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Posts Tagged computers

Fractals: photography or painting?

I was thinking other day… and suddenly this clearly came to my thoughts: fractals are more like photographs than paintings. I’ll try to explain why I think that way.

Fractal images, besides a lot of different interpretations and meanings, are nothing but graphical representations of a certain formula. Pretty much like that algebra class you had in high school. Although it can be artistic and all that (despite some refuse to call fractal art an art but this is another subject), it doesn’t even start (sometimes) with a blank canvas like a painting. You don’t create anything fractal-ish in the sense of inventing it. These graphical representations were all there already.

Algebra

Yes, a fractal is pretty much like that.

Take any fractal formula, say for example the Mandelbrot. It has a few parameters, but let reduce them to 2, X and Y for the sake of better understanding. The resulting image of the combination of the values of parameters X and Y gives you a certain image, the graphical representation of the combination of these parameters. This combination always existed. It was just waiting for someone to “create” the fractal with these values in a fractal generator software and publish it as a JPEG. Pretty much like the picture of a landscape, for example. The landscape was always there, waiting to have its photo taken.

What is a photograph if not a graphical representation of a landscape or a particular object in a specific moment in time, in a certain (constant, sometimes) environment? Take a picture of a mountain. Then the next day, the mountain will still be there, at the same place, in the same coordinates/parameters. If you go there and place your camera in the same position, with the same conditions (parameters) as when you did a day before, chances are that you will get the same or a very close image to the previous image. This is even more correct if you’re taking for example a picture of say a fruit in a studio. You can move your camera a few milimeters away from the original point of the first photo, and it’s about the same as using let’s say values of 0.000001 and 0.000002 for a certain parameter in a fractal. They are “pictures” of a fractal taken in a different condition, but they still keep the same basic subject, the fractal “structure” so to speak, just like the mountain or the car or the apple is the same.

And what about the post-processing? If you take a picture of a model in a studio with a red light today and tomorrow you use the same model, in the same position, but with a green light… it’s the same as using a different color algorithm in a fractal.

A painting is a bit different, because it’s your own interpretation of something, it’s not something that “is there” waiting to be unravelled. Each artist has a different technique and a way to “translate” things to a painting in his own way, some like to make the paintings entirely abstract, some like to make accurate reproductions making it look like a photograph, and although people can add their “personal touches” to fractals, these are more like a camera lens or some other dark room effect added to the image than a real “personal” touch. But this doesn’t mean that fractal artists aren’t creative. I hope I could make myself clear.

The trick I guess is to find the “right side of the mountain”, the correct time of the day to take your picture. The same landscape might look boring today and tomorrow with a few natural “tweaks” (a word constantly used by fractal artists) it can become a masterpiece. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck, sometimes you have some inner voice telling you to explore a new combination/spot, whatever. What is important is what you can do with that – the final work.

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Some more on fractal movies

I’ve moved the animation that I had saved to a faster computer, but it refused to render, it wasn’t rendering even the very first frame. Time to think a little why it was happening. Maybe some folder permission error, not really a software bug.

In Mandelbulb 3D, in the animation window, you have the option to send back the saved keyframes to the main window (useless feature? Not at all!), so this is what I did. Sent them back, re-rendered each and send them back to the animation timeline, and saved this animation under a new name and in a different folder just to be sure. And it worked.

It’s currently rendering right now with a couple more frames added towards the end of the previous version (but I’ve reduced the number of frames between keyframes from 50 to 25 to see what happens, therefore the movie should be shorter this time) and 150 frames out of a total of 250 are already finished in 18 minutes. Quite an improvement. I think that I can even raise the size of the animations to some sort of “semi-HD” quality. I’ll have to check first if these fractals used here are also faster than others, sometimes when adding a Julia calculation or a “Cutting” things get a bit slower. Anyway, this is much much faster than rendering it in the other computer, that has half of the memory of this one, but the processor is a Celeron while in this other one it’s a quadcore… it’s not RAM that makes the difference here, but the processor. And maybe the video card (I have a Radeon something in the faster computer), but I’m not sure as it doesn’t really help in other softwares like Ultra Fractal to have a faster video card, these cards are more useful with games and… well, 3D processing. Definitely fractals aren’t for slow computers.

One thing that I’ve noticed though even in the preview animation window is that for some reason (or maybe it’s not really happening) is that the keyframes I had already used and all the frames inbetween these are rendered a bit faster than the new added keyframes. Sometimes deeper zooms render a bit slower too, this might be what’s happening as it’s a little deeper in these new frames.

