Flame Fractals: Get the Fire Extinguisher!

Odysseus blinds the Cyclops

My continuing Odyssey in the seas of Deviant Art has brought me to what I shall refer to as the island of Apophysis, that being the great flame fractal program created by Mark Townsend which utilizes the “flame algorithms” discovered or invented by Scott Draves, the author of Electric Sheep, the original flame fractal application in the form of a screen saver.

My apologies to Mark; he did a great job of producing the software and gave it all away freely so that the whole world may use it (and sometimes it seems the whole world is using it).  My urge to ram a sharp stick into the eye of this cyclops is because I think that while it may be a great thing to play with, it has taken up a disproportionate amount of gallery space everywhere in the fractal world with endless variations of its very limited themes.

While I’m at it I’ll apologize to Scott Draves as well.  He had the right idea when he made a screen saver out of his flame algorithms because that’s all flame algorithms are good for: live entertainment.  Scott made the algorithm code open source under the GNU Public License (same license as Linux) which allows anyone else to use it as long as they don’t add restrictions to the software they produce with it.  That’s one of the reasons flame fractals are found in so many places.  If you love flame fractals in general and Apophysis in particular then give a hearty cheer for Scott and Mark.

Now let’s get down to blinding the beast.

The only good thing I’ve ever seen done with Apophysis was a 3D video full of glowing domes and cosmic laser beams.  You’ve undoubtedly seen this sort of thing because Apo (for short) only makes a few things: glowing jelly fish domes; feathers; jack frost stain glass windows; colored smoke rings; and cloudy lint-like cobwebby fragments.

Change the colors, mix and match the Five Great Themes, add an inspirational title and that’s about all you can do.  Now there have been some 3D additions like I mentioned as well as numerous attempts at animating these flame constructions but they don’t have anything like the variety of imagery types that the mandelbox or other 3D fractal hybrids do.  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Scott Draves probably saw all there was to see when he made his screen saver program and let it out of it’s pen and onto many thousands (millions?) of computers.

Here’s my main point:  Flame fractals are fun to watch as a screen saver and fun to play around with in a program like Apophysis but they become boring and repetitive when made into still images.  It’s literally like photographing a fire: you can’t capture the quality that makes it exciting to watch.

Here’s some examples of that from the Electric Sheep screensaver, set to the synthesized sounds of Kraftwerk:

If fractals in general are best experienced in their interactive software form, then flame fractals are the best example of this.  In fact, I would say that flame fractals really have no other beneficial aspect to them than live entertainment.  There’s a few, very rare examples of something that someone has made that captures that ghostly, other worldly look of flames, but in my years of browsing other people’s fractal art galleries I don’t think I’ve seen more than just three or four of these.  Flames aren’t like other fractal algorithms in terms of creativity.

Here’s a recent, short (3:10) YouTube video by Scott Draves that adds some perspective to the whole flame fractal genre, from the original screensaver to more recent applications of it.  Look and see if you can see anything interesting and art-worthy in the various flame fractal graphics shown.

Whether you watched the video or not I think you’ll see that there’s an appeal to flames but that it’s almost entirely confined to their application as moving, animated graphics and even then it’s more of a plaything like the screensaver or a visualization accompaniment for music.  Alone, as in a still image (or thousands of still images) flame fractals are categorically less interesting, to put it mildly.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that flame fractals are a waste of time and ought to be separated from the main fractal category on sites like Deviant Art because they’re so uniquely boring and not likely to be of any interest to anyone except the people who make them.  Actually forcing the Apo crowd to look at their own work would be poetic justice.  Creatively it’s not much and yet it’s managed to draw a considerable number of “players” to it.

I think the creative shallowness of flame fractals is best exemplified by Thomas Ludwig’s new program, Chaotica.  Like Mark Townsend with Apophysis I’m sure Thomas (aka Lycium on DA) has made a good flame fractal program.  And also like Mark he’s giving it away freely, but based on what I’ve seen made with it, the same “Curse of the Flames” inhabits this new program as well.  If you’re not familiar with Chaotica it has it’s own Deviant Art group and you can see for yourself there what’s new and what isn’t.  I’ve been meaning to post about it for months but since I haven’t seen any artwork of interest made with it there’s not much to talk about.  To me, so far it’s just more flame fractals.  Perhaps Chaotica’s contribution to flame fractals is purely on the technical side?  faster rendering, optimized code?  But after so many years of these “flaming” flame fractals, who really cares anymore?  I mean, apart from the people who make them, that is.

