04 April 2021

Review: Topaz Labs Gigelpixel, Sharpen, Denoise AI and Jpeg to Raw



 Topaz Studios has enjoyed an expanding reputation for well done innovative plugins over the years, often being ahead of the game particularly when it comes to the new Artificial Intelligence plugins. 

Photoshop has just added the ability enlarge photos with little to no quality loss, but Topaz has been there for a while. Their Gigapixel AI enlarges up to 6 times the size of the original and, while there are simple and sparse controls, they do allow some options over the final result. You can do photos one by one or drag a bunch into the window and  run a batch of them. From what I have seen, the Photoshop version of this is super fast but with no control. Gigapixel is VERY resource intensive and it's hard to run anything else if it's processing a group of images. The end results are worth it. If you have a client sending you small images that need to somehow be used for print, this will help or if you have smaller files from earlier digital cameras (like I do) you can bring those files into a size that is actually useful in todays world. Most of interpretation done enhances the photo, though now and then you might get a weird interpretation and I found that light colours chest hair on a light skin and get a little chunky looking and needs some finessing to keep it looking natural. 


Denoising is now standard is many image editors but Denoiser AI is a step up from most of them, while suffering from the same setbacks that I don't think you can really get around. Some images are just too much for any software, AI or not, to just make up large areas of ambiguous pixels. Overall the images can be greatly improved and if the problem is just grain from lower light but otherwise detailed images it does an amazing job. One thing I found was if you have already demised the image somewhere else, this plugin can't do much more with it. This makes sense as the image has been "smoothed out" so the grain has already been removed so there is little left to read. DXO Photolab has the best denoiser I have seen but it only works on RAW files while Topaz plugins work on any number of formats.

Sharpening is another tool every program has. Usually there are many methods to enhance sharpness. Denoiser AI take the subject into consideration and has setting that allow special attention spent to faces. Of all the plugins this one worked less impressively than the first 2 and getting a good result wasn't as easy or natural looking especially on older black & white photos where eyes can merge into black blobs. It did bring some focus back to out of focus images (within reason) that other techniques can't begin to do. I don't know why but I tried the same images one day and it was really terrible and tried it another day and worked fine... it's supposed to be AI so maybe it learned something? 

Jpeg to RAW was included in the package I bought and I can't say much about it. It refused to open. What it is designed to do is take a jpeg and bring back some of the colour range and information that gets strips away when compressing to jpeg so you can edit in a RAW processor with much better success. I did contact Topaz and they got right back t me, acknowledged the problem and said a fix was in the works and would send me a message when it was ready. Disappointing but also the customer service was awesome. 

Another issue was integration with Affinity Photo. It can do it... but not if you bought the app from the Apple App Store. This is a problem with other plugins as well and the reason when Affinity goes to Version 2.0 and charges for updates I'll buy directly from them. I find the Apple Store updates lag behind the ones directly from Affinity by up to a couple days as well. Luckily,  the Topaz Plugins also work as independent applications 

4x enlargement with original for scale.



27 March 2021

Animation: Nauti :Mordre Moi Pas! (Don't bite me!)

 The last time I did a honest to goodness 2D drawn animation was when I was a teenager. I had built my own animation stand, filmed it with my Bell & Howell Super 8 and edited on my hand cranked film editor.  That animation was a dragon catching the wind then swooping down and then upwards past the camera. I made a pipe cleaner model with plastic bag wings and photographed it in the key frame positions for reference. I sketched it out on paper then inked one side of plastic sheets and hand painted the colours on the opposite site one by one before adding a painted sky and placing them over that to be filmed. It was FANTASTIC. Well, I remember it being fantastic. It's been lost to time so I have a feeling my memory of it has been more than slightly enhanced over the years. 

Times have changed, for the better with computer based animation software. I was going to redo that dragon but instead I decided to try a new idea using one of the many (it turns out) application on my hard drive that can handle 2D animation. I have done some 2D for explainer videos more recently and to add something to3D animations that I couldn't achieve using that software. Out of practice - but not unaware of what I was getting myself into. 

After Effects, Motion, Krita, Rough Animator, Photoshop, Procreate, Blender all have 2D potential and components. Rough animator seemed perfect but it was... too rough for what I wanted. I think I will use it for what it is named to do, to make rough tests, in future. The others were Ok if you were mostly using puppets, characters broken into segments and then moving the segments, but Krita has an awesome set of painting tools so I decided to try it out. It had much of what I was looking for and the interface was clunky but easy for me to understand. I got about a second into the animation when I had to stop. Krita was just too slow and buggy in animation mode, it needs some love from the developers still. I will keep an eye out for improvements.


