A little background on Paint FX packages before we dig into Deep Paint...
I'd like to take the scenic view in this review and I hope you will bear with me because Deep Paint 3D is worth the trip.
One of the rewards of years of work with digital imagery software is that you develop the long view. That's important when exploring Deep Paint 3D, as the long view allows you to see the evolution of the toolset now at the disposition of the digital artist as our profession has evolved from the obscure dedication of a few to a generalized concern of many.
So, where was I? Oh, yes! A bit o perspective -- about a page worth -- so you will know exactly why this program is good...
In the late 80s and early 90s of last century, the high-end solutions of the era had recognized that computers and humans could be a killer combination for visual work. Computer Graphics were losing their experimental label, and even Disney had launched their first feature-length CG effort for the film The Great Mouse Detective. The climax scene is a chase sequence through the maze of ratchets, gears, chains and mechanics of Londons Big Ben that was done in CG but xerocopied onto acetate cels and painted by hand.
In those early days of CG you learned to appreciate a GOOD painting application. In production you DO need something really FLEXIBLE that would let you do impromptu textures and tweak frames and paint backgrounds using techniques from different painterly traditions -- at least up to the point of which the art was then capable. Still, there were really amazing paint applications -- but so expensive that you had to invest a lifetime and a very artistic person in staffing them adequately.
Then came the folks at Adobe and their Photoshop app.
Originated in the friendly Mac environment, Photoshop packs an amazing amount of compositing power in an interface based on that of a painting application, --- which is nothing if not their right, given the kind of crapeaux that were called paint-this and paint-that by the merchants of infospaces around the time it came about.
Photoshop has become so popular, in fact, that besides being imitated by many others, it has even tended to displace the traditional, frighteningly expensive UNIX applications from their niches in the high-end. It can do pretty efficient filtering and image manipulations with relatively little effort and a low learning curve. It is not a match for a real PAINT program, but most persons working with it cannot draw, anyway.
Photoshops penetration of so many markets and OSs has established it a long time ago as the favorite application for what programs like VizPaint did in the UNIX world -- doing a good job of it with all the undos and the layers and what not
But theres the rub.
Many of the purely painterly uses and developments, simply werent part of the Photoshop philosophy, powerful as it is. Adobes time was quite taken with becoming the owners of the world through Types 1 and 2, Illustrator, Photoshop and the rest. So The Quest was on for a painter tool that could be used by, well
Part of the solution in film and video production was to retain some of the major UNIX paint/roto tools. Matador is still pretty much alive and kicking in some of the large studios which run mostly on UNIX boxes. The dedicated paint systems for video post-production by Barco, Quantel and others come to mind, and some rather impressive apps in low-end or extinct boxes.
Some people threw up their arms and left the field in disgust or smugness to cook up their own tools. Lucas and Disney came up with CAPS, a sturdy beast capable of replacing cel hand-painting with virtual cel hand-painting. The budding games industry came up with half-a-dozen image editors and all tried to compete for becoming the standard. Since the widest installed base is that of 3DS Max -- which relies on Photoshop for most of the work -- that became a standard. The UNIX world refined its tools and at the same time welcomed IRIX-Photoshop -- which couldnt threaten them too much. Kodak, comfortable in its Cineon, purchased the rights to VizPaint and hired Ken Kiss himself to continue its efforts. VizPaint itself is part of what you get with Maya for the IRIX environment, although few people know of its awesome power anymore, as it happens with many ancient and powerful spells. A laser scalpel makes a poor flashlight, if you get my drift.
Part of the solution was, of course, to learn new tricks with Photoshop, and write plug-ins for it, capable of filling the painting deficiency in Photoshop -- but leaving its power as a manipulation tool untouched. Actually, thats kind of the way Deep Paint 3D evolved.
This package takes a serious try in that direction. Of course, like anything else, it has a couple of blind spots, and the Right Hemisphere people have made certain decisions in the applications implementation of some formats and choices which could be different. So what.
Let me start, then, on the very positive note I feel the program deserves.
