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Monday, January 2, 2012

Creativity and Painter, Part 3

The visual design of Painter 2 was  fantastic process with John Derry on board at Fractal Design.

What's in a Name?

We notably called it Painter 2.0, even though later versions of Painter dropped the ".0". Our new product manager for Painter 3, Steve Guttman, maintained that people usually didn't want to buy the ".0" version, instead waiting for the dot release.

But before Steve arrived, the marketing designs for Painter and Sketcher were essentially the Mark and John show. And we went wild, usually.

In between Painter versions 1 and 2 there were several other products released. These included Painter 1.2, which brought Painter onto Windows 3.1 by using Altura's cross-platform framework. Also, Sketcher, a lower-cost grayscale version of Painter specifically designed for laser printers, was famous as a product that shipped in a cigar box. It seems that many artists used old cigar boxes to store their pens, pencils, brushes, and erasers. Tom Hedges spearheaded those projects while I busily constructed the new features for Painter, and did a few of the press tours along with Karen Stagnaro (now Karen Bria), Cori Garnero (now Cori Tuck), Jennifer Andrew, and Dawn Hannah (now Dawn Bercow). I should also mention that Fractal Design released additional texture libraries for Painter, in particular Really Cool Textures.

So Hot, So Cool

For Painter 2, we decided to choose a theme for the marketing of the product. So one day John and I sat down and started dreaming up a catchphrase. Eventually we ended up with So Hot, So Cool. This meme actually had a few good associations with us, and we began to draw. My specialty was the graphic form, so I came up with a few sketches you see to the left.

We tried a reverse-out styling at the lower left: too obvious. And the Clockwork Orange letters at the top: too strange. Hexagonal and interlocking letters: naaaah! But in the center are cleaner designs that come much closer to the letterforms we ended up using.

Note at the top left there is a recipe for some graphic I did giving each part of the catchphrase a different look. Landmass, Corrugations, and Hatching were all texture names. The numbers next to them are all scale factors. Akzidenz Grotesk is a font from the Berthold foundry. We ended up using that font for the catchphrase letters on the poster.

The Burning Ice Cube

We actually went a bit farther with the design when we realized that a burning ice cube graphic could sum it all up in one insane visual theme. Now that's creativity! John executed some designs to show the So Hot, So Cool theme that subsequently went into ads and also onto the Painter 2.0 can. The visuals of fire and ice, hot and cool colors, were incorporated into the design. A new thing appeared as well: a sticker. In Santa Cruz, where we came from, stickers were all the rage with skateboard companies, and so John created a spot color design for the burning ice cube. A stop sign theme with the word HOT replacing STOP. A knob with the word COOL on it was the symbol for the other side. And John put one of his visual signatures in the center, a hand print. This is a symbol for human expression and mark-making: the first thing a child does is put their mark on something.

When it came to rendering the burning ice cube, we all had our own ideas. But John had a really interesting one: stained glass. I knew this was destined to draw attention. The irreverence of the burning ice cube meme mixed with religious icons. Yeah we were a bit on the edge.

When we introduced the product at the MacWorld expo in San Francisco, I have to admit we did place a few of these stickers around the city, in the spirit of the skateboard sticker.

Perhaps the strongest criticism of our new look came from the New York press, according to Karen Bria. They commented that it looked too west coast. Well, I think that was our goal actually.

The Painter 2.0 Poster

The poster was a difficult project, with four artists working for days on each image. Steve Manousos had the responsibility of gathering up the artwork, and he generated high-resolution comps of each poster image, which I still have on hand. By the way, this was in addition to being responsible for writing the manual and setting it in Quark XPress. And also generating the four-color transparencies for the printer. John Andrew supervised that part of the process.

John Derry created a  burning ice cube that was a famously a stained glass rendition of the theme. His first version of it, which ended up in some screen shots that were distributed to, amongst other magazines, InfoWorld, was a simpler version of the theme, but can illustrate the direction he was taking for the final piece.

The final poster images were to be executed at 300 dpi and were thus gigantic in those days. Nonetheless, with Tom Hedges' new virtual memory capability, Painter 2 was up to the task, even in its beta versions, which were what we were using to complete the poster images.

