Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Article 3: Linux For Graphics Artists

June 14, 2009

Why Use Linux for Graphics?

Although Mac OS X is generally the operating system associated with computer graphics, Linux is in fact just as much or even more capable. With an efficient operating system, the user can customize it for the purpose of graphics, rather than using a regular desktop operating system. The ability of being able to run the operating system without running a window system is also a must for resource engulfing rendering tasks.

Stick with Kubuntu

Although there are several distributions specifically for graphics artists, it is a better choice to go with a distribution like Kubuntu that is well supported and has a huge community. Kubuntu has the advantage over the regular Ubuntu for graphics artists because Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop environment rather than Gnome. Both KDE and Gnome are incredibly capable, however certain applications run more smoothly under KDE than Gnome, including several high quality graphics applications. Kubuntu is also known for ease of use, as it is the same operating system as Ubuntu. Kubuntu‘s package manager is also polished with a smooth look, and reaches the limit of usability. Kubuntu 9.04 also has plug-and-play support for Wacom pen tablets, which is a huge plus. For those with a slower computer or wish for their computer to be more efficient, however, it is recommended to use a less memory consuming environment such as XFCE (Pre-installed on Xubuntu).

Readying the Studio

Choosing the right applications for your studio really depends on your individual needs. Having done everything from raster graphics and 3D animation, all the way to designing fonts, I think I may be able to give a bit of useful advice. I will split this section up into sub-sections, starting with bitmap graphics, then vector graphics, followed by 2D animation, 3D animation, font design, and ending with video editing applications.

Photoshop? Pshhh… No Need

Bitmap or raster graphics applications are the most common types of graphics applications, namely, Adobe Photoshop. What most people don’t realize is that there are open source alternatives for Photoshop that allow for the nearly identical amount of flexibility and power, and even more potential. Go fetch yourself Gimp and Krita, and you have all that. Gimp is a mature graphics application that has been one of the best supported open source applications available. Although often criticized for a steep learning curve and a “confusing interface”, within an hour or two, you should be completely comfortable. Gimp has support for an enormous number of file formats, and comes with many plug-ins and of course, there are many more freely available online. Flexibility is extended with the ability to make custom patterns and brushes. Gimp focuses on a system of paths, bezier curves. Its most powerful features are all in this domain. Gimp‘s plug-ins can be written in C, and additional filters can be written in Python and Perl. Krita has some of the best painting tools, rivaling Corel’s Painter 11. It boasts a high quality water-painting feature, which happens to be the first of its kind. Krita also comes with fantastic brush tools, and great support for pen tablets. Krita is also one of the only bitmap graphics applications to allow 32 bit channels, and can export to the OpenEXR file format.  Cinepaint is another raster graphics application that supports 32 bit channels, and is used regularly in movies by a number of Hollywood studios.

Software List:

Cinepaint

Gimp

GNU Paint

Krita

MyPaint

Tux Paint

Vector Graphics

Although most computer graphics artists have switched over to bitmap

graphics applications, vector graphics still lead areas such as designing logos. Because vector applications focus on curves and other mathematical equations rather than colors of individual pixels, no matter how much the user zooms into the graphic, quality is not reduced. There are several open source alternatives for the commercial Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw including Inkscape and Karbon14. Both are quite capable tools, and support the SVG file format. Gimp can also be used for vector graphics as it does allow for exporting curves as SVG files.

