No one has really asked me this question, but I'm not going to let that
stop me from answering it. ;-) Several people have commented lately on
how difficult it is to start a new image from scratch. Since that's
pretty much all I do, I thought maybe someone would be interested in how
I go about it. If not, I apologize for what will undoubtedly be another
I feel like I've said this before, but maybe not on this list -- when
the first UF beta was released we couldn't yet import FractInt pars.
Plus, due to technical difficulties of one sort another, I really didn't
have any FractInt pars to import (about 2 dozen total in my lifetime --
none of which are the least bit memorable). Soooooooo... I had to learn
to work from scratch and over the last 9 months or so, my strategy has
evolved into this:
- I have set the Grayscale gradient in the Standard folder as my
default. That way when I am first beginning a new image, I can
concentrate on shape rather than be distracted or put off by color.
- I pick a formula and start looking for an interesting shape. If I'm
working with one of the Mandelbrot/Julia sets which incorporate the
switch feature, I often open the Mandelbrot one, hit the spacebar or the
Switch icon on the toolbar and use the eyedropper to find interesting
spots in which to zoom.
- Once I've found a reasonably interesting location, I start trying
different coloring algorithms. Up to now I have worked mostly with
Damien's formulas and with a few miscellaneous others from Ron's,
Kerry's and Mark's collections. There are now so many from which to
choose that one could spend days on this part! Anyway, this is not to
say that other formulas are not good, I've just been concentrating
primarily on Damien's lately.
- I like to have a layer available that has a smooth-ish coloring --
something like Exponential Smoothing or Smoother Iterations. Then I
usually try (from Damien's collection) Cilia, Curvature Average,
Lyapunov, Triangle Inequality Average and lastly, Orbit Traps. Every
time I find a look I like, I keep that layer and add a new one. I don't
worry about whether or how the layers merge, I just sort of gather a
list of layers that have nice, cool, or unusual effects. I save the
Orbit Traps formulas for last since I'm pretty sure I'm going to find
plenty to work with in them.
- After I've got anywhere from 3-? layers that show potential, I start
playing with color. I pick a layer, toggle the others off so I can see
what I'm doing, open the gradient editor and press Ctrl-3 to give me a
random misty gradient. I work in HSL mode only (press Ctrl-H with your
gradient editor open) because it gives me the control I want. If I like
the random gradient, I keep it. If I don't, I keep pressing Ctrl-3 until
I find a color combination that I like and that has control points in
vaguely the right places to show off the design -- all this gets tweaked
later anyway. I don't ever save gradients because they seem to be linked
inextricably with the layer and fractal for which they've been adapted.
- Sometimes I do a new random gradient for each layer and just see what
happens, but often I copy that first gradient to several other layers
and start playing with merge modes. I may or may not use all the
potential layers in my list.
- Hopefully somewhere along in here some form or "look' begins to
emerge. If it is another one of those darned flower-shapes that seem to
be appearing so often in my images lately I try to resist it, but often
at this point, the fractal is leading me and I try to enhance the
direction in which it seems to be moving rather than try to change it.
Is this getting too cosmic?
I don't really plan images ahead of time -- or at least not
successfully. I think it's more important to just be able to recognize
what has potential and what doesn't and then be willing to patiently
work/tweak it into whatever it wants to become.
Anyway, that's what works for me.
Oooo, this sounds like fun. Can I try it too? Can I? Can I? :-)
I always start from scratch. I haven't changed my default gradient to grey,
because for me it is easier to see the potential for color if there's at
least some color there to begin with. But I generally pick a formula,
almost always a Mandelbrot type.
At this point I usually start playing with the formula parameters.
Currently I'm doing a lot of exploring of the DoubleNova and
DoubleHalleyNova types, so I'll often twiddle the exponent or scale values
in this formula. During this stage I am looking for interesting shapes,
things I might not have seen before. I may pop open the Switch mode here,
and look through Julia shapes. I may do some minimal zooming, usually not
If I feel so inclined, I might tinker with some transformations. I'm not
actually that big on transformations; I do sometimes use them for effect,
though. Most of them change the shape of a fractal enough that I feel they
should be applied before I really start exploring.
The next step is to experiment with coloring algorithms. I also tend to try
out a few algorithms, although my choices are often directed by my limited
understanding of the formulas. I usually try Triangle Inequality, Lyapunov,
Kerry's Statistics, plus a few others on random impulse; if I can't find
something that immediately grabs me, I'll fall back to Orbit Traps, which
almost always can produce an interesting image with some set of options.
Unless the default options on a coloring algorithm produce stunning
results--and they seldom do--I will experiment with the options for it. I
do have some favorites I try, such as using "real(z)" for Statistics. If I
find something with some promising detail, I'll continue to zoom at this
point. If I find an interesting coloring algorithm or combination of
options, I'll sometimes add another layer and keep exploring. I might
delete the layer later. At some point during my experimenting with the
coloring algorithm, I will start toying with random gradients (Randomize
Misty is my favorite) to try to bring out new possibilities and features.
