Posts Tagged ‘Art’

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

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