10 July 2008

Stick A Fork in Fractal Art

Well, if you share the views of OT, then fractal art is all but dead. It's dead and buried due to the innovative features of Ultra Fractal 5. I think they are already writing the epitaph for fractal art, "Here lies Fractal Art. Killed by Image Importing."

Of course I'm being sarcastic, and I know OT likes to be sarcastic in their writings. But, they are serious too. I just don't agree with them on much of anything. I also don't take the entire subject quite so seriously.

I believe UF5 has brought fractal art to a critical crossroads. UF5 will almost certainly kick-start a paradigm shift as to how fractal art is seen and will raise serious questions about what fractal art can and cannot be.
If one is to be truly honest, this has been true in varying degrees ever since UF 2 was released 10 years ago. Its features were revolutionary compared to the king at that time, Fractint, which can even produce non-fractal images. True color gradients, layering, advanced formula language, etc. all began the paradigm shift that has continued since then.

The big concern now seems to be over the image importing feature. Why? I don't really know. It's just a natural extension of capabilities. Sprite and BringItIn have allowed limited use of this feature for several years.

Why are the questions serious? What are the questions? Who cares about the questions and/or the answers?
The introduction of imported photographs dramatically redraws the boundaries and shifts UF's focus from fractal production to graphics processing.
No, not really. Think in terms of the class of fractal formulas considered orbit traps. These traps show distinctive shapes that follow the fractal formula. Images that are imported essentially like an orbit trap. They can be bold or subtle depending upon how the particular artist uses them. Why is this a problem? Sure, someone can use UF to simply process the imported image. Some people have already done this. That's their choice. It may not be great art, but who cares?

But, since this statement comes from one who takes fractal images and processes them with numerous filters in graphics programs, why is this even a concern?
Photos, on the other hand, are "dead" imagery; they are static. They have no parameters beyond that of a bitmap and are not the products of some other process. Photos, in short, are unlike fractal images.
Photos by themselves are static. Photos imported into UF are not necessarily so. It all depends upon how they are used. There have already been classes written that allow an image to be mapped on an orbit trap. This isn't static. Photos are not fractal images, this much is true. However, photos can be a very much a part of a fractal image. And, what about the case of a fractal image being imported into fractal?

Is this image entirely fractal, or does it use the image import feature of UF? Is it a fractal image or not?

The lines aren't quite so clear, are they?
And here's one limitation from a technical standpoint. Incorporating photos into UF may be a real challenge when it comes to making a high res file for printing. The bitmaps won't be scalable like the fractal elements will be because they're not vectorized. Gargantuan image sizes, like those preferred by the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest, might make the import feature of little value unless users think ahead and import only photos at a resolution that will not disintegrate when printed at the size of a plasma television.
Well, we're back to the snide remarks about the BMFAC. This really seems to be what is behind all the angst. I won't go into all that nonsense again except to point out the simple fact that contest organizers can set up their rules in any way they chose. They can choose to favor particular programs (not that this contest did), they can require large images, they can require images look "fractal". It's their choice. There is room for more that one contest or calendar. It just takes someone or some group to make the effort to do it.

It is true that if you want to make a very large print using imported images, then you have to be sure that your source image is large enough to print the way you want it to. The advantage to this feature being built-in is that you can make large prints if you want to. Sprite and BringItIn don't allow you to do his. I think this is a very great plus.
Practically speaking, once a photo (or Bryce creation, or Terragen landscape, or Poser figure, etc.) is imported into UF5, the work can no longer be said to be "Made with UF." It is only "Processed in UF" -- hence my suggestion that UF has now become a paint program. At best, the introduction of a photo into UF5 results in a work that is more accurately described as "mixed-media." At worst, bringing in a photo means that all fractal work in UF is immediately done. From that point on, you are using UF to strictly manipulate that imported photo.
Well, this is a rather cynical opinion. I think it is overly simplistic at best, and outright wrong at worst. One commenter pointed out to OT that his use of images were the most fractal of images that he has done in a long time. Really, what is the difference between an orbit trap with a clearly defined shape and texture and an orbit trap with an image as part of the shape? Nothing much really.