I had downloaded but never really used Open Toonz, a free open source software that had a really large feature set. I would love to have a copy of Toon Boom but it's subscription only and not cheap enough to play with so Open Toons won out. It was faster and handled the layers and number of frames better than Krita but it lacks all but the most basic of drawing tools, something that I think is its biggest problem. Any backgrounds or elements that need any detail of refinement I would do in a paint program and import them.

Though buggy at times, the eraser doesn't always work and the interface is somewhat primitive and one might say ugly, it does do the job. It has vector tools, puppet tools, great onion skinning to see what came before and after you current frame and was free. Exporting is funky and you need an add-on to export to mpg video while jpg and tif exported fine, png which I needed to use dropped a few frames on my first export. Clearly it still needs work but it also provides pretty much everything I needed to do the animation. 

I split Nauti into a frame by frame drawn head, while the body, arms and tail were puppet animated as were the legs. I did a rough sketch animation and then traced that and coloured it before exporting the animation in sections so I could composite it in layers in Motion. It was a pretty straightforward work flow. Originally I thought I wanted a black and white pencil sketch look but decided that something more "fully rendered" would be a better challenge. 

So is it a Disney classic? Hardly. Not at all. That wasn't the point of making it, though. I learned many things about Open Toons and 2D animation. I am not a comic or cartoon illustrator so just making the dog was pretty hard and I found timing in 2D was more different than in 3D than I thought it might be. My voice is as terrible as ever but this is not an audition for my voice talents so it's fine for now.

I will make another, either another Nauti or maybe I will remake my dragon masterpiece. I need to do more and better pencil tests next time, learn more about timing and setting up Open Toonz, and get better with the drawing tools in Open Toonz as well as draw in comic style better. 

22 March 2021

autoportrait 2021 - procreate ink

 


So this is something I have never done in my memory - drawn myself. I have drawn plenty of others and animals and places etc but never myself. 

Took a week doing it at night before bed. The reference is from a  series of photo self portraits, which is something I do reluctantly every few years but I wanted to do something different this time. 

It's pretty simple and basic. Stipple for the skin tones and lines for the rest. I did a little extra work in Affinity Photo because I usually add the title and my name there and noticed that the right cheek was a mess and needed more stipple work to blend it better. The is black fill with white stipple to give it some added detail. 

I avoid looking in mirrors so this was sort of weird, looking at my own face for hours. I think the beard came out well and the hair isn't bad and that is usually what throws me off the most. 

21 February 2021

Animation: A Vine on a House based on the story by Ambrose Bierce

 


My latest gothic horror animation is based on a very short story by Ambrose Bierce, read it here if you like, and is itself fairly short. Like my previous Bierce animation, this one also strays quite a bit from the text as I try to make it relevant and more visual. For all the character, save one (the man on the porch) I used a free character generation application called "Make Human" which lets you create realistic humans with slider controls, including dressing, rigging and weighting. This means you can, hypothetically start using them in minutes and creating them takes only a few minutes as well. It is a huge time saver, especially for subjects that are not required to be created in a specific style or have to do anything unusual or complicated. I used this as a starting point and repainted the clothing myself and added controls to the rigging to make moving then less of a bone by bone affair and it worked for the most part. 

The setting itself took few months to put together. It is one location but one that ages and rots over a long time period. I wanted the fade from past to present to be noticeable but for the house to retain enough features that no one would thing the location had changed. 

I found the Make Human models were not suited for some of my rigging techniques. At least I could not figure out how to use them which was  ashamed because there are some plugins I rely on for every project that I could not use. I did find some work arounds but making them walk was really a challenge so I had to limit that as much as possible. 

This IS a horror short so there is some blood and violence but nothing like we see on TV show everyday. I do hope there is a little shock or 2 for people watching, however.

08 February 2021

recent updates: Affinity Photo, Designer, Publisher and Krita and Sparkle Web Designer

 

There have been a nice amount of updates recently. Some things update more than others and I would say free software like Krita and Blender are pretty fast and furious with updates while some commercial software seems to be slowing down. Maybe it is the pandemic. Free software people might have more time as their normal jobs are on hold while commercial software might be the opposite because it's those companies who might have put jobs on hold. This is just a quick take on my latest updates and not an  in-depth review of any of the software.

The Affinity Suite

I won't lie, I was really hoping for an iPad version of Publisher to get released as it was sort of scheduled for last year. That aside the 3 desktop and iPad apps got nice improvements and Serif as a company seems to really listening to its users. 

