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What do you mean by Fine Digital Imagery?
By using the phrase Fine digital imagery, I mean to convey the idea that my work is a synthesis of artistic and mathematical ideas and techniques. It is a refinement of the traditional “computer generated art”. At one extreme of computer generated art is “photo realism”. A prime example of this is the movie “Apollo 13” where the astronaut-consultant for the movie couldn’t tell the difference between the original video of the take-off and the animation created to enhance the movie. At the other extreme is fractal imagery that is beautiful but requires minimal input (and hence lack of control) on the part of the artist. The software that I have developed includes the techniques of fractals, ray tracing, iterated function system and some of my own proprietary algorithms to render images that (as an artist) I can completely control. I begin with an idea of what the image should be. Then I modify my software or write new software to create the image that I have in mind. This software development phase goes along with the development of the picture itself. I often find that some aspect of the image just doesn’t look right and I may even have to go back and develop a new mathematical technique and implement it in software before I can continue to develop the image. Using archival material, I print the image at a very high resolution on museum grade material.
Aren't there software packages on the market for creating digital images? What's so special about yours?
Yes, there are several software packages on the market for creating fractals, for creating ray traced images and of course there is always Photoshop and its competitors. Using a software package limits you to the capabilities built into those packages. Since I have written my own software, I can continually enhance it to create new tools and techniques. This enables me to combine my algorithms with traditional graphics algorithms to produce truly unique images.
How do you create an image?
The first requirement for creating digital images is to have the necessary software. Developing the software has taken me years and is an ongoing process. Some of the most original images evolve in a series of steps. The first is an idea for creating a new effect or a new mathematical technique. I will then do the theoretical work, implement it into the software and then try it out. This may take weeks of writing and testing before I find an image that has potential for further development. Here is a quick summary of how Floral came about.
Click on Floral for a larger image.
I began by creating some simple fractals that were in the shape of flat propellers with about 5 or 6 blades. Next I used my ray tracing program to wrap the propellers around several transparent spheres. The bowl is just a curve revolved around a central axis with some colors blended together. The shading is caused by the ray tracing algorithm, which uses the fact that I put the light source above and in front of the bowl so that the light hits the upper parts of the transparent spheres and the top half of the bowl. After rendering the scene quickly at a low resolution, I could see that propeller blades did not look right. I then went back and rewrote the algorithms to make the blades have some character (note the half dead petals hanging down). Next, I wrote some formulas which my fractal program would interpret as stems. After adding a background and deciding on the colors for the flowers, I once again rendered the image. After innumerable renderings, major changes and tweaking, I was finally satisfied and proceeded to render the image at a resolution suitable for printing. Since rendering at a higher resolution brings out more detail, it also shows more defects. So another round of fixes and renderings takes place. Finally, I have an image which has enough resolution (about 6000 by 4000 pixels) to print an image up to about 24"x20". It is important to note that one could simply use a program like Photoshop to stretch an image to a larger size, but his would cause blurring or pixelization. In fact, if I need a larger image, I re-render the image at the higher resolution - which actually creates more detail.
How long does it take to make an image?
The creative process - which includes theoretical work and implementation of algorithms as well as artistry - may take two to four weeks, sometimes much longer. The actual process of rendering an 8 million pixel image can take up to an hour, so to save time, during the artistic phase of development, the test images are rendered at low resolution. Printing can take from about 5 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the size of the image.
Are your images computer generated?
Technically, the answer is yes, but the tone of the question sometimes suggests that the computer plays a greater role than it actually does. Since I wrote the software, I completely control what the computer is doing and how it is doing it. Moreover, there is little or no randomness built into the program. In other words, I completely control the color of every pixel in the picture. To say that my images are computer generated is like saying that the work of a water color artist is “brush generated"!
A lot of people are familiar with fractals. Here are some typical questions on that subject.
How do you create a fractal image?
Many of the images begin with an idea for a new mathematical or computing technique or for a new function (even the square function can produce interesting images if the algorithms and other parameters are chosen with care). On the other hand, even closely related functions, say for example 5.2sin(x) and 5.3sin(x), can look very different from one another - even with the same algorithms and other parameters. So, creating a function, devising algorithms and setting various parameters, to get an acceptable image, can take days or weeks. More time is spent determining the appropriate part of the plane to render. After all, the plane is infinite up, down, left and right. Related to this is the "zoom" factor. Fractals are infinitely detailed no matter how much you zoom in on them. Just as a microscope brings us into an whole new world, so does zooming in on fractals. More info can be found here.
Do you know what fractal image will be produced by looking at the function?
Not Exactly. I experiment with various functions, algorithms and parameters, and when I find one that has interesting properties I then manipulate it to enhance the effect that I am trying to achieve. Since I have complete control of the algorithms and parameters, I consider "fractals" as just one tool in my repertoire. However, with fractal imagery, there are always surprises; discovering the promising ones and enhancing them is part of the fun.
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