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Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Most Useful Painter Feature

In early 1993, we were finishing up Painter 2.0, I had several things on my mind. The Van Gogh and multi-bristle brush styles were made to be real-time.we had added sharpen, resize, soften, color separations, and previews to most effects so you could visualize the results before you committed them. Saving the user time and allowing for more flexibility was the theme we were working to implement. Painter 2.0 also implemented full scripting and playing back of scripts at a new higher resolution. New effects like apply lighting, glass distortion, and marbling brought even more new looks to designers. In short, we had expanded Painter on all fronts simultaneously.

Painter was being finished, debugged and cleaned up, mostly by Tom Hedges, when I broke from the development process to work on new features. This didn't sit well with Tom, but by then he had learned to give me a bit of leeway in my implementation. Mostly because I was on a roll.

We were proud of our new work on Painter 2.0 and I knew we would have a great story, and plenty to sell. But rust never sleeps, so I continued development.

Back in 1984, when MacPaint came out, it introduced the concept of a floating selection. You select, and then click into it to move it around. In April 1993, a friend, Daniel Clark, asked John Derry and I if we could implement multiple floating selections. If each one was floating and on a separate layer, then a lot of the design work might be made easier.

That was the beginning of the process of implementing layers in Painter, the most useful feature ever. We had heard that Micrografx had implemented multiple floating selections, but we found that their selections weren't antialiased or sub-pixel aligned. They had no list of floating selections. Accessing one was tough, and required sequencing through all of them. I found it to be a useless approach. They didn't even allow you to paint into the mask of the floating selection and extend it.

So we began working on a better way to do it. We knew that the users needed to have continuous tone layers with soft-edged masks, and sub-pixel accuracy to the mask edge. Fortunately our friskets (what we called selections, and which we're used for airbrush masking) already had this. Our feathering used a real Gaussian convolution.


And the result was Painter X2. It began working about 9 days after we talked with Daniel Clark.

We called it Painter X2 because we felt that multiple layers easily doubled the user's ability to design more freely. In those days we called them Floaters. The name was a mistake, because eventually Layers became the standard jargon for floating selections. I implemented grouping of layers, and a nice list with an open/closed state for the group of layers. I also added compositing methods, ways of compositing a layer with what was behind it.

Even more interesting was the Portfolio, a place where layers could be stored and reused, like clip art. This was John Derry's idea. We figured that designers had objects that could be used again and again, and that, given an original layer, many things could be tried on it. Without destroying the original piece.

In fact, it was this philosophy that we were trying to further: the ability to try things and to change your mind again and again and again. Picture a designer, a client, and an art director. The designer has to keep their options open because they need multiple designs to show their client using the same basic artwork. Also, the designer needs to keep their designs fluid to quickly respond to suggestions and design decisions of the art director.

This signaled a move of Painter towards the design ethic more than ever. Not only could you use the traditional tools of the designer, but we could also emulate paste-up better than any other application at the time.

It turns out that Photoshop introduced layers in September 1994, long after Painter X2 shipped.


Our logotype designs for X2 were bold and interesting. Here I show an X2 sketch that featured Neuland Inline-type letters and an early catchphrase, true 2 form. We were always thinking about the catchphrase. The concept of changing your mind again and again made it onto the box.

As shown above, Painter X2 came in a box, and was sold as an expert extension to Painter, intended for the expert designer. Of course, the features were all rolled into Painter 3 when it came along. And Painter X2 came so soon after Painter 2.0, that we were struggling to get a way for users to justify the expenditure. We had that problem a lot, when you consider Painter 1.2, Painter 3.1, and Painter 5.5 were all intermediate releases. We really wanted a new release to be loaded with new groundbreaking features, so we often saved the new numbers for what we considered to be major releases.


This sketch shows that we were considering our new features to be industrial strength, with a metallic beveled-edge logo form and even rivets in it. Other concepts included the atomic X2, where electrons whirled around the letters. And, strangely, even a radiation symbol with X2 underneath it.

What I was thinking, I will never know!

Perhaps there is even a hint at the biohazard symbol. But I guess I didn't quite know how to draw it. And that was probably a good thing.


In this sketch, we see a part of the final logo form for X2, with it's angular letters, the raised 2 with a triangle below it.

Other things were tried such as negative space letters, vertical alignments, and other such crazy treatments. I like the flying paint can that's dripping paint onto something that looks quite like a Mac IIci.

In the end, the angular letterforms and the beveled metal look won out and we had a logo form for X2. But John Derry was convinced we needed to do something new with the paint can. Not necessarily with the can we were actually shipping, but something that made it more animated.


Some of the ideas were just plain wacky: popping it's lid, a stir-stick with a tagline stir up your imagination. A can dripping with paint. And all of them with faces! I wasn't sure where he was going with it, but we did consider it for quite a while.

One of the cans is astonished, and exploding with paint. Perhaps like a user exploding with ideas when presented with the new range of ideas that come from the freedom to design like never before.

By the way, the stir stick has the letters OSH on it, which stands for Orchard Supply Hardware, a hardware store in Silicon Valley and also in Capitola and Watsonville where we sometimes went to look at paint cans and paint in general.


OK I will admit we were a bit out there! At the top is a triangle with an eye in it, like on the US dollar bill, but it's carrying paint cans. In the center is a paint can running away from freshly having applied a coat of dripping paint to a box clearly labeled ADOBE. At the bottom, a lens in a frame, part of the symbology used on the Adobe Photoshop box, with a pitchfork and a barbed devil-tail, examines a roll of 35-mm film on the ground. And it seems to be dragging a mouse. Note the blank space behind it where the frame has been lifted off the wall.

I think all that time designing and coding was taking its toll. This is John Derry's sketch, but I'm sure I felt very much the same at the time.


We even started thinking about X3 as you can see. Like I said, rust never sleeps. I think the most interesting thing here is the bill of floating selection rights, the declaration of floating selection independence, that your floating selections at no longer slaves to the deselect command (which previously always dropped the floating selection back into the canvas).

We were definitely onto something new!

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