Software List:

Inkscape

Karbon14

Openoffice.org Draw

Skencil

Xara Xtreme

Make Your Graphics Move with 2D Animation Tools

2D animation has always been a very challenging and tedious art form. Traditional animation has always been done using pencil and paper, and a light table, and would take days to complete a simple animation. However, with today’s software, this time can be cut down tremendously. Advanced software packages such as Synfig can be used for 2D vector animation. A former commercial piece of software, Synfig boasts one of the broadest and most powerful 2D animation tool sets available. Synfig uses a 2 mode system, one for setting up the scene and another for animation. This gives the artist more flexibility, and also keeps unintentional modifications to the animation from occurring. Also, Synfig does not require the artist to place additional key frames when trying to edit a separate one. All updates are done directly to the set keyframe in real time. One of Synfig‘s most notable features is the built in CVS tools. This is especially useful for collaborative projects and for artists who work at several different workstations. Pencil Animation is probably the best open solution for animators who prefer drawing out each individual frame. Pencil Animation has tools for onion skinning (ghosting the previous or next frames). Although it is mainly for frame by frame animation, Pencil does feature vector animation tools, although those are quite limited compared to Synfig‘s. GIF animations are commonly used for websites and other online content. Gimp provides enough tools to get started, but GAP, an animation plug-in, can allow for even more flexibility when creating simple primitive web animations.

Software List:

Gimp

KToon

Pencil Animation

Synfig

Conquering the Third Dimension

Today’s world makes heavy use of 3D computer graphics in everything from animation and video games to prototypes and physics simulations.  Out of the two software that dictates the 3D industry, only Maya is available under Linux. However, in many artists’ eyes, both Maya and 3DS Max are considered to be inferior to several other packages including Blender 3D, Houdini, Modo, XSI, Lightwave, and Cinema 4D. Out of these, Houdini and Blender 3D are available under Linux, and Blender 3D is the only open source solution. Although rarely used in the industry, Blender 3D has a very promising future. Originally created by an animation studio from the Netherlands for their own use, Blender 3D provides a robust feature set that allows for nearly everything to be done locally within the software. Blender 3D‘s capabilities allow for advanced mesh modeling techniques including the standard extrusion and box modeling techniques as well as the sculpting technique, a method of modeling with growing popularity, which is only available under Zbrush and Autodesk Mudbox. Blender 3D‘s edge loop features also provide greater efficiency when modeling. The subsurf modifier (similar to 3DS Max’s meshsmooth or turbosmooth modifiers) allows for 6 levels of detail, and the edges can be sharpened without adding additional geometry. However, Blender 3D is not very complete in nurbs support, a depreciated modeling technique, yet still decently popular. Also, Blender 3D does not support spline modeling, an older method that has been replaced by extrusion modeling. Many professional animators and 3D graphics artists also use Blender 3D for its unparalleled UV mapping tools, which has traditionally been one of the most challenging areas of 3DCG. With Blender 3D‘s built in node texture system, materials such as metal or brick can be easily generated, and realistic skin can also be achieved, although more challenging. Blender 3D also has a simple painting tool, which can be used to paint both textures and individual colors onto a mesh or image. The results are updated real time in all other windows displaying the specific texture. The built-in game engine also is incredibly powerful, featuring a true point-and-click game creation, and Python scripting for more advanced users. GLSL is fully supported under all major platforms. For users not requiring quite as much as what Blender 3D provides, K-3D is a powerful and flexible alternative. The interface also clearly resembles Maya, so this is a good complementary step when entering the CG world. For realistic rendering, nothing is better than LuxRender. A fairly new project, LuxRender is an unbiased rendering engine, boasting some of the most realistic renders in CG.

Software List:

Blender 3D

K-3D

LuxRender

POV-Ray

Sunflow

Wings 3D

Yafaray

Stylize Artwork Using Custom Fonts

Font creation is rough, tedious business. Plus, it doesn’t help that most of the font making tools are commercial, and most of the free font tools are nearly worthless. That is where FontForge comes in. It features everything an artist needs to create and export their own fonts. FontForge can import SVG file paths, which is critical when it comes to work flow. When used in conjunction with Gimp, font creation becomes easier than ever.