I'm wondering why the concerns above are even mentioned at all. If you take a fractal image and post-process it to death with filters, why do you think you can call your work "fractal" when you have eliminated any visible fractal properties?
And I'd argue that my work, even when processed "beyond recognition," is probably more "fractal" than any piece made using imported photographs.
Well, I think this is quite simply, a rather silly statement. If the artist wants to consider his work more fractal, fine. I don't care. If someone wants to use images in their fractal work, fine. I don't care. But, if you think an image that "looks" fractal, even if an image is used as part of it, is less fractal than an image post-processed to remove all visible traces of "fractalness", then you are rather arrogant.
Childress feels anything goes -- including adding non-fractal photos -- if you're using the inherently more-fractal-by-default Ultra Fractal. I think Childress is mistaken (filters use algorithms, too) and is merely privileging his chosen program. I strenuously object to any and all such default privileging of Ultra Fractal. Though the program may be popular, it is not the end-all to everything that encompasses fractal art. Personally, I find the software leaves too much of its own stamp on what it produces. The "machine" is overly visible for my tastes.
Simply put, OT is lying and misrepresenting what I said in their comment above. Such dishonesty is why I think they are such a joke. I think many others have the same opinion of them.

Let me be clear, so the OT authors can quit lying about what I've said. I don't care what program you use to create your art. It does not matter to me in the least. Likewise, if you have a problem because I prefer to use UF, then the problem is yours. I am not "privileging" UF. How can I? By using it? By supporting it? What I meant was, and perhaps I could have said it better, was that some people, such as the "fractalbookers", may consider any given image more "fractal" because UF was used. There is no "end-all" program. But, UF is far-and-away the best, most versatile, program for artists to use. If you don't like it, can't figure it out, whatever, then use what works for you.

If you don't like UF, don't use it. If you like the block wave filter, use it. If you like importing images, use that feature. If you don't like to include images, don't do it. If you like to process your images with filter after filter, then do it. Don't complain because someone doesn't like that method, or comments that the image isn't "fractal" because they can't see any evidence of fractal in it. But, what is the point in complaining because a particular program is so popular? You don't have to use it, and you don't have to like the images produced using it.

If you think UF is changing or event destroying fractal art, you are welcome to hold that opinion. It is true that UF is changing fractal art. It has been ever since it has been around. You can like it or not. Someday, some other program will come along and change the status quo.

Why does it matter?

Does what other people do to create their art affect you? Harm or hinder you in anyway? Does what you do affect other people? Harm or hinder them in anyway? Does someone importing an image in ways you don't like hurt your art? Does copious post-processing using filters affect anyone else? If you think the answer is yes to any of those questions is yes, then I'd really like to know why.

Any yes, anything goes. Why should I care what you do or what tools you use to create your art? Why should I limit your choices? Why should you try to limit mine by imposing your definitions and criteria on me? That's rather arrogant, don't you think? Call your art "fractal" if you want, even if you can't visibly tell. Just don't be upset when an exhibition or calendar wants images displaying fractal qualities and yours is excluded because it doesn't. I like a particular image or I don't. I'm not going to automatically like a particular image because it was created with UF, or automatically dislike a particular image because it was done with some other program.

When one reads the end of the OT post, the actual problem appears. It's not so much UF that is the problem, it's that OT perceives that a select group of people control the fractal world and favor UF to the exclusion of all other programs. This group exclusively runs all of the fractal related contests and calendars. All meaning the BMFAC and Fractal Universe Calendar. The implication is that there are no other venues for fractal art, nor can there be because of this group.

All the flaws, inaccuracies, and fallacies of the OT complaints have already been pointed out here and in comments to the OT posts (at least until OT was made to look bad by the reasoned arguments and banned the commenters). Readers should note that what OT really wants is to control how such contests or exhibitions are run. You are unethical, unprofessional, favoring UF, etc. unless you follow their rules. Never mind the simple fact that those putting up the money for such events are entitled to set up the rules they want, select the people they want to judge submissions, select the image size criteria, etc. We'll also ignore the fact that XenoDream, Apophysis, and probably other programs were used to create images that were selected.

OT could be constructive and create, or help others create, other venues (contests, calendars, etc.) to promote their view of what a "level playing field" would look like for fractal art. Someone could even put on a contest that requires that image be made without using UF, if that is their choice. But, it is always easier to sit back and complain.

1 Comment:

WelshWench said...

Is OT still harping on, and on, and on, and on about UF? Tch that was a bloody silly question, even for a rhetorical one ;-) Of course they are.

The comment "the software leaves too much of its own stamp on what it produces. The "machine" is overly visible for my tastes." shows the extent of their silliness: they are so blinded by their vitriol that they see only what they want when it comes to UF and ignore, for instance, the overbearing similarity of many images made in Apophysis.

Or maybe, when even they've had enough of taking potshots at UF, they'll turn their attention to Apo? Do you think they understand how that works any better? ;-)