Why I don’t use Ultra Fractal

In a nutshell, it doesn’t do what Inkblot Kaos, Sterlingware, Tierazon or Xaos does. I want something that sprouts artwork after a couple of clicks. Ultra Fractal? It’s just too much work. Too many layers. Too many moving parts. Too many moving parts that I have to move.

My first attempt at Ultra Fractal was three or so years ago. I don’t remember what version. I didn’t seem suited to it, but I didn’t think much about it at the time because I had plenty of other new fractal programs to work with. I didn’t know much about fractals in general, so I discounted my doubts about Ultra Fractal figuring I just didn’t understand it.

I picked it up again a year later because I had seen some really awesome artwork made by Paul DeCelle. I looked at Paul’s work and thought, “I want the machine that made that and I don’t care if I have to pay for it”. Well I downloaded some UF parameter files by Samuel Monnier (thanks, Sam) in hopes of getting some insight into the secrets of making these intriguing images. I have never seen anything take so long to render. It had something like 18 layers or parts to it.

Yes, some of you may be thinking, “Only 18?”. Well, I got Paul’s machine all right. What I didn’t realize at the time, but I have now come to understand, is the machine doesn’t make the artwork, the artist uses UF as a tool to make the artwork with. The program doesn’t come with an artist.

You see, that’s the whole problem. There’s no digital Rumplestiltskin inside UF like there is in most other fractal programs. Stop me if I’m wrong, but UF is all about layers, and layers are chosen and positioned by a human mind and not a computer algorithm, although an algorithm may have made each layer, separately. This may explain why there is very little really “freaky” stuff made in UF: there’s too much artistic control.

To borrow an expression from the Bible: Freaky is begotten, not made. It comes from chaotic and mathematical algorithms, not from human hands, not even talented human hands. (And your own skill and talent is the key requirement for making good artwork in UF.)

Even Gertrude Stein agrees with me. Here’s what she had to say about UF; “Freaky is not as strange as we can imagine. Freaky is stranger than we can imagine.”

Tim Hodkinson

Technorati Tags:

How comments work: After the approval of your very first comment you will be able to post future comments immediately to any posting. Any username or fictitious email is good enough.

7 thoughts on “Why I don’t use Ultra Fractal

  1. I just happened across your blog—I admit I have no recollection of how I got here– but I’m surprised you are trying to discount art that is created through studious application of skills…

    Though my own preferences when creating things are more towards organic/procedural creations, (similar to you, I imagine) I feel the people who are more hands on, more exacting deserve tremendous credit for their patience and vision.

    Also, if you discredit people with the ability to create things beyond yours or their own imagination, you are selling human creativity way short.

    aren’t you?

    My main goal when I write fiction is to push my reality envelope beyond anything remotely relevant to our existence.

  2. Dude, you are not serious!

    You want a machine that creates art? There is no such thing. Machines do not create art, people do. They may create machines that imagery, and the imagery may be art–but any art so created is due to the machine’s creator, not the machine’s operator.

    If you want to own a machine that produces interesting art at the click of a button, that’s fine–but please don’t pretend that that art is “yours”. It contains very little of your own expression in it, other than as a crude filter of good vs. bad. Such mass-produced click-frenzy imagery holds very little interest for me.

    Art is how artists express themselves. The idea that a non-thinking machine will somehow express itself is just ludicrous.

    Keep turning the crank if you like, but this frankly is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen posted here in a while.


  3. I think this post has been somewhat misinterpreted.

    The reference to Gertrude Stein — whose free form process of “automatic writing” produced some sublime, surrealistic art — is deliberate. Stein found the “freaky” by letting things happen rather than making them happen.

    But I seriously doubt that Tim and Stein believe the process itself — whether performed by human hand or machine — can produce art without an artist’s direct influence and concrete decisions. Stein once described art in an interview as “an all but continuous insistence on deciding, on choosing and refusing.”