Another thing I’ve noticed that seems to happen at least in this image is that in areas that have a certain depth of field, showing parts of the “sky” (or of a background image), the render gets much slower. The more sky/background, the slower it gets. If the image is filled with just the fractal parts, it goes much faster. The elements that are closer to the camera for example, are rendered much faster in an image that has “sky” parts even though they look much more complex than the plain blue sky behind them. I guess it’s due to the 3D, it has to calculate the distances from for example the border of the fractal to the “horizon” or the “sky”, which is quite far from the camera (I guess this calculation is limited by the iterations as well, it tells the software where the “sky” – the end of the image – is). The difference is brutal. Frames with about 30-40% of “sky” areas can take up to 20 mins to be rendered, maybe more (just one frame!), while others with minimal open areas are rendered in 40 seconds. So a good tip for a fractal animation using Mandelbrot 3D is… avoid these open areas, focus on the fractal details. Which is the most interesting part anyway.

Update: it is really getting slower. Last frames past the #200 are taking 7 mins to be rendered and it’s getting considerably slower from there. Maybe it’s really the zoom, the frame #207 for example has a zoom of 1599946.7something while the very first one is 1x I think or near that. This combined with the lights, shading, etc. make it go slower. And I just found that I’m using the Julia mode and the cutting in this one. Also it seems that the more colours an image have, the more complicated it gets to be rendered. Images that are too colourful like the “Beatle Sugar Cube” below seem to be slower because of the different colours. But sometimes the images need to be that vivid. OK if you like a plain pink shade all over your image, I don’t.

I will try to make some more tests and for example disable the cutting when/if it won’t make a difference in certain keyframes. I think that it works for me more like a guideline if I want to find a Mandelbrot shape inside that mess, for example, or to reveal certain areas of “solid” fractals to see if they have something interesting inside. I’m not sure if I can really reach these internal areas just by zooming in without cutting them first, probably I can’t.

I have read that the common timeframe people spend rendering these animations are “weeks”, so I guess I’m just starting… if I want to add a soundtrack for example, it wouldn’t work if the animation is too short. At 24 frames per second, 2 of these keyframes with the settings I’m using for this new test (25 frames inbetween keyframes) will give me a 2 seconds animation. Do the math.

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A movie

My first attempt on making a fractal animation. Weird is that I have the Ultra Fractal animation edition since it was released but never ever tried to make a single animation with it. Had to start with Mandelbulb 3D, go figure.

It’s buggy, annoying, slow, but it’s nice. Unlike some softwares that build the movies themselves, this one just gives you the frames, then you must do the movie assembling and editing job elsewhere. Some of these free slideshow softwares or these that come with cameras or DVD burners like some ULead products (now owned by Corel?) can’t do it properly. I did some nice “movies” with images and transitions, but to render a movie with no intervals between frames, they don’t work. I had to try Picasa, and it did a very good job.

With some version of the software (the penultimate) I saw that I could render all the frames in JPG and PNG but for some reason the latest version of Mandelbulb 3D just let me render in BMP again. It wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the size of each frame – 900K.

One of the major problems I see in Mandelbulb 3D is that if you want to give up on some render/fractal or some animation or even restart from scratch, you just can’t. You must close the program and start all over again, the “reset locations and zoom” for example doesn’t clean the formula tabs, neither there’s a way to clean the animation and restart from scratch. I had a paused animation, quit it closing the animation window without saving (this usually makes you lose any work in any software…) and reopened Mandelbulb 3D and started to make a new fractal and a new animation, but for some reason the old paused animation was still there hanging in the animation window even though it wasn’t saved and I couldn’t even load a frame or use the navigator. I had to force the software to be closed using a Ctrl-Alt-Del, and it was finally cleared. It’s a very promising software, but very very buggy.

Here’s the animation. Still short and not the best, but it’s just a test. It was originally rendered in 640 x 480, 24 frames/second. Took me about 3 hours. I’ll move the files to a faster computer and try to add a few more things, it ends not where exactly I wanted it to be.

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Freewares, sharewares and annoyingwares

While doing some searches on something fractal-related, I found one page with a list of fractal softwares. Also there was a brief description for each of these softwares, which most of the times also helps you to have at least a clue about what it is, even though it might be a bit subjective or can even be a forced good review pushing you to choose that special item of that list instead of others.

Anyway, there’s this interesting entry that says (some bits removed to not explicitly tell which software it is -  people can get picky at times and refuse to understand criticism):

“One of the most popular generators of fractal graphics in 24 bit true color.   This freeware 32-bit program, written in Visual C++ by (…), has capabilities far above many that are available, and is well worth taking the time to try out and use.   (Both the executable and source code are available.)”.