That Cyclops has eaten enough of the Electric Sheep.  Please, don’t think twice before you post another flame fractal image –think three or four -hundred- times.

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10 thoughts on “Flame Fractals: Get the Fire Extinguisher!

  1. Cory’s gallery is here: http://www.enchgallery.com/fractals/fracthumbs.htm

    I see a real progression in his work from Gallery 1 to 7; from the common sort of flames to much more sophisticated and creative work.

    This one is nice but there’s only 10 or 12 of that calibre among his entire collection of 900. But you’re right; there are some flame fractals worth looking at out there. Undoubtedly Deviant Art has the lion’s share of the “other” kind.

  2. I feel no need to argue with the subjective parts of this article, not because I agree, but because I don’t see a point to doing so. However, I would like to provide some information on chaotica that seems to have escaped your notice (not that I blame you for this).

    Currently, chaotica can only render parameters exported from apophysis; it has no editor of its own and is not meant to be a standalone program… yet. So for the time being you are correct that it is only a technical contribution. However, you may have noticed that the current version is 0.45, from which you can gather that it is still very much in development. It is my understanding that lycium plans to incorporate several significant expansions to the fractal flame algorithm, at which time it will be able to do things that are not possible in apophysis or any other currently available flame renderer.

    Whether you will like those things as art is anyone’s guess; indeed it is anyone’s guess what they will even look like. But what is objectively true is that chaotica is not yet done and hasn’t yet reached its full artistic potential.

    In other words, stay tuned.

  3. I’m sure DeviantArt has a lions share of what you would consider ‘good’ ones as well. It’s not much different than having to sort through 1000 pictures of sunsets or forests. I’m sure a vast majority of them are quite similar and while well composed, lack the wow factor.

    I find it difficult to create something unique and outside the box in MB3D and Apo both. And when someone does do that, it is often buried and goes unrecognized among the flood of normal or pervasive styles that now exist. However, just because a style is over done it doesn’t mean it’s not good, it just makes it harder to create something that stands out in that particular style.

    I contend that it not only can it be done, but that it is done on a regular basis. I mean it’s not like a sign is hung out that says, “Check this out, it’s different!” You have to invest the time to sort through the 1000 sunsets and find the few that ring your bell.

  4. I’m not disappointed with your remarks, they are exactly what I expected. Apophysis is my fractal program of choice.
    You’ll find things of interest as you’ve already discovered the favorites folders on dA. Take a look in the folders of the UF & MB3D people and look at the Apo works they’ve collected. Better yet look at the Apo works they’ve made themselves. That should eliminate some chaff.
    Happy hunting!

  5. Hahaha, this article will be fun to look back to :)

    It’s too bad that your bias against “flame” fractals (I utterly despise the redundant and seemingly deliberately misleading nomenclature flam3 introduced) prevents you from knowing what’s really going on with my work on IFS fractals, over the course of several years…

    I could link to gigabytes worth of images showing new methods I’ve developed, and write a long explanation about how no one takes you seriously in the flame scene until you’ve got support for Apophysis parameters, but this is hardly the place for rational inquiry ;)

  6. this is just mean… :( flame fractals where a impressive extension to standard ifs, and still not fully explored ( it was me that added the superformula transform to a decent apophysis hacked version ;) ), i think i have to write up some thoughts about how to control the effects of adding “new transforms” , and what about the developments out of it, i mean especially the “incendia” style of tractals, those are not recognized by the publicity as it may be cool, because this adoption of ifs method is in fact very good controllable, but no one is using this kind of software, incenda is the most underrecognized fractal program in history i believe…. and if you ask me i still couldnt explain what is going on there, because i didnt program this way of generator not for myself … ;) …

  7. Tim,
    Part of me wondered if this article had been written several years ago when Apo was a relatively new program. Back then yes, most of what you saw was generic. I made plenty of jellyfish and cobwebby pieces early on. But seeing that this was written just days ago, I felt I had to comment.

    Think of it like this: You view drawings by the majority of the public, and most of what you see will look quite pedestrian. Stick figures, lack of dimension, childish scribblings and such. You then go on to say “It’s time to put an end to drawings” without having seen the stunning artwork that can be accomplished by a few talented people, or not having mastered the skill of drawing yourself. I understand it’s easy to criticize something which is only partly understood from an observer’s perspective, but try digging deeper into Apo and you’ll find a treasure trove you never knew was there.

    • No, I don’t think so. In fact, I think that comment of yours just proves what you’re saying is wrong. Oh, so so wrong…

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