Creating a 2D-paint and image-manipulation program that uses vector technology has been attempted in the past. Many have tried, and many have failed. It seems that if you want to edit bitmaps, it makes sense to stick with a pixel-pusher such as Photoshop. Vectors seem to be well-suited to other types of art packages (Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand, for example) and technologies such as Flash.
In order for a developer to succeed in making vector-based painting and effects appealing to the 2D creative, there needs to be a hybrid of both – and also some other magic ingredient. That’s exactly what Studio Artist 2.0 from Synthetik Software has to offer.
Cast aside your prejudices against filter-based, push-button artwork for a moment, and you’ll quickly learn that Studio Artist is a valid creative tool – it just works in a very different way to other programs. Its differences present some problems, but also offer benefits. The initial problem is a steep learning curve. For example, on creating a new document you must choose a source image – you can’t create a new blank document like you do in almost every other paint program. Once you load in your source image, you can begin. The canvas is blank to begin with, and you can simply paint straight onto it or fill it with another source image (among other things) and apply Studio Artist effects.
This latest version of the program runs under both OS 9 and OS X, but the interface could be more intuitive. The left side of the window features pop-up menus that you use to set different modes, and it also displays preset effects and brushes – as well as other interface elements, such as memory buttons and slider.
The layout of the panel changes depending on the mode you are in. This is confusing when you’re trying to learn the program. There’s also no home panel or toolbar that you can return to if you get lost. Along the top of the main window, there’s another tool panel with pop-up menus and settings that let you choose paint tools, depending on what mode you are in. It’s confusing and needs sorting.
Modes on offer include Paint Synthesizer, Image Operations, Texture Synthesizer, Warp, Adjust, Bézier Draw, Bézier Adjust, and more. Paint Synthesize mode is the hands-on part of the program, which (if set to Interactive Pen mode from the top menu) can be used to paint natural-media strokes that you can choose from a number of presets. The basic brush-strokes update quickly, but more complex brushes can be slow. To help, there’s a Freestyle brush mode, which allows you to draw in real-time using a simple marching-ants line. The line is filled in after you stop drawing with the chosen preset. Not an ideal situation, but better than waiting for the stroke to update as you draw.
It’s the preset brushes that are interesting though. Studio Artist comes with a huge selection of them, and they work well when converting a photo into a natural-media painting. What’s really interesting is that some of the brushes intelligently modify themselves based on the underlying image. Threads, for example, produces long semi-random strokes as you paint. The strokes orientation tends to follow contours in the image. So as you paint around the edge of an object, the threads line-up in a sketchy sort of way. If you’re a purist, then you’re not going to like Studio Artist – it takes away the need for artistic talent. You only need to be able to use a mouse or stylus. But you can go deeper if you want.
The power of the program comes from the number of parameters for each type of brush mode (interactive, particle paint, multipen and more). These allow you to synthesize a fantastic variety of brushes, and natural (and surreal) media types and effects. In this respect, Studio Artist becomes less of a push-button solution that can be used to get individual and creative results, though you do have to tweak things to get the desired effect.
Painting is not the be all and end all of the program, however. It can also be used to correct images, warp and distort images (and it does so in real time), plus you can create animations using the software. You can keyframe effects like Warping and some paint strokes to create animated sequences. You can also apply the same preset to a series of images or a movie file to get an impressive sketchy look.
Like any program that requires little user input to get something half decent out of it, you have to be careful not to rely on Studio Artist’s automation. If you push the program hard, and spend some effort tweaking the settings, it’s capable of great results.