1. The Interface
The folks at Right Hemisphere give this tool the same kind of layout that Photoshop has made popular, with a layer and tool control and a floating tool-chest. A shrewd choice if you aim for the Photoshop-User target. And that is one enormous installed base, with estimates placing PS images as almost 98% of images that make up the Net -- for example.
I would not have minded a different metaphor, perhaps grouped along a visual flow or better suited to a pen or stylus than the drop down and minuscule icons or arrows school of the Apple Mouse -- or perhaps one where information is scattered all around the screen
Its all right, I can deal with the choices made much better some buttons, noticeably the option arrows [>], ARE still too small for quick tablet gestures -- than I could with designer buttons and similar wastes of memory and videographics card.
Luckily, all the palettes are floaters, so if you are so inclined you can move them about to wherever you like them, just like in Photoshop. (Anyway, if you have been in graphics in the last part of last century, Photoshop is pretty much a staple. Nest ce pas?)
So, you will have an idea, a zeitgeist of where everything is and more or less what everything does. In most places you get those hints: tiny text banners at the tip of your pointer, telling you the name of all tool icons, which also helps as you are learning the ropes.
The menu structure will not surprise you either. Good old file, edit, etc. make life easy. In the Help sections, a few web-links rear their tiny heads.
Now, I am of two hearts when it comes to web enabled apps. On one hand, it is really convenient to have your app update and register itself and if you are an honest user you will not mind a few security constrains. On the other hand, in a serious production setup, you do not want all your collaborators online -- at least not to the outside. Safety, privacy and insurance issues do not make that a safe procedure unless you have deep pockets for net-security or you completely trust everyone in your studio not to download the wrong things into your investment and the middle of your clients account.
The program arrives in a typical software box like others for the PC market. From the cover a turtle stares at you with impossibly detailed geometry, and you think How fast am I gonna learn to do this kind of stuff? What have I walked into? So I open the box. From inside, a CD in a jewel-case, along with printed manual and tutorials and a companion application for 3D model browsing called 3D Exploration look back at you but offer no comment.
So I set out to install this marvel from the antipodes. All the way around the world this thing has traveled...
I install and uninstall a lot of software, and there are installs and then there are installs. By any means you use to measure it, the installation of this application from the CD is simple and straightforward -- especially since a wizard takes over and all you do is answer to a few simple choices.
Then comes the Licensing...
The process is deceptively simple: a serial number comes in your software package. Assuming that you can and have authorization, you would log in through the Internet to RHs server, somewhere on the planet (cool idea. It is actually in New Zealand, but well get to that). Once in there, you register, first, as a user, which gets you an order number via e-Mail. With this Order Number firmly in your keyboard buffer you then log-in again to register each of your programs, once for each. Thats it. After that is done you are free to play around with DP3D etc., all you want.
To learn what I just explained took me most of three or more e-Mails and a week or so -- plus the patience of the gentleman in Support duty at RH (and mine too, along with my determination).
There. I just saved you from the worst. Read the process again. It makes sense, when you look at it. It just needs a clear explanation.
The explanations regarding this method for licensing as they appear in the manuals and web site are terse to the point of being non-informative. Small wonder that many of the responses I got in RHs answer e-Mails started with the word: Unfortunately
I must have been asking either really stupid questions or really clueless ones, so they get my applause for patience, but there was no need. Just make ALL the information clear and detailed.
The system is frankly not all that weird, especially in this day and age of the WWWeb. It is perhaps assumed that we are all so Web-savvy that we dont need these kinds of procedures explained step-by-step, so idiots
researchers like yours truly dont get more confused than what is normally the case.
The fact that many folks use and like Deep Paint 3D should point out that this reviewer might simply be fuzzy-minded, so take my impressions in general with a grain of salt. I come from a background in high-end houses, and the system smacks of anathema to the tight security practices in place in that world. Obviously the package is aimed at medium-to-small shops and individual users, because this licensing system assumes computers connected to the WWWeb 24/7. In large production houses like Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain or ILM, the reverse is the case. (remember all those security and privacy reasons?). Again, an understandable choice.
