Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the digital art elephants need their daily walk

Just in time, they're awake and need their exercise.
Art elephants are like sheep the way they nuzzle each other.....wait, elephants do that, I get confused they have the texture thing down, biggest sheep I ever saw.

Let me paint the picture. Microsoft is a huge tech city, hurried, crowded, multi-layered and fingers in every direction. Apple is small to mid-sized town of diverse but laid-back folks. Linuxville is a vast open savanna with enclaves, hamlets, homesteads. The one I live in is small in surface appearance, but deep down there are catacombs (cave of wonder), labs, gardens, etc; all connected by an intricate network of tunnels, at least till I get the physical presents transference machine online.

Yeah I know all about the genetics of art elephants but still you need a good gene mapper (gene = pixel, get it?!). Most folks in Linuxville know of Blender 3D, it has even been used to make movie effects and animations. What troubles me is that folks who went through the curve to learn Blender 3D are stuck on it because now they know it. This is cool but becomes a right of passage under the must have banner. Another trouble is that the assumption that a 3D graphics application has to be game art worthy, animation art worthy to get praise. Excuse me if I don't ride my art elephant off into the sunset.

On the other horizon are 3D applications that need more exploration. K-3D looks good and in need a village of pixel practitioners to get into it. Also Equinox-3D, which looks very promising and attractive to me. Ah, the allure of an interface. When you look at the interface, does it invite you to come and play?

Blender opening screen and a work session.

Equinox-3D first screen and work session.

K-3D first screen and work session.

As you can guess, I care more for interior design and architecture than game graphics and cartoon animation. Same tools but the focus is different. When doing the more engineering related graphics, you want something a little more streamlined in the process and straightforward in the interface. No matter which application you use, chances are once you get used to using it, you will say it is easier than other applications to use. These 3 graphics programs can accomplish a broad sweep of outcomes but there is another more focused approach. The targeted graphics tool. One is called Sweet Home 3D and it is for interior design. It looks like this:

Sweet Home 3D first screen and work session.

Let me explain pixel science this way. There are the graphics algorithms which are embedded by means of some programing language for better or worse and an interface (tools) so that the user can interact and get output. It does not matter how good the science behind it is if the tools to use them are awkward and the process to get the output is too multi-layered. The 3D approach to drawing is much more complex than 2D vector drawing and much much more than 2D raster.

You listen to the developers and users and viewing screenshots hoping to get all your questions answered. Still you must try them out along with your inquiry to user communities. Realize that the Blender community is older and a bit biased because it is sooooooooooo cool for so long. You might discover an underrated gem, a diamond in the ruff, in the other applications. If you got the time to get into it, you can start your own rock group instead of jumping on the band wagon.
It can be lonely, a user sharpening the cutting edge yourself. Any benefit to you being the software proving ground? Yeah, in the words of Henry Jones Sr. (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) when asked what did he get, "illumination!".

And don't forget the rule, if you live to tell the tale, don't forget the pictures.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

does the clothes finally make the man?

While the art elephants are taking a siesta or selah, lets race over to the Linuxville sports center to ask the age old question, do the clothes finally make the dude or dame? You'd think our local p-ball (platform-ball) players would know, as they play in different attire to stir the fans and intimidate the rivals. The fans have mixed reviews, some even think the team plays better in their favorite uniform. We've touched this topic before, but it is always good to hear the locker room reaction.

I have Kubuntu, the Ubuntu with the KDE desktop installed. It comes in the default blue tones and lays claim to being fresh and exciting. Then I also installed Gnome desktop because I like it also. Gnome comes standard on Ubuntu with the orange and brown, no brag, it's just handsome. I've also tried Ubuntu with KDE too. In the wild, they do the one up, taking turns improving, showing, with fans exclaiming a coup over the other. I come up with this, many folks don't like the orange/brown of Ubuntu or the idea of skin tone colored themes. I'm no psych major but the implications are...............

KDE in blue is fresh and exciting for lovers of blue. Looking up in the sky all the time can get boring too, not to mention your eyeballs getting tanned. I will admit that Gnome in orange and brown is not an easy combo to swallow, but being a person of the brown persuasion, I've grown to appreciate the subtleties of brownness. It is earthy but not green like Ubuntu Mint, or Suse Linux. Fedora is blue and so is the Blue Man Group, but they're a rock band not a distro. Mandriva at last look was yellow, Xubuntu is blue outside and gray inside.

