF of the Preview window.—ROBERT ELLIS

Cosmic Painter 1.2

  ; GarageCube; free

Remember the design toy Spirograph? Imagine it in motion, and you’ll get an idea of what Cosmic Painter can do. Cosmic Painter is a drawing application with a rotating canvas. You can adjust the rotation speed and frame rate, or freeze the image. There’s a palette of standard brushes, and you can create custom brushes with imported image files. Save files and view them as animations, or export still images to PNG format. Cosmic Painter is addictive, but getting satisfying results takes experimentation. Fortunately, numerous sample files are included. Check out the hypnotic The God of Bugs and the eerie V-Ghost.—ROBERT ELLIS

Perfect Pitch 1.1

  ; Line of Site Software; shareware (donations accepted)

This spiffy tuner is the perfect companion to Apple’s GarageBand. As you play, Perfect Pitch listens to your microphone input and displays the note and octave. A VU-style gauge shows you how close you are to perfect pitch. As the needle dances, its color changes from red to yellow to green, indicating whether you’re in tune. You can also display precise information, including real and ideal frequencies and percent error. Perfect Pitch supports three tuning styles—Standard Chromatic, Quartertone, and Harmonic—and the program lets you tune to any even division of an octave.—ROBERT ELLIS

SoundSource 1.0

  ; Rogue Amoeba; free

If you have more than one audio-input or -output device—a USB audio card, analog speakers, a digital receiver—you probably know that you can switch between them using the Output and Input tabs in the Sound preference pane. But then you also know how much of a hassle this can be if you make these changes often. With SoundSource, you get a compact menu-bar menu that lets you quickly switch between input and output devices. Even better, you can choose a different output device for system sounds; for example, you can play your music through your speaker system but have your alert sounds play through your Mac’s tiny (and quieter) internal speaker.—DAN FRAKES

CocoaBooklet 1.2

  ; Fabien Conus; free

CocoaBooklet lets you repaginate, or change the imposition, of any PDF file, so you can print it as a booklet. Just drag and drop a PDF file into the CocoaBooklet window, or install the utility as an OS X service and create PDF booklets from the Print dialog box. You can select any page size and adjust the margins. (It’s great for printing CD inserts.) If your document is only four pages, print them on one side and create a minibooklet: CocoaBooklet arranges the pages so you can fold the page over twice, as you would a greeting card.—ROBERT ELLIS

iStopMotion 1.0

  ; Boinx Software; $40

Not everyone with a digital camcorder wants to mimic traditional movies. iStopMotion takes you beyond the ordinary with its two modes: Stop Motion, which lets you move objects incrementally and capture a single frame at a time, and Time Lapse, where each frame is shot at an interval (such as every minute). An onion-skinning feature displays a ghosted image of one or more previous frames, to help you position your Claymation-inspired creatures, while an optional blinking effect gives you a better idea of how the motion will look when finished. You can assign a helper application, such as Adobe Photoshop, to edit individual frames, which are automatically reincorporated into the iStopMotion project. You can even use voice commands to operate iStopMotion if your movie set is situated away from the Mac. The only drawback I encountered was choppy playback when previewing the movie, but a simple export to a DV or QuickTime file made the movie easy to watch in iMovie or QuickTime Player.—JEFF CARLSON

[ Robert Ellis is the author of Handpicked Software for Mac OS X: The Best New Freeware, Shareware, and Commercial Software for Mac OS X (Futurosity, 2002); he publishes the Handpicked Software Web site. Senior Writer Dan Frakes is the author of Mac OS X Power Tools, second edition (Sybex, 2004). Jeff Carlson is the author of iMovie 4 and iDVD 4 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2004). ]

Want to print a booklet for a CD insert but can’t figure out how to arrange the pages? It’s easy with the free CocoaBooklet.Cosmic Painter, a drawing application with a rotating canvas, is a lot of fun. If you need to quell any work-ethic objections, just call it a stress reliever.To help you position your objects, iStopMotion’s onion-skinning feature overlays a ghosted image of the previously captured image.
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