Graphics fireworks; using PC graphics and simple darkroom techniques to create a gallery of images. Craig A. Johnson.
We had shared three months of excitement and frustration, and finally, it was clear what we had produced.
It had been a two-year project for me, and at the end of the first semester of teaching computer graphics at Southern Illinois University, I asked students to react openly in an exam essay.
"I definitely have been more stimulated with ideas than in any other class I've ever taken.'
"You have unlocked and thrust us into a spinning world of new art. I feel a limitless power to create any design . . . I have so many ideas . . . I can't find the words to express the joy and exhilaration in my head.'
Though this is typical of their reactions, these students had not spent the semester in command of any of the highend marvels; they had not tapped the power of a Bosch, Aurora, or Vax system. They were computer neophytes, from sophomore level up, and the spinning world of new art had been created with a single IBM PC, a graphics board, a camera, and some extremely entertaining and remarkably potent graphics programs.
A Matter of Timing
As the system was put together in pre-Mindset, pre-Artronics early 1983, when paint packages had not yet developed to the level of a Lumena, we had to find a new approach. We knew we wanted to exploit the PC and its ability to generate sets of lines quickly, with the user controlling color, linestyle, angle, etc. as the sets were built. I also wanted to continue working with moir[e patterns (see Creative Computing, cover, Vol. 1, no. 6, 1975). These two elements were to form the basis of a new visual style.
The initial course design had to address several problems, not the least of which was a very limited budget.
First, we wanted to improve the resolution of the PC. (Tecmar maximum resolution is 640 X 400, with four colors --not bad, but we had to have more.)
To avoid alienating potential graphics users, we wanted to find a way to integrate existing skills in drawing, photography, and type rather than wipe out these hard-won abilities with an impersonal keyboard or digitizing pad.
Above all, we wanted a recognizable style to develop; a fresh a graphics look must be completely accessible.
Finally, we wanted to concentrate on exploiting the nature of the computer, to have it do what it does best, rather than to force it into a role it simply could not fill. My programmer wife and I then set out to develop the software.
The approach that evolved uses what we call "Moravian' programs (from moir[e) to generate textures and patterns that can be merged with other standard graphics elements, using equipment likely to be on hand in an ad agency or studio.
The Moravian patterns are built by using function key editing and overlaying sweeps of linear tone. When the design is complete, the program is stopped and photographed on a Lang camera.
A pre-existing photo, drawing, or piece of type is put on 8 X 10 high-contrast black and white Kodalith film. Using relatively simple darkroom techniques, both a positive and a negative version are created. Most of the students were photographic novices, but all caught on quickly with minimum training.
To merge the computer images with the photo, drawing, or type, the Moravian slides are first loaded onto a rear-projection slide unit (a Kodak Ektagraphic or Singer Caramate). Then the positive image Kodalith is fixed to the screen, and a Moravian design is selected to project through the Kodalith, exposing on color slide film. This creates a positive black image on the colored computer background. Color can now be introduced to the areas masked by the black image on the film positive in the first exposure. To do this, the negative is switched with the positive Kodalith image, but kept carefully in the same position as the positive. The negative Kodalith image is registered using pins, a new computer design is selected, and a second exposure is made, double-exposing the image. The process can be repeated indefinitely, selecting different color and pattern combinations for each, resulting in a vibrant, colorful new style.
There are several clear advantages to the approach. The most obvious is the use of standard photographic equipment instead of more expensive digitizing hardware.
By unfocusing and softening one or more of the exposures, very smooth, hires airbrush effects that are normally possible using only very expensive equipment can be achieved.
By using images produced with traditional techniques, artists retain familiar craft and feel, yet gain a new tool with which to infused brilliant clectronic color and design.
Moreover, the distinctive energyfield appearance of the patterns produces a recognizable style, while allowing a wide latitude for expression.
Later, we added a MicroControl Systems three-dimensional digitizer, the Space Tablet. Then we not only digitized actual objects, but also built 3-D patterns that could be rotated, scaled, put in perspective, and double-exposed with other elements.
Students found out quickly that access to a multitude of computer-generated slides presented dozens of possible solutions to a given graphic problem. An evening's work with various elements could result in a 20-solution client presentation. And it was fun!
The range of material produced in the first two-hour course attests to the agility of this approach. Thus far, class members have produced several two-color brochures, a fine art Purchase Award, a poster, a yearbook cover and eight full-color yearbook pages, silkscreen Moravian art and decorated ceramics, a slide show for an Advertising Club competition, and a full gallery show.
Even at the PC level, the computer is a powerful addition to any agency or studio interested in speed and production power in a fresh contemporary format. With a minimum investment in new equipment and standard design tools, the vibrancy of electronic imaging can be added to the full range printed artistic output.
The current state of computer graphics allows--even begs for--creative people to invent, create hybrids, and push current capabilities. Computers are recognized as powerful extensions to personal creativity, and will continue to help artists explore new visual worlds. It certainly is not necessary to be an IBM Fellow or work with fractals at Lucasfilm to explore these worlds. The beauty of the fractal's simpler cousin, the moir[e, is available to all.
The School of Communications and Fine Arts at SIU has recently added a Mindset/Lumena system with a video camera and frame grabber, several IBM PCs with paint systems, and an upgraded version of the Space Tablet. Material produced with this equipment and software can be merged with the distinctive Moravian patterns. We are confident that it will continue to evolve and offer visual and creative stimulation.