Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fractal Woodburning

I'm not making this up.  I went surfing about to see what I could find in the fractal world and lo and behold at Flickr, a couple of pages into a search on the term "fractal", I saw wires, boards and strange, curly burn patterns.

photo by Aether

Photo caption from Aether's Flickr page:
did some experiments last night: wood + saline + high voltage supply + variac = fractal burn patterns. tried different kinds of wood with various effects. unfortunately my recollection of which types of wood are displayed are spotty. will update later. stay tuned for photos of my fractal wood burning coat rack. **Update: there's a lot of interest here about how to do this. I will either an instructable, more detailed flickr feed, or youtube myself in the next few weeks.**

Here's Aether's YouTube video of the electric woodburning process in action :

Here's another example, with more colorful commentary.  The YouTube description for it says "Jerry Rutherford of Robomo during a build session showing us a technique of using a neon sign transformer to create patterns of conductivity across a board." Among other things, the video is tagged "fractal".

If I heard correctly, in the video Jerry Rutherford says "Sometimes you get ugly... and sometimes you get these really cool patterns".

Doesn't that sum up this whole fractal art thing? 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Short Takes: What I Like

Orbit Trap recently passed 100,000 hits. Tim and I would like thank all of our readers for your ongoing support (or lack thereof), and we both look forward to exploring fractal art "to its hiding place," as Dr. Frankenstein says, in 2009.

I thought I'd begin the new year by dispelling an apparent misconception that I hate everything. I certainly do not. In fact, I see fractal and digital art that I like all the time. Here are a couple examples:

2 Architects #4 by Jürgen Schwietering

2 Architects #4 by Jürgen Schwietering

I've long enjoyed Jürgen Schwietering's amazing images. They are probably closer to algorithmic art than fractal art, but they definitely display similar iterative-recursive properties. His images are based on a program he wrote for simulating the growth of crystals, and the resulting art reveals pattern formations that bring to mind geological erosion and other maze-like, unsteady kinetics. The blueprint intricacy of lines and shapes is sometimes enhanced by the use of color, as in #17 dots 1, and Schwietering occasionally blends photographs seamlessly into his graphics, as in his amazing Self-Portrait.

Schwietering appears to be a Renaissance Man of wide and varied interests: photography, computer programming, video broadcasting, languages (fluent in four with "good notions" of two others), Zen, music, travel, snowboarding, surfing, and the list goes on. His graphics site hasn't been updated since 2004, so I guess he's been otherwise engaged in recent years. Here's hoping he surfs back eventually to create more of his algorithmic visions. Until then, I'll be waiting patiently and continuing to frequent his standing museum.

Sky Bolts by Vicki Brago-Mitchell

Sky Bolts by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

Vicky Brago-Mitchell, recently commenting on OT about several images in the most recent Fractal Universe Calendar, told me that "of course you wouldn't like mine any better." But don't be so sure.

Brago-Mitchell has been making fractals for a long time. Her web site currently has 123 galleries. Quantity does not equal quality, true, but Brago-Mitchell has learned a few things over the years. Mostly, she lets her fractals breathe. Although she works mostly in UF, she's resisted the commonly used multiple pancake method of composition -- as if grasping that complexity doesn't automatically mean artistically improved. Instead, Brago-Mitchell's compositions rest in single-digit layers that are moved into Photoshop for enhancement. This methodology brings out the light and shadows in the image above to further complement the feeling of motion. Brago-Mitchell also understands that sometimes what is not seen becomes integral, and she leaves expanses of darkness and shadow and thus allowing absence to shift a viewer's perspective -- as in "Lantern" (look how the light diffuses) or "Seaweed" (where the recursive leaf forms disappear in shadows). Mitchell also likes to play with varied forms and formulas like the Gaussian diamonds of "Bazaar" or the Torus underwater vines of "Expectation." And the four images I've cited here are taken from only two galleries. There are still 121 others to explore.

Although some of Brago-Mitchell's more conventional spiral stuff makes me shrug, she has a good eye and isn't afraid to use the comfort zone her experience brings to use familiar techniques to bring off fresh discoveries. Like Schwietering, Brago-Mitchell is a colorful personality with multiple past and present interests -- student body president candidate at Stanford, stripper, Japanese translator, elementary school teacher. Like Stephen Ferguson, Brago-Mitchell has an interest in putting fractal animations to music (her husband, John, composes the music). She also keeps an active blog where she isn't afraid to air her political views, and I admire her for that. Personally, I'd like to see her politics creep now and then into her art.


Art_2903 by Arte em Fotos, Fractais e Photoshop

Then again, I don't like everything. Welcome to VirtualVisions, a company more than happy to teleport (for a fee) you and your loved ones and your pets and even your stuff into a netherworld of fractal backdrops. The process is described on a NFO page on the web site:

We beautify your digital photos through an artistic application of graphics called fractals, from our unique creation, resulting in excellent adornment of your photos as you can see on this gallery.

The application overlaps, partial, or completely, the original background of the photograph, creating a seamless integration of the photo main subject with the harmonious background, transforming your photos in true and agreable [sic] artistical [sic] masterpiece!

