Price When Reviewed: 110
Pros: Flexible and easy to use texture generator for simulating materials and shadows used for conventional photographic studio backdrops.
Cons: It’s power-hungry so it demands a fast processor for big images. Requires separate application to add new textures
Digital Anarchy’s Backdrop Designer is a resolution-independent pattern tool that simulates the texture and shading of backdrops used by portrait and product photographers. It’s a Photoshop plug-in, and the idea is that you shoot your subject against a removable blue or green screen background and then substitute one or more simulated backdrops of your choice.
Backdrop Designer is intended to complement the company’s Primatte Chromakey 2.0 (reviewed in Digit 73), which can automatically delete a blue or green backdrop. However, it works with rival chromakey programs too, or with manual cutouts – anything that leaves a transparent background so an underlying texture layer shows through it.
In Photoshop, you create a new layer behind your main image (either before or after creating the cutout), then call up Backdrop Designer. This opens a full-screen window reminiscent of early versions of Kai’s Power Tools.
You can mix any of hundreds of pre-set textures plus shadow patterns, or click on semi-random mutations. The texture and pattern preview windows and mutations are grouped to the left and right of the scalable central preview window, which shows the combined effect and lets you scale, move, rotate or distort the results.
Mutate to create
The preset menus are grouped into named sets (35 texture sets, 23 shadow sets), with anything from six to 32 items in each. Texture presets range from simulated draped cloth to metals, stone, brick and abstract patterns. Shadows project a light pattern onto the texture, from subtle shades to sharp-edged items such as window frames.
There’s a slider for the amount of mutation. Textures can be edited for mutation, scale, position, rotation, blur, hue, saturation, and brightness. Shadows are editable for mutation, scale, position, rotation, blur, opacity, brightness, and contrast.
You can save your results as new presets, and then use those to create yet more mutations. New presets can only be created by the separate Texture Anarchy plug-in set at around £75.
There’s a choice of three rendering quality levels, but the top two are power-hungry – a ‘Fast’ rendering of a backdrop for our 8MB test portrait only took 58 seconds with a 1.33GHz G4, but it took 20 minutes set to ‘Normal’ and 40 minutes on ‘High’ quality. A 58MB TIFF took eight minutes for a ‘Fast’ render and about 75 minutes for ‘Normal’ on the Mac.
Backdrop Designer produces realistic effects and is distinguished by its good control of lighting and cast shadow effects. However, it’s very slow.