Line Topography

Line Topography Sketch 01+ View it large!

Here’s a continuation of the Line Sketching post I did last week. What you’re seeing here are larger, higher-resolution renders that use a further-tweaked drawing algorithm, concentrating more on form and color.

The key to these pieces is seeing them in their native resolution. There’s so much texture and pseudo-form that emerges from subtle shifts in a single line over time. Here’s an example:

Full View

Line Topography Sketch 05+ View it large!

Detail View

I need to continue tweaking the drawing routine and color choices before I’ll be happy enough to take these to a printer. Also, I’m going to be sticking any additional interesting output from this thing into a Flickr set called “Line Topography”.

In the mean time, here are some interesting ones that came out of the last 50 renders I did yesterday:

Line Topography Sketch 01+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 03+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 04+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 06+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 07+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 08+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 09+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 10+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 11+ View it large!

Line Topography Sketch 12+ View it large!

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Line Sketching

Line Sketch

So I’ve been feeling less than creative and less than productive for the past 45 days or so. Yesterday I realized I needed to make something even if it was crappy.

Examining some of the recent things I’ve been inspired by and even some of my older posts here, I drew upon the following line-heavy references as my starting point:

I’m in love with line. I’m especially in love with really dense linework that yields faux-3D forms and false topographies.

So I jumped right into Processing with a simple idea:

  1. Let the user pick a horizontal line of pixels from camera input.
  2. Analyze those pixels, deriving an array of values based on pixel brightness.
  3. Create a vector line whose peaks and troughs are based on this array of values.
  4. Use a bunch of Math.random() and Perlin noise and magic to draw this line on the screen from top-to-bottom.

Four hours later, interesting stuff started coming out. I’m making heavy use of GSVideo for camera input and toxiclibs for Perlin noise and color.

My goals for the end of the week will be to finesse the color logic, have the “input” line morph through two or three forms throughout the process of the render, and do some post-processing in Photoshop to get the colors to unify even further. I want to make some large prints. I think I also want to do a couple hand-drawn renditions based on some of the digital output.

Here are some more Instagram’ed crops from the first wave of output:

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

Line Sketch

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Samantha+ View the drawing on Flickr.

Drawn tonight at the semi-weekly life drawing session at The Stables. This drawing took about an hour and a half, which totally flew by. I’ve been trying to focus on measuring during the last couple sessions, and this is the first time a decent drawing and likeness came out of it. I’ve seriously been away from drawing habitually for too long.

Just gotta get back into a schedule for creating.

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The Mode7 “Dusk Drops” EP Album Art

Mode7 EP Cover - 00055_02+ View the piece on Flickr.

Finally we’ve arrived at the final image to be used for the album art of Mode7‘s upcoming EP “Dusk Drops” (see above). There were a lot of contenders, but in the end, this image satisfied a certain visual balance and the general feeling of ominousness that we were looking to convey.

For these final renders, 2850×2850 images were generated by Sunflow, using the special Thinlens camera which allowed me to simulate a shallow depth of field. Each image took about 12 hours to render on a quad-core Intel i5 Windows 7 box.

Further post-processing was done in Photoshop to simulate things that we’d see in traditional photography: vignetting, chromatic abberation, and a subtle level of visual noise. Some color tweaking and other manipulations were done as well just to make the images a bit richer.

For the CD label itself, we’re going to use the following image:

Mode7 EP CD Label - 01699_03+ View the piece on Flickr.

And then there were a few more images that I decided to render and treat, just because they were compelling to me and I wanted to see what they’d look like if I took them through the entire process.

Mode7 EP Alt - 02287_03+ View the piece on Flickr.

Mode7 EP Alt - 00508_02+ View the piece on Flickr.

Mode7 EP Alt - 00277_02+ View the piece on Flickr.

I’ll be following this post up with a video demoing the Processing app that I created for generating these compositions once they EP has been officially released in a few days.

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Vacancy+ View the piece on Flickr.

This is acrylic. It’s in a Moleskine (hence the weird paper crumple). I haven’t actually tried painting with acrylics in I-don’t-know-how-many years. And it’s the only kind of painting that I have some level of comfort with. You can thank my Color Theory class at SCAD for that.

I’m going to take this study and do an actual canvas. It’s probably going to be pretty bad. Can’t wait.

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Reducing 3,500 to 29

Back from the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis, I’ve taken a stab at making my final set of selects from the numerous compositions I generated last week.

After the last post, I went in and tweaked a couple of parameter ranges and how the noisy terrain was rendered and generated another 3,500 compositions, which you can see here:

3,500 Choices+ See it super large on Flickr.

After the computer churned these out, I spent a few hours looking through them and managed to cull the set down to an even 350. But as I mentioned before, the next step was to render these using Sunflow, which I did right before I left for Minneapolis. Rendering the 350 images at 1280×1280 with no anti-aliasing and a very low sample setting took about 29 or so hours on a quad-core Intel PC. I had it dumping the output into a Dropbox folder so I could check on the progress on my phone during my trip.