Photo has a great new blend mode, Divide that is wonderful for taking a colour tint from photos. I tried it with a night shot from Budapest which had a very strong yellow tint because of the lighting and it was impressive as you can see.





Designer has a nice contour tool that is hard to describe as it have a few uses that really give you more options for designing and vector drawings. 

Publisher had PDF passthrough now which makes adding them to existing documents super easy. There were problems still with adding them. I have a project which uses a 300 page PDF and it works like a charm... at first. Reopening the file was a nightmare and I had to split the PDF up into sections and export each section as jpg pages. Smaller Pdfs were better but slow to open. It's edging closer and closer to having all the features I want form Indesign so - progress. For the next big update, 2.0 which will be paid most likely, I would love to be able to group pages in the page window so you can drag them around higher or lower in the hierarchy. This would make book with chapters that get moved around much easier to accomplish. Right now there is some limit to how many pages you can select and move and it's not easy to drop them in the right place. 

Krita

This has been moving along nicely and is more and more my choice for drawing on the computer. The blending brushes and the natural look to the painting, drawing etc brushes is really amazing. It's a little buggy now and then but this new update has been bug free for me so far. It needs better text handling if only for adding my name, title and date to a finished piece easier. 

Sparkle Web Designer

This software is always fixing bugs and improving. This time is had a blog feature I would love to use as some point. If I continue to have almost no one reading this one it might be easier to just switch the blog to Sparkle and integrate with my home/portfolio page. 

31 January 2021

drawing: acrobate suspendu 02


 Another in my acrobat series but this time done with paint brushes in Krita. It looks a lot my colour drawings but that isn't really a bad thing. I often work in colour by doing it all in grey scale and recolouring then adding addition touches, but this time I just picked different paint colours and blended  them in. 

Definitely a challenge but it was easier than I anticipated. I think all the drawing I have been doing lately especially in Krita has paid off in being comfortable trying this and not automatically thinking it was just going to fail big time. 

Sadly, my ability to get tons of reference images from all the free cirque shows were normally get here in MontrĂ©al was cut off this past summer because of the pandemic cancelling everything. So this is something I found in a folder from years ago. Maybe this summer I can get new references to work from? 

27 January 2021

Poster project: Dracula


Took many references to get this one going. Overall, I like it but the likeness is still not where I want it to be. I do not have a solid grip on the new techniques I am using. The background is from an image of the underground crypt at the start of the film but I tried ot be loose, well, loose for me, with it. The red touches were from when I saw the play in the 70s with Louis Jordan. Everything on stage was black and white with one red coloured element. The logo is copied from a title card for the film. One thing I noticed researching these is there seems to be no official logo for any of the films. They differ from the actual film titles ot the posters to the lobby cards. 

26 January 2021

Illustration: barn


 I have thing for delapitated barns, I think  many artists and photographers do. There is something challenging and cool about a solid structure collapsing in on itself that turns lines into curves and wood into splinters. This is a barn in northern Quebec from a photo I took while ago on a long bike ride. I plan to visit more barns someday when I and everyone else can get outside and travel again. 

Drawn in Procreate on the iPad over several months when I had the time to dedicate to it, 

18 January 2021

In production: A Vine on a House

 Opening shot completed. It's good the characters are too small to really see clearly as I fully animated them and found some issues that would have been more serious in a close up. I finished the second shot and went OK. I don't think anthropomorphic animals would like they did in "Cask of Amontillado" but I prefer animated those sorts of characters it turns out. This should be very short, maybe only 3 minutes as there is no dialog and not much story. 

11 January 2021

Poster: The Wolfman

 

Click image for larger version.

This was the one that started it all and almost anded it all. I tried several times to do a Wolfman illustration/poster over the years and never came close to getting anything close to what I envisioned. This is pretty far from what I going for back then, but I have been fairly successful or at least having enough fun with making monster poster more recently and gave Lawrence Talbot another go. 

I made a pretty detailed sketch based on quite a few reference images. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to show his shirt details and decided to try a style in-between the giant monsters and the classic horror monster posters. So mostly black and white wth hints of colour and still used the charcoal brushes in Krita  for the character. I used some brushes in Affinity photo and modified a 3 moon image I made a long while back which I painted over. The logo is from the opening credits of the film and remade in Affinity Designer. 

Despite the references I have myself  much more liberty to use my own imagination in the pose, details and lighting than in previous projects. Sadly the TONS of detailed I put into the fur on the head is now hidden in shadow but it looks better this way in my opinion. 

This one has a true "move poster" vibe to it.