StudioArtist full review

Chalk, pencil, paint – most paint programs try to mimic materials found in the real world. Synthetik Software’s StudioArtist 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 artist will reap the reward with creations that would be virtually impossible to achieve with real-world media. Patching in
Billed as a “graphics synthesize”, StudioArtist is loosely modelled 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 multi-coloured, 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 and colour variation, to 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 behaviour will vary depending on how you move the pen. New users may find the Paint Synthesizer daunting, but with more than 600 pre-defined patches to choose from, you’ll probably never need to create, or customize, a patch. In general, StudioArtist’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 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. Send in the clones
Like MetaCreations’ Painter, StudioArtist can sample colours from a source image to create new images based on existing photographs or paintings. When you click on the Action button, StudioArtist 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 colour of the duck will gradually emerge as you paint, but the image is rendered with the paint patch you’ve selected. StudioArtist is much more sophisticated in its colour sampling than Painter, or Adobe Photoshop plug-ins such as Xaos Tools’ Paint Alchemy. Rather than blindly sampling underlying colours, StudioArtist 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 colour 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 StudioArtist 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, StudioArtist can scale up your paths, and then render each brushstroke to create a larger painting – without a jagged edge in sight. StudioArtist 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. StudioArtist does support QuickTime – you can paint on a movie’s frames by hand, or have the program paint each frame using a pre-defined effect. Movies that StudioArtist 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 more detail.
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