Fine art enters computer age

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have used recent advances in computer graphics to produce painting-like images without the mess and odour of real paint.

The system, developed by graduate students Bill Baxter and Vincent Scheib was completed under the direction of computer science professors Ming Lin and Dinesh Manocha.

Commercial computer-based painting systems and recent research on the automatic generation of ‘painterly’ images have emphasised the appearance of the final image, according to Lin, project principal.

‘However, the word ‘painterly’ also describes a fusion of feeling and action, sight and touch, purpose and paint, beyond merely producing an image that gives an artistic impression,’ she said. ‘Our project complements existing research by offering a man-machine interface that captures the artistic process.’

Their computer painting system, ‘dAb: Interactive Haptic Painting with 3D Virtual Brushes,’ employs a haptic interface. It runs on a standard dual processor personal computer with a commodity OpenGL 3-D graphics accelerator and a haptic device made by Sensable Technologies.

The system is said to put users more in touch both with materials and the painting process by providing a ‘minimalist’ interface with as few complicated buttons, key-presses and controls as possible, while still offering much expressive power, Lin said.

Paintings created with dAb can be stored, enhanced and printed on canvas, according to its developers. An artist can use dAb as a painting environment or as a practice tool for sketches of a painting being considered.

‘We envision that dAb will offer an effective training system for painting in the future by providing a natural interface that can take advantage of skill transfer from a traditional painting environment to a computer-painting program, a feature currently not available with any existing computer painting system,’ said Manocha.

Creators say the unique components of dAb include deformable, three-dimensional virtual brushes that give painters control of complex brush strokes similar to those of various real brushes as well as feedback that provides a sense of realism and tactile cues that enable users to better manipulate the paintbrush.

The system is also said to provide a novel two-directional, two-layer paint model that allows for easy loading of complex blends onto the 3-D brush and generation of interesting paint effects on the canvas.

‘dAb offers the simplicity and ease of use similar to that of a traditional painting setting, while providing technology and capabilities (quick drying, save, undo) of a computerised system,’ concluded Lin.