Tonight, I took the next step and chose a final set of 29 images that are contenders for the final render. In that render, the visual noise will fall away considerably, and I’ll be generating a 2850×2850 image suitable for a 300dpi CD cover print.

You can see the 29 images I picked in this Flickr set. As of right now, these are my five favorite renders:

Mode7 EP Select 0555_02+ View the piece on Flickr.

Mode7 EP Select 0349_03+ View the piece on Flickr.

Mode7 EP Select 0888_02+ View the piece on Flickr.

Mode7 EP Select 2287_03+ View the piece on Flickr.

Mode7 EP Select 0814_02+ View the piece on Flickr.

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10,000 Choices

You know what computers are good at? Being creative.

That is, they’re amazing at working tirelessly and generating variations, given the proper constraints.

I’m in the process of creating some album art for a friend of mine, Mode7, for an upcoming EP release. I wanted to create something that was simultaneously intentional (i.e. I had ideas for an image) and generative (i.e. I’d let the computer make stuff up too). For the last couple weeks, I’ve been slowly building a Processing app that helps me generate compositions given a curated range of possible random values.

Last night, I asked my app to show me 10,000 variations on a theme. Here’s what it came up with:

10,000 Choices+ See it hi-res on Flickr.

And here’s a zoom of a 6×6 grid from that output:

And here are some random selects that I never would have come up with on my own:

These images are rendered in an OpenGL context, so the lighting is basic and even throughout. But this is only the first step in the process of creating the final image. The Processing app is a tool for creating compositions and color schemes. In the end, my selects are saved out as Sunflow scene files and rendered in Sunflow with global illumination at a super-high resolution. Here are a couple test renders to give you an idea of the end possibilities:

There are a couple things I want to note about this whole process.


What has happened in this process of creation is the emergence of a symbiotic relationship between me and the computer. I started with clear intention for the type of image I wanted to create. As I began programmatically building the structures of the elements I wanted to use in the composition, it wasn’t until I saw the way the computer rendered my forms that I would continue moving forward. These renders influenced my direction and provided a sort of course correction.

The same happens when I ask the computer to provide me with a series of choices. I become the curator and the computer becomes the creator. It seemingly influences me as much as I influence its output. This is especially true when you introduce Math.random() into the relationship. That singular function is the computer’s very powerful voice.

This whole process is like a dance or a dialogue. And I’m beginning to learn how powerful this can be in discovering possibilities for creative output that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve on my own.


When I tell the computer to give me 10,000 choices, the process of reviewing those choices makes me feel like I’m a scientist or an archaeologist exploring unseen worlds or newly revealed information. I’m seeing something wholly new. A world that had the possibility of existing, but only up until last night, never actually existed. And here I get to discover that new world.

There’s something so utterly enchanting and delightful about this. Flipping through these images brings me closer to some level of innocence and awe that I simply don’t encounter very often in my life. And now I’m hooked.

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Goodbye, Internet.

Internet Dear John Letter+ See it large on Flickr.

I haven’t given up on this thing. I’ve simply reached the threshold where I recognize I’ve got a problem. I think we’re all suffering from it to some degree. You know it. I know it. It’s that itch. That need to check. But what are we checking? What are we afraid we’ll miss?

I’m sick of puzzling out the answer to that question.

Instead, I’m turning to engaging with meat-space communities for a bit. Having verbal, dimensional conversations. Meeting new people. Trying social activities.

I’ve found that posting my work online has me rushing the work. I’m much more influenced by the traffic / comments / favorites / likes / etc. that the work sees, than my own analysis of the successes and failures of the work. So, I want to correct that imbalance. I want to focus on quality. I want to get better.

This will be a bit of an experiment, and I don’t know how long I’ll be away. But I hope to return with something to show for it.

I’ll see you on the other side.

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FITC Toronto Presentation Follow-up

FITC Harnessing the Abundance Title Slide

Wow. That was fun. I had the opportunity this morning to kick off FITC Toronto 2011 with my presentation titled “Harnessing the Abundance“. Thanks to all you wonderful people who attended:

FITC Audience

I wanted to get something up ASAP as a follow-up, so you know where to get all the notes and reference images that I referred to during the presentation.

First, the notes:

Harnessing the Abundance Notes

Second, a bunch of links that demo some of the bits I showed during the talk:

Also, all the software and tools that I wrote and released during the creation of Flow can be found over at this Google Code project: (if link is down, check here instead.)

Feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@mikecreighton) or email () with any comments or questions or anything you’d simply like to share. Again, big thanks goes out to all who attended my presentation, and to the FITC crew for giving this awesome opportunity!

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