• Price: £109 plus VAT

  • Company: MetaCreations

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

If a futuristic Darwin was to look back at the late 20th Century, he may be tempted to chart the evolution of humans not from a biological perspective, but from a binary one. While people haven’t altered much, software has, rapidly evolving from 1-bit cells to complex packages that have risen to the top of the digital design ecosystem.

If a futuristic Darwin was to look back at the late 20th Century, he may be tempted to chart the evolution of humans not from a biological perspective, but from a binary one. While people haven’t altered much, software has, rapidly evolving from 1-bit cells to complex packages that have risen to the top of the digital design ecosystem.

And some software packages are evolutionary milestones in their own right. The likes of PageMaker, Photoshop, Flash, Maya and Director are founders of the digital design age, and to that I would have previously added KPT, or Kai’s Power Tools.

These are Adobe Photoshop-compatible
filters, and radical ones at that. Often at the bleeding edge of creativity, they massaged, warped, manipulated, and transformed images – and design – into uncharted waters. The previous release, KPT 5, was a graphical tour de force, with mindblowing filters and effects performing a comprehensive, even staggering, evolutionary leap for 2D image manipulation. Sporting excellent tools like fractal explorers and organic fibre that sprouted across imagescapes, it was an undeniable classic.

So it’s hard to understand why KPT 6 is such a disappointment. Oh, it still has the cool, offbeat interface that seeks to break the rules – but it’s the same as the one that went before. It still has oddly named filters that add unusual functionality, it’s just that we’ve seen all this, too – and some of the filters are just a remix of the likes of Goo and a few modules from Ray Dream Studio lumped in for good measure.

It’s not all bad. The interface, although not new, is polished. When a filter is selected, it supplants the Photoshop interface with a KPT-rolled one. Each has a large preview window for gauging the filter’s effect, plus a number of floating panels for tiny tweaks to the filter. Each palette expands to offer more options as your cursor travels over it, tucking itself neatly away when you’ve finished. Precise control is offered over filters, such as opacity level, warping and the like, or you can opt for a slider approach for more experimental play.

Even better, everything is in real-time. Adjust the lighting direction of 3D filters, and the scene updates. Use a magnet to attract and warp part of an image, and it distorts instantly. Couple this with generous preset settings, comprehensive tutorials and simple learning curve, and it does go some way to making up for its shortcomings.

Of which there are a few. Let’s get the crap
filters out of the way first. KPT Goo is, well, Goo – the low-end consumer paint effects package that lets you do neat warpy things with images, such as smear, smudge, swirl and distort an image, but keep it somehow looking believable. Nothing has changed on it, apart from it having a few less controls. I’d often wondered what had happened to the package now MetaCreations has gone all professional – now we know.

The two “bonus” filters are refugees from Ray Dream Studio, with KPT SceneBuilder formerly called RAYflect Photo Tracer and KPT SkyEffects previously called RAYflect Four Seasons. The first lets you create 3D scenes – and quite complex ones at that – complete with textures, bump maps, lighting and rendering within the filter. The mini 3D package is actually rather good, as is SkyEffects – which offers cloud, atmosphere and sky creation, along with sliders and knobs for adjusting cloud layers, rainbows, sunlight and fogging. The only problem is that they don’t use the same KPT interface at all, instead being identical to how they appear in Ray Dream, only squeezed into the smallest filter window I’ve ever had to squint at. These smack too much of ‘oops, KPT 6 is looking a bit ropey, quick, let’s bang in a few extra goodies and hope no one notices’. Sadly, these additions scream it.

Luckily, there are a few gems in KPT 6, and almost make the package worth buying for these few filters alone. Best is KPT Gel, a paint-with-toothpaste filter that uses 3D brushes that can be deployed to create a wide range of photo-realistic materials that have a perceived depth. So metallic brushes reflect lights and environment maps, while plastic ones ooze onto the canvas in a quite therapeutic way.

I was also fascinated by KPT Turbulence, which lets you paint 2D waves and ripples onto an image, and have them ebb and flow in real-time. You can apply a gradient to them, or have them affect just a single channel of the image, and so on, with the entire sequence able to be saved as a movie. In fact, it’s worth nothing that many of the filters have a basic keyframe animation palette, so you can build up movies of your effects for Web video and the like.

Other, more practical, filters abound. KPT LenFlare gives probably the most comprehensive lens flare control ever in a Photoshop filter, with quick and dirty control over halos, streaks and camera settings.

KPT Projector is nifty, too, letting you add 2D perspective twists to images, turning them into flat landscapes that recede into the distance. You can even add 3D transformations to images, or create infinite planar tiling at any angle. Finally, KPT Equalizer is a top-notch filter that tweaks image frequencies for excellent correction of blurred images, while KPT Reaction adds organic textures to an image, creating seamless textures.
KPT 6 is a bit of a let down after the brilliant KPT 5, and suffers from inconsistencies in the interface and usefulness of the filters. It’s also fairly slow, needing a fully-spec’d machine to avoid long delays as it writes to the scratch disk in Photoshop. Somewhere out there, Kai must be chuckling to himself after seeing this – for God’s sake, someone go find him and get him working again on some new filters.