The freaky minds at U&I Software have brought their uniquely difficult-to-describe graphics package to Mac OS X at last. A mere graphical toy to some but a way of life to others, ArtMatic Pro 3.0 is the truest survivor of the many programs touched by the inspiration of Kai Krause in the mid-1990s. While hardly an essential addition to your design armoury, ArtMatic packs enough firepower to blow you – and everyone else – away.
ArtMatic could be roughly described as a fractal-art generator, basing its visual effects on specific, complex mathematical formulas. These formulas, however,
are presented as icon-like tiles, so manipulating the maths to produce wilder and weirder results is a click-&-drag process. You then customize the appearance of your artwork in various ways, such as by altering the shading style, colour gradient mix, and so on.
If you’ve ever used KPT Effects or any of its Kai’s Power Tools predecessors, you’ll know what to expect from ArtMatic’s user interface. It isn’t exactly intuitive, but it is efficient, and encourages experimentation. For example, you can click on the Zoom, Hues or Contrast buttons and immediately drag left and right: no slider appears; the preview pane changes accordingly in real time as you drag. We especially liked the Randomizer dice, which beginners will adore and experts will find inspirational. If you can’t make head nor tail of what the program is up to, just click the two small dice to alter parameters and colours, or the big die in the middle to randomize both at the same time.
So far, this covers only one mode of working in the program. There’s an almost identical greyscale mode to try out, too. All artwork can be converted instantly to seamless tiling graphics – this mode is fully editable. Its click-&-drag scrolling action makes for superb kaleidoscopic effects, not just the usual line of texture tiles. There are two animation functions worth checking out: one makes work evolve and change interactively until you tell it to stop. Another lets you line up napshots as you work, and then use them as keyframes for ArtMatic to tween the morph effect from one to the next. Animations can be saved to QuickTime.
If mathematical formulæ aren’t experimental enough for you, try importing some audio files for ArtMatic to interpret visually. Or do the reverse and allow ArtMatic to express your animated artwork as sounds, ranging from foot-tapping techno sequencer loops to hideous screeches and amusing squawks.
As well as supporting Mac OS X in this new release, ArtMatic Pro 3.0 has been beefed up with better performance; some batch-output routines; support for higher resolution input (for distorting existing images) and output; and additions to the variety of formula components. It’s a valuable, but not essential upgrade (unless, of course, you want the Mac OS X functionality), and there is no preferential upgrade price. But for new buyers, ArtMatic is attractively priced, and the CD edition includes a large number of first-class presets to get your projects started.
While it’s a shame to write off such a powerful package as a toy, we can’t deny that it’s great fun to play with. It may take a lifetime to understand what ArtMatic is up to, but we’re prepared to put the time in to find out – the results are worth it.