Software List:

FontForge

Spice Up Your Videos

An area completely dominated by commercial software, video editing is a tedious task that requires both skill and talent along with the proper tools to unleash the artist’s creativity. The open source world is not too far behind for video. Blender 3D features an advanced video editing tool, using nodes to composite videos. This can be used in conjunction with the 3D animation capabilities to generate incredibly complex effects. For users simply wishing for a pure video editing environment, Cinelerra is a good alternative. Although not quite as powerful as Blender 3D for video editing, Cinelerra still provides the basic video editing tools required by any professional’s needs.  For DVD creation, there is nothing better than 2ManDVD.  It features everything from animated transitions to an introduction video.

Software List:

2ManDVD

Avidemux

Blender 3D

Cinelerra

Jahshaka

Kdenlive

Kino

LiVES

ManDVD

Article 2: Ten Must-Install Extensions for Nautilus

May 12, 2009

Nautilus is the default file manager within the Gnome desktop environment. With many built in features, Nautilus can be a very useful tool for any Linux user. However, add-ons can bring additional functionality that improves Nautilus astronomically. Here are the ten scripts that I consider the most useful. I will refer to them by the names they are listed under in Ubuntu’s repositories for Synaptic package manager.

  1. nautilus-open-terminal – This script opens the current directory in the terminal.

  2. nautilus-gksu – Adds an option to open a folder or a file as administrator.

  3. nautilus-script-collection-svn – A simple subversion tool used for basic SVN operations.

  4. nautilus-filename-repairer – A tool that assists in recovering misnamed files.

  5. nautilus-script-manager – This is a useful tool for managing Nautilus scipts.

  6. python-nautilus – A Python wrapper required for several scripts.

  7. nautilus-wallpaper – Adds a right-click menu option for images to allow for setting as the desktop background.

  8. nautilus-image-converter – Adds options to resize and rotate images.

  9. nautilus-script-audio-convert – Allows for audio file conversions from within Nautilus.

  10. nautilus-actions – A tool to configure the program to launch a file.

Many other great scripts and additions can be found on http://g-scripts.sourceforge.net/. Have fun!

Article 1: Choosing A Linux Distro

May 10, 2009

What is Linux?

Linux is an operating system, a base upon which programs can run on top of. Other popular operating systems include Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, and Solaris. However, there is a big difference between the Windows and Mac operating systems and Linux. Windows and Mac operating systems are commercial software. This means you have to pay for the software to be able to use it legally. They are also closed source. The source code, or the original programming is not available to the general public, even to those who purchased the software. However, Linux, is free, and on top of that, open source, licensed under GNU GPL. This is the key to the flexibility and stability of Linux: An enormous community even consisting of several companies work on Linux to make it safer, faster, and more powerful.

What is a “Distro”?

Linux comes in many “distros”, short for distributions. Although they are commonly described as different “versions” of Linux, this is incorrect. Across distributions, the core, or the kernel remains the same. Distributions are different “flavors” of Linux. Jellybeans have different flavors, and even different colors. However, at the heart, they are all just jellybeans, mainly consisting of sugar, and each containing a slight modification from the original recipe.

Choosing a Distro

With thousands of distributions, it can be overwhelming for new and experienced users alike to decide what to use. Being a Linux user myself, I find this can be both the biggest drawback and benefit of using Linux. Here I will describe three Linux distributions that I consider as the three main “categories” of Linux distros, all good for different users.

