"A Graphician's Tip Book - Part 12"
Shaithis / Psychic Monks, Immortal Coil
It really sucks when you turn on your faithful computer, dial your faithful
ISP, and find out your faithful internet account has been canceled. Add to
the fact that my credit card is maxed, and maybe that'll help explain why
this article is late... or maybe not.
Either way, I promised you folks last time that I'd delve into the world of
filters this time around, and god help me, I'm going to do it. But first, a
_____PS: I Love You
I've received email from a variety of people (yer not the only one, Grav. ;)
who feel that my speaking on the use of Photoshop is of little importance to
the demoscene proper, and serves only to make people think that it's okay to
let 32-bit applications do all their artistic work for them happy.
This is not the case. Let me take a moment to discuss just why it is that
I'm writing these articles. I don't want to get to deeply into an artistic
discussion. That's being saved for articles 14 and 15. Suffice to say that
just because the majority of still pictures being entered in demoscene gfx
compos are still hand pixeled does not mean that the demoscene as a whole has
no use for Photoshop, or other 32-bit apps. Here's why:
What do "Arise" by Beyond, "Transgression 2" by MFX, and "Stars" by Nooon all
have in common? They're pretty different, on the surface, but if you said
"they were all partially created using 32-bit apps", then pat yourself on the
back, because you're right. What apps am I speaking of? Well, here's a
Arise - The vortex tiling at the beginning is unquestionably
inspired by the filter of the same name in Kai's Power
tools. Additionally, there are a variety of 3d objects
within the demo, all of which were created with 3D Studio
or a similar (32-bit) raytracing app.
Transgression 2 - This demo is about lens flares. Which program was the
first to feature a built in filter capable of rendering a
lens flare? Photoshop. To what program do we owe the very
popular trend of placing lens flares in demos? Photoshop.
Stars - Plenty of hand-pixeled still art in this one, no question.
Ra is among the scene's best artists and you won't hear me
trying to put down his talent. However, Stars also
features objects rendered in a 32-bit raytracing app of
some sort, and textures placed onto these objects that were
created through Photoshop.
So ya see, folks, even if you don't create your still art using these 32-bit
applications, they still effect the demoscene in a major way (the above was
but a small, small sampling). This is why I feel they are important, and
this is why I choose to speak about their use. This is not to say that those
people who've written me haven't brought up many good points, as they have,
but without exception all of my correspondence has boiled down to an
agreement that "art is art".
And so it is. And with that, I'm going to go right ahead and speak on the
subject of filters. Although they're dismissed by many computer artists as
being a "cheap" or "easy" way out, I would disagree. Filters, when used
properly, are as much of an artistic tool as the standard paint brush and
fill tool. Should you disagree, might I highly recommend the wonderful art
found on the Kai's Power Tools 3.0 CD, or on the Fractal Design homepage,
www.fractal.com (specifically the "artist of the month" section). Take a look
at this stuff. It's no less art than "Multidoodle" by Mazor.
*Filters* Filters are nifty little programs that work in conjunction with
your 32-bit art applications (most usually Photoshop) to add effects, soften
edges, blur, distort, or otherwise alter your image. These filters are
sometimes called plugins. The use of filters was premiered by Adobe, and
has become very popular in the artistic world. Most 32-bit art applications
now support filters (many of them supporting Photoshop filters to varying
degrees of success).
*What can Filters do for me?* Filters are useful for a variety of reasons.
They can make tedious, annoying tasks easier and quicker. They can provide
effects that might take days to hand pixel in a matter of minutes. They can
often provide images of a photo-realistic quality that is well nigh
impossible to hand draw. They can also (like dpaint's gradient tool), be
horribly overused, and it an unfortunate fact that this occurs altogether too
*How are Filters overused?* Take a look at a flyer for a local rave. Or
maybe one for a keg party at the local frathouse. How about the ads for
various clubs in your local artsy newspaper (The Newtimes in Syracuse, or
the artvoice in Buffalo, for example). All of these have a startling
similarity, don't they? There's a reason for this. They are the work of
people who haven't the slightest clue what the hell art is.
I have seen literally thousands of pictures created using the following three
filters in conjunction:
Kai's Power Tools Texture Explorer
Adobe's Distort-->ZigZag (set to pond ripples) filter
Adobe's Lens Flare filter
This grows tiring, and no it does not in any way meet my definitions of what
art is (and as those of you who read this column regularly know, those
definitions are pretty liberal).
*So how do I use filters to create art, then?* This can really be answered
in one simple sentence, though that sentence sounds like something out of an
epic swords-and-sorcery tale. It is: "Control your filters. Don't let your
filters control you". In other words, don't let your filters dictate where
your piece of art is going. Don't simply sit down at Photoshop and begin
screwing around, hoping to accidentally create art. It won't happen.
Don't get me wrong, it doesn't hurt to just play around with your filters.
In fact, I would highly recommend doing so. However, I would also highly
recommend never releasing any pieces that are created through this method,
as they will more than likely not be very good. Screwing around is great
for discovering new techniques. Now take these techniques and apply them
to a solid idea, and you will have a piece of art. Take these techniques
as discovered and you'll probably have a piece of trash.
_____Creating True Art
Once you've amassed a suitable amount of techniques, you can now honestly
begin the process of creating a true piece of art. It helps to have a
background knowledge of what makes art _art_, but for many people this is
intuitive. Either way, we'll discuss that more in a few issues. For now
I'll stick to three things you absolutely must have in order for your piece
to be art, and not a filter demonstration. These things are as follows:
Without these, you are not creating art, even if your friends all think your
stuff is "super-cool tripped out surreal shit, man!" You must have a
concept. It is possible, in tracking, to begin without one (although only
the best trackers can do this well). It is not possible in art. If you
don't know what you're drawing, then you have nothing. The concept can be as
simple as "A spaceship", or as complex as "A large planet hovering in space,
while near it a wormhole is opening and hundreds of sleek, silver ships are
emerging, preparing to war on the citizens of the planet".
You must have design. Design is very simply the way your piece comes
together. This is the element that is most often lacking in 32-bit art, and
thus where said art's bad reputation comes from. Filters can make your work
look slick. They can make it appear, at first glance, highly professional.
They can not, however, make it art. Art is in the design. Know what you
are attempting to do before you attempt to do it, and the piece you create
will be one hundred times what it would otherwise be.
Structure is the relationship of the individual pieces of your picture in
relation to the overall cohesiveness. If your planet looks like it was
drawn with crayons, and the ships coming from the wormhole are rendered with
3D Studio, this is not going to work. Filters can help you achieve an
overall cohesiveness to your work by allowing you to generate intricate but
subtly similar textures, smoothing rough edges, altering the color slightly
of a section of the piece you already worked on, or in many other ways.
Well, that's more room then I'm supposed to use by a good fifty lines or so.
Next issue we'll take a look at a couple of the more basic filters in Adobe
Photoshop 4. My goal is to explain the basics of using filters, and let the
reader experiment of his/her own to find out more about them. So, until next