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Painting & Animating a New Paradigm:
Photoshop 5.5 & Studio Artist
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, Nov. 1999

Studio ArtistNew paint and animation tools push paradigms as well as pixels.

Faster and more powerful desktop computers combined with continuous software innovations are empowering new forms of creativity for video professionals.

In the world of software tools for image processing, video paint and web animation, things seem to be changing especially fast. As a result, this is an unusual Video Web column. It started out to be a round up of web graphics tools for videographers who may want to use their video assets to create web animation; however, in the process of researching these latest innovations, I discovered that from my point of view, two programs stood above the rest: the latest version of the immensely popular, powerful and practical, Adobe Photoshop 5.5 and the amazingly innovative, Studio Artist from a remarkable newcomer, Synthetik Software.

I'll be discussing the new version of Photoshop from the point of view of its improved text handling capabilities and impressive new web modules, while I will feature Studio Artist for its paradigm pushing approach and mind-boggling capabilities. Both programs should be of interest to any video producer who is involved in video paint, image creation and/or animated special effects - either on the video screen, within web pages or as part of the emerging new medium that I call the Video Web.

Putting the Pieces Together
For any of you who have not yet upgraded to a 5.x version of Photoshop, I've been meaning to let you know that from a video producer's point of view, it's "worthy." The upgrade to version 5 was worthwhile if for nothing else, because of the inclusion of new text editing capabilities. If you're at all like me, your video graphic productions contain a lot of text. Never before version 5 were Photoshop text layers editable. By itself, that improvement makes a big difference.

Now, with version 5.5, the kerning and flexibility of this text editing ability are also significantly improved. The result is that you can have almost Illustrator level type control including fractional widths and the ability to fake bold and italic from within Photoshop.

Web Savvy
For web producers, Adobe has expanded its package. Photoshop now also includes an impressive array of web graphics tools. Thus, this program which initially was a print preproduction tool and which is widely used in video and multimedia, is now effectively addressing the world of web graphics as well. Most importantly, Photoshop's new export modules have much of the GIF and JPEG export flexibility for which Macromedia's Fireworks set the standard. This includes the convenient ability to evaluate file size and image quality in side-by-side comparisons before you export.

For animating your video frames and graphics, Photoshop 5.5 now bundles Image Ready 2.0 which also matches Fireworks in many important ways. Among other features, it includes the ability to create animations using tween commands, pre-scripted JavaScript roll-overs, and more. If you're using Photoshop for web graphics, this is a "must have" upgrade. If you're using Photoshop for video graphics, it's highly recommended as well, especially if your graphics include a lot of text.

While there are features, like its use of vectors, that differentiate Fireworks, for me there's no getting around the comfort and learning curve investment that I have under my belt with Photoshop. I appreciate the fact that this important program has now become so web savvy.

Late Night Revelations
In an even more creative vein, it's been a long time since a piece of software kept me up late at night. But, that's how much fun I had doing the tutorial from a new package called Studio Artist from the small South of Market, San Francisco software developer, Synthetik Software. I found this Mac-only program to be jaw-drop amazing.

In addition, I had the pleasure to visit the loft-like studio of software wizard John Dalton and his wife/business partner, Candice Pacheco. In a world where more and more people seem to be talking about "thinking outside the box," these folks are not only doing it; they are living it.

A Paint Synthesizer
Studio Artist is hard to describe because it does not approach the special effects process like any other software that I have seen. The reason for this is that John Dalton has performed a fascinating feat. He has utilized his experience as a developer of software for digital electronic music and he has applied that knowledge (and more) to nothing less than the creation of a new software paradigm for image creation and manipulation.

For the more scholarly among you, Dalton, who wrote the award-winning program, Deck II, the first multi-track digital audio software for the Mac (formerly a Macromedia product, now distributed by Berkeley Integrated Audio Software, told me that his approach also utilizes "academic models of visual imaging."

On a practical level, his approach and talent shows up in the ability to treat a graphic or a series of images (such as a video clip) with an audio patch-type process for visual effects. In other words, in the same way that a MIDI synthesizer utilizes a sound sample and then allows you to add reverb and other multiple modifications in the process of creating a new sound, Studio Artist opens up the image manipulation process to a whole new set of variables.

Resolution Independence
While this image processing process may sound like simply a sequence of filter effects, in fact, it is much more. In addition of the many unique image processing filters which are also included, all of the 700 "dynamic paint tool" effects in Studio ArtistStudio Artist are brush strokes rather than pixel-bending algorithms. The result is that the effects create fresh, resolution independent images. Each one newly "painted." This is what they mean by "dynamic paint." In fact, you can simply choose a source file, select a brush stroke, just click "Action" and the program will keep painting automatically until you press the familiar space bar "stop" command.

Furthermore, depending on the brush stoke effect that you choose, your new image can either closely match the original or it can be enormously different. For example, AutoSketch does a good job of turning a photograph into a sketch-style image with edges that match your photo, while the more impressionistic brushes paint your image into an abstraction as unrealistic and "broad stroke" as you would like. And you perfectionists will appreciate the fact that each brush stoke is a vector that can be edited! Try doing that with a filter effect.

Studio Artist's QuickTime compatibility makes it of special interest to Mac-based video artists. By using the Paint Action Window in Studio Artist, you can program a sequence of effects including warps and morphs and have them automatically applied to each frame of a movie. The result is "auto-rotoscoping." And what I found particularly impressive was the fact that Studio Artist can leverage its resolution independence to create high resolution movies from low resolution source footage. Because the source movie is only a reference, and each brush stoke is created anew, as shown in the illustration, you can create a high-res special effects movie based on virtually any source.

There's much more to this amazing package than I have space to describe, but if you're interested in this kind of creativity, I highly recommend the journey. You'll probably be a bit challenged, as I was, by the somewhat unusual interface; but I would not expect access to these kinds of new capabilities without some challenging complexities along the way.

In addition, version 1.1 of Studio Artist should be out by the time you read this. Synthetik is promising a needed new manual, the addition of alpha channel support, additional support for batch processing, EPS file export, EPS file conversion, and more.

At an extremely modest price point of $295 (with a free download demo version available on their Web site:, this is a Mac-only application that proves that the spirit of the Mac is alive and well. In fact, Synthetik was part of Apple's G4 "velocity engine" announcement because this is one application that can take clear advantage of all the processing power they can throw at it.

Many thanks to John, Candice and the whole team at Synthetik for such a shining innovation. All I need now is more time to play with it. :)

Stay tuned.

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Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]


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