Ubuntu 9.04

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is easily the most popular distro available, and is commonly referred to as “Linux for Humans” because of its ease of use. Its robust feature set includes the flexible Synaptic Package manager, and a watered down package manager called “Add/Remove Applications” for less experienced users. As Ubuntu is based off of Debian, Ubuntu also uses Debian’s package format with the extension .deb. In order to provide a more secure system, Ubuntu also has a few powerful defenses built into the system by default. This includes the unusual step of removing the root account. In other words, in order to provide a more secure system, Ubuntu does not have root, and in order to have access to root commands, the user must enter the “sudo” command followed by a password. This protection barrier is effective against Linux hackers, as most hackers first try to get into the root account. If there is no root, there is no way of getting into it. On top of being a shield against hackers, this feature serves as a warning in case the user is modifying files that can potentially destroy the system. Under root, the user literally has no limits to what they can do, but when being forced to use “sudo” commands, the user is notified that whatever they are doing involves some sort of risk. Ubuntu is known to have one of the best support for driver recognition. The default version of Ubuntu comes with the Gnome desktop environment, however, other environments can easily be installed through Synaptic, and other versions of Ubuntu such as Kubuntu and Xubuntu come with different desktop environments from default. A new version of Ubuntu comes out every 6 months. Varieties provided by Canonical, the company that maintains Ubuntu, include Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Gobuntu, and Ubuntu Studio. Popular derivatives include Linux Mint, and gOS.

openSUSE 11.1

openSUSE

A much older distribution, started in 1994, openSUSE has a name for being one of the most mature Linux distributions available. One of the key features available is the security software, called AppArmor. Most Linux distributions do not come with security software of any sort, however Ubuntu has recently adopted the same application. Also, configuration can be done within a simple graphical interface called YaST2. This includes package management, partition management, security settings, and system configuration. Unlike Ubuntu, which uses multiple different applications for configuration, openSUSE features a vast amount of customization within this one well-rounded package. Although openSUSE is traditionally considered to be a “step-up” in terms of usability and is usually only recommended for experienced users, openSUSE is in fact very straight forward and simple partially due to the huge amount of effort put into YaST2. Even Grub, the boot loader available under Linux, can be configured using YaST2. openSUSE is also known to be very good about recognizing hardware and automatically installing the correct hardware drivers. openSUSE has adopted the RPM package, and software is also installed through YaST2. Novell, the company which supports openSUSE, has also made major contributions to the KDE desktop environment project, and openSUSE is considered to be well rounded when used with KDE. However, the user is given the option of installing Gnome and KDE, and openSUSE is well supported under both environments. Newer versions do not come out in a set routine the way Ubuntu does, however it does have approximately 6 months between each release. Only a very small number of derived distributions exist, and one of them, SUSE Linux Enterprise, is Novell’s own commercial product.

Fedora 10

Fedora

Being a testing distribution for Red Hat’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora is one of the most innovative distributions. Its feature base includes one of the most robust security systems available under Linux, and features SELinux, standing for Security-Enhanced Linux. This includes a major security update in the Linux kernel itself, originally introduced in Fedora Core 2. Because development is focused around new features, the ease-of-use factor in Fedora is considered to be very low. Therefore, it is only recommended for the advanced user. However, when configured correctly, Fedora has a reputation of being one of the most powerful Linux distributions. Starting with version 10, Fedora has support for the ext4 filesystem, which can use volumes of up to 1 exabyte, and file sizes of up to 16 terabytes. This is one of the biggest examples of Fedora’s fast moves, as Fedora 10 came out 1 month after ext4 was considered stable. Ubuntu 9.04, which came out 6 months after ext4, was the first Ubuntu distribution to include support for ext4, however it still installs ext3 by default. Fedora was also one of the first distributions to include OpenOffice.org 3.0, rather than the older 2.4 release. Fedora 9 also included Firefox 3.0 beta 5 rather than the stable but older Firefox 2.0. Fedora is a radical pioneer for the Linux community to enjoy. Fedora has a standard 6 month release cycle. Popular Fedora-based distributions include Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Linux XP, and Yellow Dog Linux. Red Hat supports Gnome and KDE versions of Fedora.

Notable Distributions

64 Studio
Arch Linux
CentOS
Damn Small Linux
Debian
Edubuntu
Fedora
Gentoo Linux
Gobuntu
gOS
Kubuntu
Linux Mint
Linux XP
Mandriva Linux
openSUSE
PCLinuxOS
Puppy Linux
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Slackware Linux
SUSE Linux Enterprise
Ubuntu
Ubuntu Studio
Xubuntu
Yellow Dog Linux