In the end game the controversy is about the boot screen you see first and how you have to sit through it, while it announces what is to come and sets the tone for the computing session. "Are you kidding?" What if we put a color selector bar on a pre-boot screen so that Ubuntu will boot in the color of your choice? No wonder folks are trying to demand faster boot times, I thought it was so they can get to work faster, NOT!

Color choice aside, the real diff in KDE and Gnome is the programming libraries used and the goals of the developers. I can't really say which choice, KDE or Gnome is best for you, for me Gnome is just handsome and warm. Gnome is a tad bit more surefooted in operation on my PC and snappier. And to all you fast to critique folks, Gnome in Ubuntu can change color too if orange and brown just won't do. Gee folks, I used Crunchbang in basic black and it didn't get as much flack as Ubuntu in brown. Think about Palomino ponies and rich Corinthian leather and Coco Wheats (ha ha!).

No one in the sports center locker room can agree on the best uniform and the fans too are dead-locked. I guess the team management also gave up on this decision. In a press release they state; "While we reserve the right to demand the best possible play of the game, we have left the ultimate uniform choice up to the fans, if you don't like it, change it!"

There you have it from the Linuxville Sports Center, now let's get back to the Linuxville Guide office before the art elephants awake.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

art elephant bagging and tagging.

When approaching an art elephant, you should do so with caution, if by chance it does not relate well to you, you could be cast aside like a bad peanut. How do you relate to an art elephant, you ask? Actually, they don't mind if you are clueless and want to dabble in order to discover your talents, but if you got skills and attempt to force the issue, they can be quite rude.

My law of thumbs is like this, if you have a traditional painting or drawing background, then digital raster type painting and drawing will be a pleasant encounter. Folks who do desktop publishing, line illustration, perhaps Cad (like me!) will find friends with vector drawing. I think a mix of talents is good, game artist and cartoonist do 2D, 3D modeling, surface textures and background painting. And as we all know there are a glut of photo buffs. It is OK not to be able to do everything, learn what you need to know.

Approach straight on, an open mind, be fearless. Don't come in from the side like you know this beast, many are surprised by how agile the art elephant is to turn and trample, "I didn't know they could now do that!!". Yes, there are big game hunters (graphics pros) who don't always have good things to say about Open Source Graphics Apps. I think they are too fond of their zoo animals behind bars. I have met several who hide their wounds behind flack jackets or wear their pit helmets indoors. The Open Source Jungle is safer for learners than for ones who presume to know. They say "that elephant" is still under development, it doesn't do this, and it can't do that. Then they walk away assuming the elephant won't change, won't improve, won't evolve and can't possibly compete with the caged animal they are use to.

Unbeknown to the mainstream, though whispers might be heard, in a clearing in the Open Source Jungle, a billboard touting the virtues of art elephants in the wild with bold letters, "WE CAN DO IT ALL! (though mileage may vary)". Just because there are no big established company names behind Open Source Graphics, don't think it is a static, hopeless and futile situation.

Mostly it is about spending enough time with an application to where you learn what it can do and what you can do with it. What artist does not devise his own tools? I find it is production artist who insist a tool be there and criticize if it is not. This is a good thing as the pros often initiate the further development of good software. The very cool stuff we use today was very wimpy yesterday and will be the killer app tomorrow. You can almost apply Darwin's theory to software, if it sustains long enough, it will evolve, even persist, maybe even dominate.

Most artist aspire to have the most developed, advanced and "in use" graphics software they can get, even if they are beginners, even if they only use it occasionally. They want the industry standard at all cost and will pirate if necessary. I want to emphasize that it is the tools themselves and the file formats that matter. If you can get the tools and produce the file formats for less money, you are ahead of the game. If you are locked into the professional track with must have software, I can't help you. If you have options, choices and wiggle room, by all means give Open Source Graphics Applications a shot. You don't need the whole bakery shop in order to have a loaf of bread.