I'm still looking for structure here rather than final colors.
Once I get here, I'm looking at a fractal with new formula parameters, new
coloring parameters, and some random gradient. Possibly with two layers,
although usually just one. I've seen some shape that interests me and I
want to bring out the detail, or subdue the detail, to make it what I
really want. I'm moving away from aimless exploration and towards
refinement and coercing the fractal into what I picture it in my mind to be.
So now I'm going to reach into my bag of tricks, techniques that I know
work fairly well, to try to tweak the fractal. I will often try cloning the
bottom layer, then changing just one or two parameters in the coloring
method, and combining the two layers (with the same gradient) with Hard
Light or Overlay. This is especially effective if the parameter that is
changed has a natural complement; for example, if one layer has real(z) as
an option, I will try the other one as imag(z). If one layer uses distance
coloring for orbit traps, I will try the other one as angle coloring. I
don't always do this, because sometimes the combinations are bland or
uninteresting, but these are things I try.
If I'm in a particularly patient mood, I might try a multi-layer monster.
Generally these are ten or more layers, carefully blended so that each
layer has only minimal impact, where a single parameter in the coloring is
adjusted over a small range throughout all the layers. This is how images
like "Ethereal", "Ephemeral", and "Gorgon" are done. If you're going to try
this, you will need the following: plenty of RAM (close those other apps),
a fast processor (since you're rendering ten times the normal amount), and
patience. And expect to throw a lot of them away, as these are *very*
tricky to make work.
The final stage for me is color tweaking and merge mode experimentation. If
I'm reasonably happy with the colors as they are, I may just tweak a bit,
here and there, as sort of a "touch up". If the colors are uninspiring but
the shape is promising, I'll try some more random gradients, and tweak when
I find something with promise. I almost never use a random gradient without
If the image has a lot of layers, or has layers with different gradients,
and I only want to adjust the colors without replacing them completely, I
will often add a "color adjustment" layer. This is a layer using the
standard Mandelbrot type, 1 iteration, bailout 1e20, with the inside color
set to (0,128,128) in the HSL color model. Then I change the merge mode on
this layer to HSL Addition and Opacity to 100%. In this merge mode, the
color (0,128,128) is "neutral", and has no effect. I can adjust the hue for
the entire image by changing the solid hue, and I will often try all the
hues in steps of 15 or so. I can desaturate by reducing the saturation of
the solid color, and supersaturate by increasing it. I usually don't adjust
the lightness with this layer, since that is normally part of what has
attracted me to the image in the first place.
Another trick I might try is to invert the lightness without changing the
hue. To do this, I use a hue-adjustment layer as described above to rotate
the hue 180 degrees; then I add another color adjustment layer, solid
white, and set its merge mode to Difference. This inverts the lightness and
rotates the hue another 180 degrees (back to where I started). I do these
with layers rather than by tweaking gradients because it is often difficult
or impossible to achieve these effects by modifying several very different
At some time during the exploration, often before I begin tweaking colors,
but sometimes after, I will change the framing of the image. There are
several sizes and ratios I use, 4:1, 8:3, 4:3, 1:1, and the portrait
versions of these ratios. The thinner ones are harder to get right, and it
is often difficult to persuade a fractal to fit them well.
I almost never name a fractal until it is finished, although there are a
few notable exceptions. (Not all of which have been posted.) In some ways
this can be harder than creating the fractal. :-)
Here's what I do:
I also have a default gradient that I use. It's actually a fully
saturated hue spectrum, with the green negated. (I find that I don't much
care for computer green.) For me, the actual gradient doesn't matter so
much, but if I use the same one over and over again, I can use the colors
that pop up in an image to calibrate how the technique works.
My favorite images typically come from Julia sets, and I have a stable of
Julia parameters that I use over and over again. Some of them are:
(-.778,.201), (-.1,1), and (.28,.005). When I settle in to an image, I
have hundreds more stored in text files (from Fractint usage) that I can
cut and paste into UF.
For me, my images almost always have some "deeper" connection between the
parameters and coloring schemes. For example, I may use the polar angle
as a hue layer and the corresponding radius/magnitude for a saturation
layer. I find that using multiple aspects of a given coloring scheme in
concert can lend an element of cohesion to an image.
I often use many layers (8 or more). This can help reduce the effects of
banding for those coloring formulas that don't have continuous versions.
This also works out well with formulas like the "embossed" types, that
don't necessarily have iteration bands but can still have sharp
boundaries. One thing I like to do is to use several layers, each with
black/white coloring, and average them into a continuous range of grays.
I tend not to use transformations too much unless I'm going for a special
(read: premeditated) effect. The apsect ratios I typically use are 4:5
(for images that I might want to enlarge to a 16x20 print), 1:1 (square)
and 3:2 (works well with photographing the monitor on 35mm film).
Advice for newer folks and anyone else who cares to listen: pick a few
favorite tools (coloring schemes, calculation formulas, parameters sets)
and work with them extensively to figure out how they work. Don't try to
use and understand everything at once. Go back to the basics often.