The only description on VirtualVisions' profile is "male." This is no surprise since nearly all of the victims trapped in VV's fractal phantom zones are shapely female models. Pity the woman in the image above who seems to have inexplicably wandered into a Japanese tentacle rape anime. And doesn't your heart go out to this bathing beauty who apparently dove into deeper recursive waters than she planned? And what's to be the fate of this woman who looks more boxed in than Custer? I suppose we can at least be grateful that VV's models retain remnants of their clothing. Some women who meander into such "fractal universes" are not so lucky. I find it despicable that fractals are used for such objectification. Such work not only degrades women; it degrades our art form

But VV wants to make more than fractal-glamour-photographic-fusions. Go on and lock your pets in these fractalized (like caramelized) dimensions. Here's a space where no monkey has gone before. And what's the deal with this:

Be careful! Contents are hot!

Yes, I'll have a venti skinny latte. Hold the protein and energy, though, and substitute PCP instead.

Art_06198 by Arte em Fotos, Fractais e Photoshop

Here's another problem. This kind of "work" continues to perpetuate the stereotype that fractal art is little more than a trippy back projection for a Grateful Dead concert. It strains to make phony far out karmic cosmic associations -- you know, like the Fractal "Universe" Calendar. Buying into this pigeonholed vision of fractal art won't make your photos an "artistical masterpiece." It will, however, immediately turn them into schlock.

Mark Townsend once noted in an OT comment that fractal art should not be judged by its worst examples, and I agree. But there are sound reasons why Tim and I expressed concerns over the image importation features built into Ultra Fractal 5. Although VV appears to do his fractal teleportation using Photoshop, UF5 will surely allow such exploitation and way-out bogusness to further proliferate.

I don't know whether VV's commercial venture will succeed, but I know that what he's doing is not fractal art. It's some of the worst fractal kitsch I've seen to date.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Apophysis Vs. Photoshop

Fractal Tiger by Richard Diggle (ricdiggle)

Yes, it's finally come to this.  Apophysis, and all flame fractals have been replaced by a single Photoshop filter.

Of course this new photoshop filter, Fractalius, by Redfield Plugins undoubtedly owes it's existence to that great inferno of flame fractals, Apophysis. Just as the name of the filter suggests, flame fractals have been the inspiration for this new digital wonder/abomination. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (unless you count theft).

But what an interesting world it opens up.  Or is it nothing more than a cheap imitation?  Knock-offs of what is really a much more sophisticated artform?  A trivialization of fractal flames by reducing the entire artform to nothing more than a mere fibrous outline and surface texture?

Hypno Tiger, by Richard Diggle, (the image from which Fractal Tiger was made)

Well actually, an awful lot of real, genuine, Apophysis-generated flame fractals would fit that cheap imitation/ knock-off description.  For many years now, the apex of flame fractals seems to have become nothing more than trying to weave realistic looking imagery out of long thread like feathers.

It's ironic that a photoshop filter can capture the essence of that type of imagery and enable it to be used much more creatively.  Now anything can become a flame fractal!  Whereas in the past, most flame fractal artists were obsessed with trying to make flame fractals become something.

There's a big lesson here for the genre of Digital Art: In the end it's all just pixels.

Image by Peter De Rycke created with Fractalius

Does it matter if you cheat by using photoshop filters - those great genetic engineering laboratories of digital art?  What is the difference between real orange juice and artificially produced orange juice, made from chemically cloned natural flavors, if you can't tell the difference?

Think of it as a variation of the Turing Test for artificial intelligence as applied to artificial anything: if you can't tell whether or not you're interacting with a computer or a real human being, then the computer and the person are categorically the same (i.e. intelligent).

Except of course that genuine Apophysis flame fractals will have parameter files while photoshopped, or Fractalius images will not.  And then again a good fractal artist will be able to tell which one is a real fractal flame, too.  Naturally.  You can't fool the experts. Can you?

But that's just the point: if you have to ask for a parameter file to verify that an image is a genuine flame fractal, or ask what program it was made in then you've been fooled already and you can't really tell what it is without asking for its digital pedigree to sort out whether the image is from a noble family or just some imposter who's walked in off the dirty digital street.

Image by Peter De Rycke created with Fractalius

I think it will be possible to make Fractalius flame fractals (although they're not really flame fractals, you know) that look better than the real things.  Just like it's possible to make fruit juices (the kind Mother Nature never intended...) that taste better than natural ones -- Coca Cola for instance!

But Coca Cola isn't a fruit juice!

Yes it is!  From a new kind of fruit!

Fruit grows on trees or vines and there's no such thing as a Coca Cola tree!!!

Oh yes there is!  There certainly is!  It's just a different tree, with tubes and steel leaves and hissing moving things hidden in buildings and tended by armies of strange new farmers wearing hair nets and watched by security cameras to make sure they don't steal anything or spit in the formula.  Another marvel of the modern age - bigger, faster, sweeter.

There's a big lesson there for the genre of Fruit Juices: In the end it's all just taste buds.

His Master's Voice? (Image by Peter De Rycke created with Fractalius)

When an art form becomes simple and repetitive then it's ripe for being replaced by a machine.  A machine that will be much better at performing simple and repetitive tasks and greatly enlarge the current plateau the art form is "resting" on (resting as in Monty Python "just resting" sense).  Workers who do nothing but push buttons and turn dials have often been replaced by machines.  Mechanical functions are easily mechanized.  It's been a good thing for them, too.  Now they're free to find more intelligent and sophisticated work.  Creative stuff.  Not the brainless things that got them automated and out-sourced in the first place.

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