On the positive side, this Web Enabled License saves the creators -- and you, the user -- the cost of a dongle or similar hard device, but it needs -- again -- someone to state clearly all the steps. This way, the user is better prepared to wait the Earths rotation until the fellows on the other side are back online, which is not too bad -- unless you are in production with only one copy of this program. I do not know if there is a site license deal for larger studios, but it is a recommendation anyway.
Only really bad spot I found -- the hard way -- is that if something happens to your Maya-and-Paint computer that scrags/rots/kills your software installs, you cannot easily recover on your own. Because your license is checked-out, an uninstall means to return the license to RHs Web server. If your box dies suddenly, you cant reinstall without having to advise the vendor to reset your license, which is the kind of thing that usually happens by Saturday Night when you have a deadline on Monday.
In all fairness, the folks at RH were decently prompt when that happened to me, considering they live completely on the antipodes from my shop and a weekend was involved. They were even patient enough to explain their system of serial numbers and order numbers and reloadable licenses and the need of registering so I could then register.
I finally made it through, but some days had gone by, which can be critical in smaller-shop production deadlines. When you do your install, do not rush it. Heed my words and give yourself time to digest the stages of this installation. Unprepared, even an animators patience can be strained.
I can understand perfectly the way RH is passing the user a lot of savings in many ways, not the least of which is making a product of this caliber available at this really low price point. Understanding that, I still like to be able to reinstall my system on a Saturday night if I need to deliver a job. I do not doubt that I (or more likely Right Hemisphere) can find a way to get me out of a jam, but the easiest route requires one to advise RH and wait for them to respond in case of a mishap, which could be The Cycle From Hell. You are now Forewarned.
Once it is done -- however many times you have to go through the installation in your production year -- this program is sweet.
As much as I am itchy about the unfamiliar licensing, I loved the program.
3. The Tool
Do not think for a moment that this is a gimmick tool, incapable of artistic work. Over the years, I have seen things with real artistic value done in simple programs like Windows Paint in 16-color mode. But getting to the point, this piece of Kiwi Ingenuity -- DP3D is made by Right Hemisphere in New Zealand -- really does work and quite well. It is specialized in certain areas of image creation, and does not attempt to be all things to all people. This is certainly one of the best things to recognize in sensible software design and this software has that feel to it. It is not, however, sensible in the way it lets you play.
It works in a way that seems delightful to an old 3D user. There are a ton of example brushes and presets that you can play with, while you discover the ways to adapt this amazing tool to your style and workflow. The tutorials in the book are practical, dry and to the point -- perhaps a tad too dry. The text, fortunately, asks you to experiment every now and then. Do it.
This tool needs you to take the time to tweak a couple of the controls and play with the canvas and the feel of your brushes. Even with non-tilt-enabled tablets, the way the pressure alone can influence your dabs and strokes is remarkable. This is a fully gestural tool, with layers and undos.
Since the tool thrives in the 3D side of things, expect the thing to excel at thickness: Gobs of oil paint, slaps of acrylics, roughness of carbon. The full mapping technology applied to your brushstrokes! Simply too cool an idea. Why didnt EVERYONE think of this one before? Then again, that is the question always made at any truly new twist.
If you are a painter, this tool will be an asset. There is the flashy stuff, the qualities you havent really looked at, all the skin and hide and fur and metals, that need to be understood as media to be used creatively. But youll get a kick of the mixed media you can try in known territories with oil, tempera, acrylics, crayons and even birdseed, if you feel like it.
I was not completely swooned by some of the watercolor simulations but I find the oil and acrylic remarkable, as well as the crayon. And that is talking FLAT art. Just wait until you use the 3D side, where you import a model from a 3D application, paint on it and return it back, fully textured.
Also some of the traditional functions, like cloning from another layer, become really interesting in this application. Way more fun to play with than an image filter, although it has those, too, and compatible with
well, you guessed it.
