Synthetik Software’s Studio Artist 2.0 is like an art studio overflowing with natural-media tools–watercolors, oils, chalks, pencils–many imbued with their own creative brilliance. But like a studio jammed with paints labeled in Latin and tools scattered about in disarray, Studio Artist’s nonstandard interface and countless confusing options are likely to boggle even the most unorthodox mind.
The software is billed as an “image synthesizer” rather than a paint program; instead of letting you paint from scratch, it limits you to using its 2,000 predefined tools, called patches, to modify existing photos or artwork. But these patches are merely presets, which you can manipulate to create a limitless number of your own effects using more than 300 parameters and scripted actions.
When you begin a new project, Studio Artist asks you to select a source image, even if you plan to paint on a blank canvas. The program clones the original image, and the cloning tools automatically pull colors from the underlying source image while you paint. You can even clone some or all of a QuickTime movie’s frames to create hand-painted rotoscoping and filter effects.
Studio Artist takes painting a few steps further with its Intelligent Assisted brushes. Using one of these brushes and the Action pull-down menu, you can let Studio Artist paint for you, filling a canvas with brush strokes that follow the natural lines of a model’s hair and face or the complex patterns in a patchwork quilt.
When painting manually, you can use the Intelligent Assisted brushes so that, for example, a simulated watercolor paint spreads naturally, but then pools up as if blocked by a wall when it encounters a contrasting contour in the source image. Also new in version 2.0 are par->> ticle paints, which behave like an army of ants with paint on their feet. As you move your brush, these particles march outward, following the contours in the image and tracking paint as they go.
Like most painting applications, Studio Artist benefits greatly when you use it with a Wacom pressuresensitive graphics tablet, but it goes a step further by allowing you to combine mouse and pen inputs simultaneously (which can be awkward). You can also assign customized pen settings to any preset brush.
Another welcome addition to this version is alpha transparency for each layer; this allows you to blend and move layers independently. While Studio Artist supports onion skinning, we wish it could be turned on layer by layer, with variable transparency.
Because Studio Artist’s paint strokes use resolution-independent Bézier curves, you can paint on a low-resolution image and then scale the canvas to larger sizes with no loss of image quality. However, it’s particularly frustrating that the program discards Bézier data when you save an image.
Studio Artist also lacks an equivalent to Corel Painter’s textured painting surfaces, which can make the resulting art significantly more realistic.
Despite its impressive engineering and useful features, Studio Artist would benefit from an interface overhaul. Its deviations from Mac interface conventions will exasperate artists. For example, Studio Artist’s deep-level palettes abound with percentage sliders that offer no visual feedback and few clues as to their actual use. The program supports alpha masks but doesn’t visually represent them. And the software doesn’t have multiple undos, a serious failing in a product that encourages experimentation.
Studio Artist 2.0 can sometimes be uncomfortably slow; automated cloning of an NTSC-resolution movie took a minute or more per frame on a dual-processor 800MHz Power Mac G4. Although version 2.0 is OS X native, we had several crashes in OS X, and performance is a bit slower than in OS 9.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Studio Artist 2.0 is a conflicting blend of innovative, realistic natural-media tools and a not-so-brilliant interface. As a program that can help you turn unimpressive pictures into beautiful digital art or experimental QuickTime video, Studio Artist has immense potential, but its shortcomings are too significant for us to wholeheartedly recommend it.