Did you read “freeware” there too? OK. Just checking. Also, the source code is available for those that like to see how it goes behind the curtains. Nice, and the description makes you think it’s a very good piece of software. But click the link and… there’s this disclaimer in the page that says:

Entrance to the (…) download area is for registered members only.

Registration is $35 and is made via Paypal.

Upon registration, you will be emailed with a link, password,
and unlimited access to the download area.”

OK, did you read that too? You will only be able to download this freeware (??) software after you pay a fee to enter the download section of the site. Now how can this be called freeware? To me it’s just something I’d call annoyingware. And then programmers complain that their softwares are pirated or shared in P2P networks and warez sites. If they knew how to sell them, they would sell.

I always liked to and did register as many softwares I could that aren’t extremely overpriced (unfortunately, most still are) and that are really useful and/or without bugs, and even I’ve made some small donations to programmers here and there to help the development of their stuff, and like I did with UltraFractal, when I thought I could sometime have a profit from stuff I did with it, it was kind of a moral and obvious decision to register it (and other similar stuff), if I could ever have any benefit from using it – read “benefit”as pure $$$ – it would be nice to “pay” the author of the software for that the same way you pay for a tool you use at work. But when a software is known for being buggy, overpriced, hyped, or that have a clone software that does the same (or almost) in an open source/freeware format as a paid software, I don’t register or buy it at all, and sometimes when I register a software that later becomes buggy or that lacks support or even that charges me a lot more for a stupid upgrade… I have no guilty in getting an “illegal” updated version of that. But this was the first time I’ve seen some stupid thing like that, a “membership” to download a “freeware”. Pffft. Maybe a bad choice of words or advertising, but still stupid.

Just to make things clear, here’s the definition of “freeware” seen in Wikipedia:

Freeware (from “free” and “software”) is computer software that is available for use at no cost or for an optional fee.[1] Software referred to as freeware is almost always proprietary. Software that is commercial is occasionally referred to as payware.

Also…

“Not to be confused with Free software.”

OK, the author might say that he’s asking that fee because you’re downloading the source code blah blah blah. And the asked fee is nothing like “optional” in that site. Don’t pay it and don’t get the software, it’s simple as that. Had the author asked for a donation, he would probably make much more money than using this “pay before you even see what you’re buying” method. This would be a little different than what I’d call a “freeware” as it stated in this definition, it could (and sometimes is) called a “donationware”.

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Starting to test the softwares… and what a surprise!

Let’s try not to get bored and install all these softwares. First part starts here. Little I knew that I was going to have a nice surprise…

First I’ve unzipped most of the downloaded stuff that doesn’t come as a single .exe file (.RARs and .ZIPs), then what was left (a bunch of .EXEs) I decided to install already after that so I didn’t have to redownload boring stuff by accident. All these files and installation packages are quite small and simple, so I’m already expecting to find very basic softwares…

First installed softwares were: Aros Magic, Double Fractal and Fractint 21 beta (it appears as “Fractint for Windows” in the menu, although it’s not called WinFract!)

Aros Magic: a toy. Full of small jokes here and there, and nothing but a toy. Seems that its “millions of colours” feature is like when you set Fractint to work with more than 256 colours, it goes to a default blue and black gradient and all your previous colour schemes are set to that instead. Seems that it works with the basic images and formulas only.

Double Fractal: another toy. It’s not very easy to guess that you must click one of the images that appear in the window that opens when you launch the software. Then another window opens which seems to be the “editor”. Very basic images as well.

Fractint 21 beta (actually it seems to be v. 20.99): YAY. Fast, Evolution method is available, big resolutions, works smoothly in Windows 7, which means… it’s all I ever wanted from Fractint to be. Now it’s time to install my alternative formula collections and my colour maps to that version and have some real good fun again. I couldn’t really be more pleased. Sorry but the project of testing all these other softwares will be stopped for a while, it’s Fractint time again!

Note: it says “not for public release” in big bold letters in the Fractint beta main window. I can’t be sure how stable it is yet (seems quite stable so far) and I’ll respect this and won’t publish the link for a download of this version, in case you are interested. Just do a search or visit some of the links in my menu, it’s hidden there somewhere and it’s quite easy to be found. Also remember if you wish to install that it’s a beta software, and it might (still) have bugs, use it at your own risk.

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Mundo Fractal is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache