Thursday, August 28, 2008

Year of the Fish - SF Gate Review

The San Francisco Chronicle via their SF Gate web site posted a review of David Kaplan's Studio Artist animated feature film 'Year of the Fish'. Year of the Fish has it's theatrical debut on August 29th in San Francisco, Berkley, and New York City.

Additional theatrical showings nationwide will include Huntington and Cambridge Harvard Square on 9/19, Seattle, Atlanta, Austin, Santa Fe, Dallas, Honolulu, Pleasantville, NY (Jacob Burns), Portland, and San Antionio in Sept/Oct. Check out for more information on theatrical showings in a theatre near you.

Year of the Fish is really a must see for all Studio Artist users and fans. David's Studio Artist generated paint animation is beautifully executed and really serves to showcase the underlying story. I really feel the film is a showcase for what can be artistically achieved by a single individual using Studio Artist.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Generating Procedural Art Using Directed Evolution

My favorite way to work with Studio Artist's MSG (modular synthesized graphics) capabilities is to create procedural artwork using directed evolution. By procedural i mean that the actual imagery in the artwork is created mathematically from the internal processing in the MSG preset. As opposed to being based on a literal representation from a digital photo or something hand drawn by an artist.

Each MSG preset consists of a collection of individual MSG processors. A MSG processor may generate an image from scratch, or it may process one or more images with some kind of image processing algorithm. So by stringing together different MSG processors in the Processor Chain Editor you can build up an infinite variety of different modular image processing effects. MSG processors are configured in a linear list as opposed to a topological graph like some other modular systems. The literal analogy would be individual effect modules on a mixer bus for those of you with an audio background.

What's nice about directed evolution is that you can create an artistic effect by just clicking on individual examples you like in a collection of MSG presets and evolve a new set of mutated variations off of the particular effect you clicked on. The Evolution Editor is where the user configurable set of MSG presets you will be evolving are stored.

Clicking on a specific MSG preset (one of the small previews) in the Evolution Editor will generate a new set of previews that are mutations of the preview you clicked on. By doing this over time you are directing the evolution of a new unique MSG preset. This is a way for non technical users to create sophisticated effects and imagery without needing to have any real understanding of what is happening technically under the hood in the signal flow of the resulting MSG preset.

The new Help Browser in Studio Artist version 4 also has a large set of interactive command links you can click on to run various evolution commands on the collection of MSG presets in the Evolution Editor. For example, the Mutate command generates variations based on mutating the individual editable parameters in the MSG preset's processors. The Swap command generates variations by randomly swapping in different MSG processors to replace existing ones in the preset. As you might anticipate, a swap tends to create a more radical change in appearance of the resulting effect or abstract image generated by the MSG preset.

One evolve command i tend to use a lot is the AutoEvolve Random Presets command. What this does is choose a set of random presets from your preset collection and then randomly evolve them with things like parameter mutations, processor swaps, or meta edits. Meta Edits can be the addition of prebuilt effects that consist of 1 or more MSG processors or pre-configured standard edits. An example of a prebuilt effect addition would be adding a 3D lighting effect to an existing preset. An example of a pre-configured standard edit might be converting a color gradient mapped effect into a color palette mapped effect.

Once you have generated something interesting using directed evolution, you can always do more specific detailed edits in the MSG Advanced Editor. You can adjust the individual editable parameters associated with a particular MSG processor, or reroute the IO connections for the processor. Each MSG processor has one or more IO connections. IO stands for input-output. Input Streams come into the processor, are processed in some way by the processor, and then one or more processed Streams are output. Each MSG presets has a collection of Streams on a Bus that can be accessed for IO connections. An individual Stream can be something like an image channel or a color gradient or a color palette.

Detailed editing of a MSG preset in the advanced editor requires some technical understanding of the overall MSG architecture. What's great about directed evolution is that you can ignore all of that underlying complexity and just focus on selecting presets you like and evolving new mutated versions of them. Even if you are a technical wizard what you will find is that directed evolution has the powerful ability to create imagery and processing effects that never would have occurred to you, or which might be so complicated internally that you couldn't have built them from scratch anyway.

An example of the individual processors that compose a specific MSG preset in the Processor Chain Editor in the MSG Advanced Editor palette.