    So I am skeptical that Tim disdains artistic control and believes art is completely random happenstance. His art accompanying this post shows careful, deliberate, and very human design. None of it appears to have been made using a rote, assembly line method.

    Instead, the post seems more like an apologia — a meditation where Tim muses on his feelings about a specific program’s tendency to lean towards precision at the expense of discovery.

  4. Sorry for taking so long to respond to comments but my internet has been down for the last 8 days.

    I just think the algorithmic component to fractal art is being underestimated, both in its contribution and its potential. The machine may be a tool, but it’s too powerful a tool to be put in the same category as a paintbrush. UF tries to reduce it to a paintbrush and this is why its results are often disappointing from an algorithmic perspective.

    An artist is no substitute for a machine. Fractal artists need to be more humble.

    …8 days without internet, I’m barely coherent…

  5. Tim,

    “An artist is no substitute for a machine.”

    Well, it’s a blog, it’s meant to house opinions, and while I certainly respect your right to both have an opinion and express it, I must say this in my opinion this is utter poppycock.

    Machines say absolutely nothing. Period. They’re not conscious (at least today’s machines aren’t) so they’re not trying to communicate; they just do what they’re told. I don’t want more machine in my art. I want more artist.


  6. If a person randomly splashes paint on a canvas, is it really art?

    I’ve always felt that, in addition to imagination and creativity, art should require some skill and mastery of tools. Otherwise, anybody can do it, and it ceases to be special. It loses some wonderment.

    For example, I can’t write music or play a single musical instrument, so when I hear a great guitar solo that has with it a quality of both musical creativity and virtuosity, it knocks my socks off. I think “Man, I wish I could do that!” But, I know I can’t and maybe that’s why I think it’s so special. On the flip side, it gives me a great feeling of pride and accomplishment when someone makes a similar comment about my artwork.

    Yeah, UF can be some long and hard work to get the image that you find pleasing. Yes, sometimes it’s frustrating when you are having a hard time realizing what’s in your head. And sure, sometimes it can take an awful long time to render.

    But when you get it right after all that hard work and you look at the finished product of what you’ve done and say “That looks pretty awesome!” (and especially if others say the same as well), then it’s very satisfying.

  7. What an interesting thread! :)

    I think I have a slightly different perspective to offer, which is that there is something a bit like photography to fractal art – particularly with UltraFractal – wherein you can be as involved with the subject matter as you chose to be.

    In UF you can get right in there with the nitty gritty by authoring and modifying formulae yourself, or just use the plethora of previous work that have already been done by the community.

    I think this is similar to taking a photo of someone else's work, but with UF you have quite a unique option to combine and dress others raw elements of synthesis however you like.

    I certainly sympathize with what Tim is saying (and I do like to approach my UF work without too much in the way of manual editing), but I reckon that once you're past the (to be fair, quite small) investment of figuring out how UF's layers, formulas and coloring methods work, and you have set something up, then you do at least have the option to sit back and just explore, much as you would explore a subject with a camera.

    This is perhaps less the case with setups like DeCelle's work that Tim linked, which are only slightly fractal – so zooming doesn't let you explore very much. However there are some fractals where a great deal of exploration can be done, that uncovers more and more interesting things without having to do it all by hand.

    I think this can be seen through the variability in some of the things I've found. A lot of the time it's a mess with no interest, but then occasionally something really works.

    This is the machine taking on some of the work, but from a creativity point of view I prefer to think of it as mathematics (or, the dynamics of complex numbers) taking a piece of the creative credit, much like the role nature has played in a landscape painting or photograph.

    Surely there has to be some point at which the artists input into their work is limited, at that point they should be seen rather as the facilitator or director of the work rather than the final source of something synthetic. There are limits even to what can be done with computation, after all ;).

    I think of UF more as a complicated camera than either an overly artistic tool or an automatic art machine.

    Thanks for an interesting read,
    Dan Wills

Comments are closed.