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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fractal Art: Forging Order From Chaos

I have to confess to a new and compelling addiction — one that's had a major hit on my productivity. In fact, I spent the entire day last Friday at the computer, indulging this new passion. Skipped lunch. Forgot about dinner. Finally, only the cat's plaintive pleas for her overdue supper pulled me away at 8:00 p.m. It's been the same every day since.

I'm talking about fractal images. Making them, I mean, as opposed to viewing those created by others (which I had long considered the realm of true geeks). Fractal art is — literally — the visual interpretation of mathematical formulas that explore chaos and infinity. I have long been aware of this gorgeous art form, but I had never tried it myself until the last few days. And I am totally, utterly, irredeemably, hooked.

The image you see here is an example of the beauty that lies hidden within mathematics. I created it using a program called Ultra Fractal.

Since starting to post my own photos to Flickr about two months ago, I have begun exploring other people's work, and the tools they use to create digital art. There's much more on Flickr than just photos. There's a strong digital art community, and a huge contingent of Fractal enthusiasts. Checking out these people's work led me to several Fractal generators. I tried about four, and found Ultra Fractal the easiest to use.

Even so, it's not for the faint of heart. It's easy to manipulate the sample fractals provided with the program, but far more challenging to create your own from scratch. You can pick from a long list, including Julia and the well-known Mandelbrot set; zoom in infinitely; and play with parameters controlling the inside and outside shapes and colours. Adjusting parameters involves changing values in a whole bunch of controls and — being a math dimwit — I have no idea what they do. I couldn't tell your arctan from your cuberoot. But you don't really have to know what these things mean. Just play with the options until you achieve the result you want.

The program offers PhotoShop-like layer effects and even the ability to create masks, though masking is far more difficult than in PhotoShop. In the latter program, you just paint with black or white to mask areas of an image. Ultra Fractal involves moving gradient sliders around in a fashion that's anything but intuitive. On the plus side, however, the program comes with excellent tutorials.

It costs $59 US, and it's worth every penny. Download at your own risk, though. This is the ultimate addictive pastime.

For more examples, see my quickly growing Fractal set at Flickr. Click on any thumbnail for a larger view. Enjoy :-)


SB said...

Wow, $59. I love the image; I hate the price. Do you know of any freebies out there?

Pam said...

Yes, Apophysis is free. http://www.apophysis.org/.

So is Fractal Explorer.

I tried both of these, but found UF4 much easier to use.

Trée said...

Welcome to the addiction. :-)

Pam said...

Thanks Trée. It certainly is an addiction. My Flickr fractals set is growing every day!