In Studio Artist 3.5 you needed to use the MSG Evolver application to edit or evolve new MSG presets. Version 4 of Studio Artist has most of the old MSG Evolver functionality built directly into it, so there's no need to go to a separate application to perform MSG edits. This is nice because it's easy to work with multiple layers of MSG effects, or to further process a rendered MSG image in the paint synthesizer or the image processing section of Studio Artist while you are working to build up your final artistic image.

Synthetik is working to finish up the release of version 4 of Studio Artist, which runs native on windows as well as intel and PPC macs. We'll be posting more version 4 feature previews here in anticipation of the upcoming release.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Year of the Fish Theatrical Debut

It's great to see 'Year of the Fish' posters right there next to Rock Me Sexy Jesus and Death Race. David Kaplan's Studio Artist animated feature film 'Year of the Fish' will be making it's theatrical debut in the US on August 29. Initial showings are at the Kabuki Theatre in San Francisco, the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley CA, and the Angelika Film Center in New York City. Later showings include the Hollywood Theatre in Portland OR on Oct 10 and Santikos Bijou at Crossroads in San Antonio TX on Oct 17th. You can check for more information on theatre showings and the film itself at

For those of you who haven't seen the film before it's a really great artistic showcase for how to utilize Studio Artist auto-rotoscope animation in a non gratuitous manner that really helps to showcase the underlying story and moods of the film. The film looks awesome on a large theatre screen and should not be missed. Spread the word and take your friends to see Year of the Fish on the big screen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Visual Music Solicitation for Siggraph 2009

Studio Artist user Dennis Miller will be helping to organize a visual music section in the computer animation festival for Siggraph 2009, which will be held in New Orleans next summer. Those of you who checked out the previous visual music marathon know that it was an awesome presentation of different animation styles and techniques that included several Studio Artist generated works. This new visual music festival provides a great international forum to present your Studio Artist work, so i wanted to make sure to mention it and to encourage everyone to consider participating.

In addition, there will also be an expanded presence at Siggraph 2009 for interactive music (no tape works). So this might be an opportunity for Studio Artist users who are combining live visual and music performance.

For more information on Siggraph, which is the premier computer graphics and animation conference, check out

Monday, August 11, 2008

MacLife - The Making of Year of the Fish

MacLife posted an article today on the making of David Kaplan's Studio Artist animated film 'Year of the Fish'. The timing is especially pertinent because Year of the Fish has it's theatrical debut on August 29th in San Francisco and New York with additional showings in theaters nationally afterwards.

It's well worth checking out Year of the Fish when it hits the theaters. I was fortunate enough to get to see it on the big screen at Dole Cannery in Honolulu when it was here for the Honolulu International Film Festival and the impact of the animation is really stunning on a big screen.

For more information on Year of the Fish and theatrical releases near you check out

Friday, August 1, 2008

Representational Cellular Automata in MSG

Studio Artist's MSG (modular synthesized graphics) has some new cellular automata processors. What's especially interesting about these is that you can configure them to create representation imagery as well as the flat fractal texture fields you would typically see for this kind of imagery. The mathematics behind cellular automata are particularly fascinating because they create the same kinds of fractal patterning seen in nature, like the patterning on a seashell for example.

Stephen Wolfram popularized the mathematics behind cellular automata and has postulated that the patterns we see in nature are in fact created using the same kinds of underlying math principals in the underlying physics or biology of these systems. Here's an example of a flat texture field created using MSG with a sea shell like patterning.

Of course the great thing about MSG is that you are free to combine different MSG processors together to create more complicated effects. The output of one processor can be used to modulate another. The trick for creating representational cellular automata imagery is to modulate one of the 2D cellular automata generators using something like the source image luminance. Here's an example of a simple MSG preset created in Studio Artist's new MSG advanced editor with 3 different processors. The source image green channel is used as the input source for the 2D cellular automata generator. The output of that generator is then used as the input for another 2D cellular automata generator.

Of course what's great about MSG is that you can then evolve and mutate your starting preset to create new ones automatically. So the same underlying processor chain can lead to many different effects styles as the various editable parameters associated with each processor are mutated over time.