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Studio Artist 2: Amazing Image Synthesis & Auto-Rotoscoping
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, March, 2001

Studio Artist is a video graphic and animation software tool with a creative palette all its own. The good news is it’s fun to learn and your video graphic artistry can only be enhanced by its remarkable paint and special effects capabilities. The bad news is that it has an inconsistent interface.

Studio Artist 2.0When I first discovered Studio Artist and reviewed it for Videography in November, 1999, I began by saying “it's been a long time since a piece of software kept me up late at night.” Since then, Studio Artist has frequently held the cherished place in my consciousness as “the program that I would most like to find time to learn.” Now, with the release of Studio Artist 2.0 and new, even more powerful capabilities, I’m not only getting to know this software better; but I can now recommend it even more highly to anyone who wants to introduce new dimensions of originality into their video graphic repertoire.

From automated rotoscoping to mind-boggling artistic creativity, all the way through its impressive array of image processing effects, Studio Artist integrates a unique blend of resolution independent, vector-based painting effects that are so unique that they are fascinating to explore. Now, with greatly improved movie-making features, Studio Artist has become a valuable animation tool as well.

After two and a half years, Synthetik Software’s “one-man programming band,” John Dalton, has extended and enhanced Studio Artist into version 2.0 which lists for $379 (upgrades are $179); and I don’t think you’ll find more graphic creation power per buck anywhere. A demo version is available for free downloading from http://www.synthetik.com. Version 2.0 is available for both Mac OS versions 8/9 as well as for OS X.

Thinking Different
It’s a challenge to communicate how fascinating this program really is. It’s not just that you have to see it to appreciate it, but it’s also different from any other graphic program that I’ve ever seen, so comparisons really don’t apply.

The easy way out is to say that Studio Artist has over 2,000 completely editable preset image processing, paint and animation tools (up from about 900 in version 1), but that leads to the misconception that Studio Artist is some kind of giant Photoshop plug-in set. It is not.

 
Indian created in Studio Artist

More accurately, Studio Artist is an image synthesizer that’s more like a music synthesizer than a traditional video paint program in the sense that it uses MIDI as a methaphor and calls its preset brush effects “patches.” This is because, in most cases, the effects are derived from a user-defined source image (or movie). The brush stroke patches may be used “by hand” with the mouse or with a Wacom tablet; or alternately, in a way that is unique to Studio Artist, they can be activated by a single click of Studio Artist’s “Action” button. Clicking the Action button starts an automatic painting process using the Patch you have selected that continues until you click the canvas or press the space bar to stop it. Like I said, you have to see it.

From another perspective, one of the reasons that I like this program so much is that Studio Artist is a shining example of the power of the personal computer to provide a platform for a personal vision. The programming mastermind behind Studio Artist is John Dalton, a talent who is willing and able to break out of any video graphic paint box or corner that you might try to paint him into.

As a result of his personal choices, Studio Artist is still a Mac-only program (although a PC version is said to be in the works). It was really fun watching John draw (er, I mean, attract) a crowd at MacWorld, and to see the amazed looks on people’s faces as they crowded around his demo at Synthetik’s booth.

Along The Learning Curve
On the other hand, my least favorite part of this amazing program is its interface. While the new version has more features and some of its interface issues been smoothed out a bit, the organization of the tools is still far from intuitive. For example, I’m sorry to say that among the sets of drop-down patch effects options is a category described as “New Fun Stuff.” This doesn’t give me much practical information. Likewise, among the brush/effects themselves, some have descriptive names (like “Cloudy Liquid Particle”), while others are quite obscure (like “PathApplProb1”). In my opinion, it would be more useful if the categories were organized in a way that helped me understand them better, for example, by grouping the ones that recreate the source image more closely separately from those whose effect is more abstract.

Studio Artist is a shining example of the power of the personal computer to provide a platform for a personal vision.

Bottom line, there are too many features and tools in this programs to try to explain them all in this review, especially because the effects are so original; but, I’m pleased to report that there are two “saving graces” to addressing Studio Artist’s learning curve challenges. One is that this program is downright fun to explore, so learning by trial and error is not as painful as usual. And, more practically, Synthetik is bundling eight hours of free training video tutorials with the product. These videos come on three additional CD’s that are part of the 2.0 package. Now, that’s an example of committed customer support that many much larger software companies should learn from. The result is that the tutorials show you “recipes” of combinations of various brush patches and tools that can get you doing some pretty creative cooking with Studio Artist in pretty short order.

Exeptional Architecture
These tutorials are especially helpful because this is such robust software. There are three main types of effects: PaintPatches which are the main paint brush tools. Image Operations which are more like more-familiar Photoshop filters. And the Texture Synthesizer whose name is self-explanatory.

The huge number of PaintPatches are divided into six sections (Default, New Fun Stuff, Paint Styles, Specialty, User, Wacom). All are selected by pull-down menus with each of these sections having categories and then an assortment of patches within the categories below them. Once you get to the actual patches, you get visual icons which give you some idea of what’s about to happen, but it’s not until you actually try the various brush “patches” that you get to see how amazing they are.

Just to give you one new example, Studio Artist 2.0 includes “Photo-Mosaic” brushes that enable you to load a pen with a collection of still images (or with a sequence of video frames) so that you can paint a creatively-tiled photo-mosaic in real time!

Another impressive thing about Studio Artist is its resolution independence. All of these brush stokes are not bitmaps, but rather, they are editable vectors which can be rendered out to any resolution, size or image format including (new with version 2.0) to any QuickTime-compatible movie compression format. For more advanced users, the ability to edit these vectors provides an astounding level of control.

Marvelous Movies
What makes the movie effects that Studio Artist calls “automated rotoscoping” possible are Studio Artist’s “Paint Action Sequences.” Once the artist has selected the sequence of stokes or operations that are to be applied to each frame (and remember the strokes are usually directly derived from the source image), then it is quite easy to import a movie into the Canvas window and apply the Paint Action Sequence to each frame of the movie. Voila, a rotoscoped movie.

And, with version 2’s new Canvas Movie features, animations can also be played and edited within the program. Also new is the ability to paint over and replace, insert and delete frames from the movie. In addition, Studio Artist 2.0 offers new multi-image morphing, tweening and warping options.

Conclusions
If you use a Mac, I recommend that you download a demo copy of Studio Artist and play with it. For a creative professional, it’s more fun than a video game; and, if you create video graphics or animations for a living, I think you’ll find it to be an indispensable new tool that can do things that programs costing thousands of dollars can’t do.

While its learning curve is Studio Artist’s only downside, in my opinion, it well worth the investment of your time because the power of these tools is unique, and dare I say, creatively inspiring. Now that Synthetik is helping to show you the way by including a full set of video training tutorials with the program, there’s no reason not to take advantage of the originality that is offered by this powerful program. I think you’ll be amazed at what it can do once you get to know it.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing your new creations, and I promise to stay tuned.

 


Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at jon@combridges.com
     
   
 
 
 
   
 
 

 

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