Monday, 14 October 2013

Independence Day

There were a few title candidates for this post. Death to the Pixel. Mandelbrot's Canvas. To infinity and Beyond. Making Mischief. That last one came a close second because I'm talking about a relatively new painting app appropriately called, 'Mischief,' by 61 Solutions, Inc which really puts the cat among the pigeons by ditching pixels in favour of vector graphics. For more info on these terms please click the underlined words.

Vector graphics have been around a while and are capable of some very complex imagery. 'Classic' was created in a sadly defunct app called Freehand and though simple, in many ways typifies that sharp, clean cut out vector style. The huge advantage with vectors is that they are resolution independent (and there's your title.) This means you can infinitely scale your artwork up or down and it will never degrade because unlike pixel based art, vectors are described by mathematical points, lines, curves and shapes and are therefore not constrained by the grid arrangement of pixel images. However, in order to create vector art you need to manipulate points and bezier curve handles which many digital artists find fiddly, frustrating and unintuitive.

Pixel based painting apps tend to emulate real world art materials and therefore feel more natural to painters. The images above were created in SketchBook Pro and Artrage respectively and show a much looser, more painterly style vector apps would struggle to replicate.
Anti-aliasing tricks aside, the thinnest line you can draw in a typical painting app is 1 pixel wide. Therefore when more detail is needed, your only option is to increase the document size so that your 1 pixel line becomes finer in relation to the larger number of pixels which make up the grid. However, the bigger the count the more resources and memory your painting needs, so before too long you'll encounter brush lag, an annoying feature of high resolution painting which prevents working in real time, because your computer is too busy calculating every stroke you make some time after you made them.

To counter brush lag most artists start with a small document size and increase it only to add the final details, but I find you waste a lot of time repeating and re-sharpening areas with this method.
The holy grail of digital painting then, is an app which combines the best attributes of both methods. That is where Mischief comes in. It gives us the intuitive painting of pixel based apps, but lays down vector strokes which are infinitely scalable. The YouTube video below demonstrates why working on a resolution independent canvas has so much potential.

Side note: I had intended this to be a first shot rough test video but really liked the low rent 'stop motion animation' effect!

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Finally I am free from the tyranny of pixels. Mischief has broken the bonds and in the process quite literally given us an infinitive number of possibilities for storytelling.
When testing an app I tend to try and break it, or at least attempt to find its limits. There must be hundreds of thousands if not millions of strokes in this painting, yet not once did I encounter brush lag. Yes, there is always a compromise when dealing with lots of data and in this case, all those vector strokes caused zooming/moving around the canvas to slow down, but to be honest, I'd rather be able to paint in real time. In any case, most future work won't be this data heavy because I've now learned it is probably better to make fewer strokes with a higher opacity setting. Also, considering Mischief is only at version 1, improvements are a foregone conclusion.

You get a simple but more than adequate set of tools all laid out in an interface so easy it doesn't actually require a manual. I really don't think there is a such a thing! Like vector graphic apps, Mischief "keeps a mathematical representation of every stroke, but differs in that it uses textured strokes rather than filled polygon outlines." This is most evident when using the lovely pencils and Conte Crayons and there is also a textured eraser.

Within seconds of first launching the app I was painting what turned out to be this - titled, 'Mountain Peek,' my first artwork made with Mischief.
When finished, your painting will have to be converted to pixels for editing outside Mischief, a task which 61 Solutions, Inc have made easy. You can either export the visible canvas or export a selected part of the canvas. This is huge because it means even the smallest detail of your work can be exported at any size up to the current ceiling of 20,000 pixels without any loss of quality (20,000 pixels equates to approx 170cm - 67 inches - at 300ppi.) Even better, we get the choice to export as layered Photoshop files, so you can easily tweak or change elements outside Mischief as seen in the 4th image below where layers were switched off in Photoshop to reveal background sky.

There is one final startling fact to consider. The Mischief document is a mere 20mb, but when I export a full Photoshop file out at maximum resolution, it weighs in at a massive 530mb. Half a gig!
I have no doubt many artists will wake up one morning, catch the word on the web, open Mischief for the first time and declare a day of independence.