John Derry was clever enough to observe existing stained glass so he could see how the lead was inserted to provide structure and support as well as how the glass shapes were limited to what could actually be made by actual glass cutting techniques. For the final poster, John exceeded our expectations by including hints of a blurred background behind it, and by giving each kind of glass its own texture, which came from the kinds of textured glass he could observe being used in real stained glass.

His final version, shown to right, with the beveled-glass teardrop at the bottom, shows a rectangular leading.

The ultimate tribute was payed to this piece by a real stained-glass artist that called John up and asked him about the piece. They had talked for quite a while before the artist realized that the piece wasn't an actual photograph of a stained-glass creation. OMG.

Such is the consummate level of John Derry's art, his accomplishments.

I was really lucky to have met him, much less to have worked with him.

I could say the same of Tom Hedges. And the three of us were the central nexus of Fractal Design. When we were in Aptos, on Spreckels Drive, we shared a large office space with three desks.

When we moved to Scotts Valley, we continued that tradition. We were the formula for Painter. Not to minimize the influence of our wonderful employees. At that time, much screen shot artwork and example pieces, for instance, came from our employees, like Michael Cinque. The collection of artwork and prints were compiled and bound by Cori Tuck and in many cases printed by Steve Manousos.

Next on the Painter 2 poster was the piece by Bill Niffenegger, shown to the right. I guess I thought it was kind of a Norse treatment when I first saw it.

It's in a rock cave, like a well, with a pool at he bottom. It's dripping into it as it burns. The flames seem to me to be like ears or Viking horns. I think that may be because the ice has a face. If you look close, you can see that the flames actually start inside the ice as a kind of flow. Then they magically come out through the ice.

We liked Bill's treatment, and as a result, we also used him to create the cover of the Painter 2.0 Companion, which also shipped with Painter 2.0 in the can.

It's a scene in a comfy living room in front of the fireplace, with a man reading something, perhaps its a self-reference. More about that in a minute.

The third image on the Painter 2.0 poster came from Hal Rucker. Now, Hal, at Rucker/Huggins Design, was the design shop that presented the paint can idea to us. We had four options to choose from, but we chose Hal's can. They also designed the Sketcher cigar box.

It turned out that his poster image, shown to the left, was quite remarkable.

To me, it looked a bit like a meteor. But what made the piece was the internal colorings and shadings of the ice cube itself, as it picked up on the hot and cool colors.

It is distinguished from the other poster images by its remarkable continuity and realism. The ice cube is rendered solely by its reflections and refractions. It shows the result of observation of real ice cubes, I think.

It is funny, but when I Google for burning ice cube today, I see a lot of images that are visually quite similar to our original burning ice cubes.

Before releasing Painter 2.0, we found out that Styx had used a burning ice cube for the cover of Equinox. So we definitely weren't the first to think of the theme. But it went so well with So Hot, So Cool, that we just could' help ourselves. Our biggest fear was that someone would come up with So Hot, So Cool, So What! But that didn't happen. Perhaps they were taking us seriously...

And the fourth Painter 2.0 poster image came from me, Mark Zimmer. After John did the sticker, I wanted to so a spot color rendition that showed the effect of refraction, the distortion and convection of the fire. And I wanted the cube to be half-melted in a reflective pool of water.

My image, shown to the right, used glass distortion to warp out the straight edges of the refractions inside the ice cube. The flames were pulled and re-sculpted several times. With each effect I applied, the edges got soft, so I had to redraw each of the edges many times to get the effect I wanted. The reflective pool was also fun to draw. And why I had the flames weave in and out of each other in 3D, I will never know.

I applied a waviness to the reflection of the cube in the water below.

The whole image seems kind of naive to me these days.

Painter 2.0 wasn't complete without the Painter 2.0 Companion. This was illustrated by John and myself, and written as a tutorial by Karen Sperling.

There was so much work in those days. And when Painter 2.0 was all done, I began to take the wraps off my latest clever invention, that was to become Painter/X2. Layers!


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