The program is good enough to be, and doubtless is, used in high-end production. Still, given the polygonal nature of the programs paradigm, most of the evident exporter menu items are for middle-to-low end 3D software. Game usage of this tool for character and stage texturing is obviously a target market. However, the quality of DP3Ds output can reach the level required for traditionally High-End applications like TV and even Film-quality CGI production. It works only on polygonal meshes, so you must be ready to have your NURBS recomputed as facets, but you dont have to live with them; in this case the lack of complete integration works to your benefit.
My suggested pipeline is like this:
Working from Maya you export your model with materials already assigned, paint it and save the maps as separate files for color, bump, shininess, transparency, etc. If you do not want the polygonal representation simply save the project without sending it back (there is no export for Maya, anyway) and apply the files as maps to the materials channels using files operands. If you are working with polygons anyway, or you do not mind the mixtures, you can save from DP3D to the flexible .OBJ format of Wavefront software, from way back in the eighties of last century. (Since Wavefronts flagship app, called TAV, is the granpa of Maya, Maya can eat the stuff, so there will be no problem reading back an obj, maps and all).
4. Texture Weapons
Part of the magic is the program, and part of it the superb texturing tools called, appropriately, Texture Weapons, which is a set of hard-core math routines you foist upon the unsuspecting polygons and/or the bitmaps you use.
It lets you do really nice tricks, like re-shaping the bitmap to the polymesh or viceversa, increasing the resolution of a portion of your model without having it mismatch, fit a whole lot of different textures in a single bitmap, texture more efficiently and solve most UV situations in Polygon texturing with a couple of easy-to-do steps.
You can even select different parts of a model and apply different texturing methods to them:
An arm can be textured as a cylinder at the same time the hand is given two (top + bottom) planar projections; the head gets a spherical projection and any tentacles get the benefit of automatic mapping so your creature is fitted elegantly and efficiently into a 512 x 512 or larger map. (the octopus looks like the sushi chef got to him, but hes otherwise fine. There are even ways to fix the seams so your polys behave.)
You find yourself doing really nice maps for objects that you would have slapped something on, or where you would fake one of the procedural textures to give a simple model some detail without losing time on it. A simple hexagonal cylinder becomes a wooden planter, and with some imagination and creative use of a few brushes, there it is, complete with metal straps, nails, rust stains and a couple of scratches. Oh, and the top of the cylinder gets a map of dirt and rubble as part of the same color-shine-and-bump maps with a dab of a preset called cracked earth that looks exactly the shape and color to be a bushs roots.
Took all of twenty minutes, too, which would have been the time to putz about with one of the procedurals to get something looking half decent. And this is totally decent, hi-rez, and reusable, so your project gains in value, detail and visual richness. And I didnt have to even THINK about all the UV transforms I was saving little old me from.
Still, what sets this baby apart is the way you can interact with the brushes and your model.
Prepare to be impressed. I was midway through Tutorial 6 when the true nature of this program became apparent. This would be some powerful code for any flat paint application. When you get to Tutorial 9 you are a convert. Too bad the manual does not address the functionality in a more referential manner, but playing with it you begin to memorize all the workflows and life gets easier. The polygon mapping stuff is really a lot of techniques, not a straight procedure, so pay attention there.
This program is well written and you can use it as a 2D and a 3D tool. This sets it in a class by itself. It also replaces a high-end tool and computer worth some $100K with a workstation-class PC and a very smart approach to painting.
This, for roughly a twentieth of the cost of what we used in the IRIX side! If this is not value, would please someone explain the concept to me, slowly and with good enunciation?
I hope the program evolves to where it can be used as the makers intend and still rebuilt in a jiffy, without e-Mails galore, Internet connection and all that dance, which is more typical of consumer-grade software, which believe me, this is not, as anyone who uses it can attest.
DP3D deserves a place in your production arsenal. Two places if you paint: This is the nicest paint program I have used in a long time. I plan to make it into my main paint application.
Monday, April 01, 2002
Marina del Rey.
All article contents and images are ©2002 by Joaquin Gil. All rights are reserved.