I know art elephants are a temperamental lot and I don't want you to use Linux just because I say so. I think it's a better choice, but we can compromise with Open Source Apps which run on Linux or Windows. And I say this because some graphics hardware, pen tablets in particular, may or may not work under Linux. Wacom tablets are supported under the Linux Wacom project. Wacoms are normally Windows compatible as are any other graphics tablets. So, Windows platform PCs can use any tablet that does the job, where as Linux platform PCs should stick with Wacom tablets. The good thing is that many tablet users upgrade and resell their older tablets. If it does the job at a small price, you win again.

Now that you have become symbiont to several art elephants in the herd, you will want to connect with others in the same situation. The Linux Graphics Users is a good place to start, the forum is wonderful. Also the Wacom Community page is cool. If you need some encouragement in digital art,  http://www.karencarr.com/how-you-can-paint-using-digital-tools-and-software.php
Now as your Linux guide and art elephant herder, I say, "Get out there and dabble!!!"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No one man can tame a herd of art elephants.

After a vigorous workout at the gene-splicing table, we move on to cloning. My assistant eGor (all assistants have that name!), got accidentally locked in the cloning booth, there was a boom, a gawd awful smell and; "eGor, what's that clone you're wearing?" (Sorry, Mel Brooks meets the Muppets!)

Actually, I need a clone or two, plus a symbionic mind link to multiply my ability to explore all the Linux graphics applications. Today I have installed "FreeCad". It is an 3d Cad program the likes of SolidEdge. Now I have used AutoCad for years to do schematics and other 2D drawings. FreeCad and Blender both do 3D, what is the diff? FreeCad is precision optimized (engineering) and Blender is more fuzzy (scenes, games, animation). I hear there are scripts being developed to give Blender the precision for cad work. I think the math engines in the programming are diff so they can do what they each do best. I will have to read through the docs and learn the work flow before I'll be able to do anything useful with FreeCad and practice like crazy.

Wow, GIMP, Inkscape, Blender 3D, Krita, Synfig, My Paint, Xara Xtreme, KD3, FreeCAD,..............egads eGor!
In all, you can see my problem, too many drawing applications doing too many differing kinds of drawing, not enough time and too few of me. If I spent all my time exploring I'd never get good at anything.

The main problem in taming the herd of art elephants is us users. Who among us, born in the industrial revolution, has not been indoctrinated, trained, programmed, brain imprinted with the posture of the typewriter cult. It is an iconic image that endures without fanfare, persons hunched over a keyboard (I saw it in Egypt! (pyramid shaped office building, Pharoah Street, nth floor)). OK, you got the proper posture down......hmmmmmm! (ergo-nomics, egor-nomics, extremes of the same thing!?). You go to the office, sit at your machine, a voice in your head tells you to "assume the position" before you type. At the keyboard I always have flashbacks of high school typing class. I could never get it right. I guess I am more eGor than ergo. I see there are more typing/mousing casualties than there are football injuries. Bouncing fingers up and down on keys was bad enough, now figgiety mouse moving from side to side and back and forth.........

I got a Wacom Graphire 2 pen tablet years ago. I am back to playing with it. What a relaxing relief for my hand, wrist and forearm. And I can't believe how programmed I am. It is traumatic learning to use it, my body wants to say, "hey, I remember pencils but it's so not a mouse." So, if you do a lot of graphics and do not have a pen tablet, you will devolve from Ergo to........... eGor.

I am working on a hardware project which may require one of those tiny keyboards. How tiny can a keyboard get before it dawns on you that you can't "assume the position"? When will typewriter entrenched hardware critics stop judging tiny qwerty keyboards by the "touch typing" standard? "It's a qwerty but it's too small to actually touch type on it!". Double duh! Our logic defies logic at times. It is OK to hunt and peck on a small device. If you are typing a term paper, a business report or translating War and Peace using a tiny keyboard, perhaps your fingers are not the real problem. Please send $25,000 and I will send you my book "Typewriter Cult Deprogramming Guide" and tickets to attend my seminar "End Pain by Using A More Appropriate Computer Input Device". As a followup, if you act fast, I will send you a CD titled "When Body Language Cusses You Out, Know the Signs". Actually, I am trying to wake you up, you keep doing this to yourself!

So, to sum it all up, if you are suffering the casualties of making do on the computer input devices you got, it may be time to consider alternative means. The pen (digital pen) is mightier than the mouse, especially in drawing. That picture of the elephant in panic over a mouse under foot, guess who gets trampled?