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.
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.
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
Version 2.0 is available for both Mac OS versions 8/9 as well as
for OS X.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Artist is a shining example of the power of the personal computer
to provide a platform for a personal vision.
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
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!
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.
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
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
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.
looking forward to seeing your new creations, and I promise to stay