• Price When Reviewed: $379

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Previously the reserve of eccentric artists and trippy Pacific-side designers, Studio Artist looks set to go global in 2002 with a superbly presented upgrade to version 2.0. If you ever wished the Mac platform could enjoy radically original graphics software such as Idruna’s Windows-based Photogenics, then Studio Artist 2.0 is what you’re after. Unless you’re looking to upgrade from version 1.5, it’s like nothing you’ve ever tried. Paint and photo-editing software tends to be logical: you apply a tool or effect to produce a particular result. Studio Artist, however, is based on cognitive neuroscience and music synthesis – so all concepts of production tasks and workflow no longer have any sway. This also means that it’s impossible to categorize – and damned hard to describe. Best used with a Wacom Intuos2 tablet and a stylus, the package works brilliantly as a real-media paint program to rival Corel Painter 7, but taking a more haphazard, lateral-thinking approach. Experimental artists will love the way the brush effects animate – not just change shape – in real time as you alter pressure and tilt. Also included is support for dual-track input, so you can work with the Intuos mouse and stylus simultaneously. But Studio Artist 2.0 goes way beyond such pedestrian tasks. It uses brushes to smear and mix, producing kaleidoscopic textures, interacting with underlying images in seemingly unlimited ways through its paint synthesizer. Everything can be controlled with precision or randomized – even the brush-stroke paths themselves. Effects merge and combine. Particle paints have a mind of their own. Strokes can be given shadow effects, and even be made to appear like objects in 3D space. The paint tools have an unfeasible 300 adjustable parameters to experiment with, and the program offers 2,000 editable presets – just to get you started. Most impressive is the ability to apply all this to QuickTime movie frames in rotoscope-fashion. The intelligently assisted painting power in Studio Artist 2.0, with its vector paths under bitmap effects, means you can process movies with special effects almost effortlessly. You can turn videos into hand-drawn effect cartoons, generate basic morphs, and produce complex transitions with the help of a powerful timeline interface. These features alone can cost more than the price Synthetik is asking for the full product. However, while Studio Artist 2.0 is easy to play around with, it’s challenging to become proficient in – and we’d argue that it’s impossible to master. The program can do so much in an infinite variety of ways, but refuses to conform to familiar interface standards such as toolbars and palettes, so you begin the learning curve at rock bottom. All the more credit to Synthetik, then, for providing eight hours of video instruction over the four CDs included in the package. Without these, it could take months just to find out what the program does, let alone how to do any of it. Studio Artist 2.0 breaks through the conformity of the graphics market – now Mac artists have some seriously powerful and creative software to feel truly passionate about.