Layering the Lily: Ultra Fractal 5

“See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”

That Biblical quotation is where the expression, “gilding the lily” comes from. To “gild the lily” is to obscure the natural beauty of something by trying to enhance it. My criticism of Ultra Fractal as a fractal art tool has always centered around that issue — that users tended to get creative by layering fractals rather than by exploring new formulas or experimenting with new rendering techniques.

Layering is a powerful digital effect. And with the many options there are for merging layers it’s quite easy to create a new “hybridized” image (or mutant) very quickly.

Of course there are varying degrees of layering. Adding a layer to give a textured quality to a surface is an example of using layering as an enhancement, or in just a minor way; many rendering methods achieve similar effects. However; taking two fractal images and merging them together usually results in a major transformation of the image (that’s probably why it’s done).

Taking a photograph or other, non-fractal image, and merging that into the final result is most likely to have the same major transformational effect. But this makes the final mix even more complex because now it’s not all “fractal” imagery.

This ability of Ultra Fractal 5 to import images is undoubtably going to be a great feature for users to play with and experiment. Add to that the increased ability to organize and apply layers, which Ultra Fractal 5 also improves upon from previous versions, and it’s not hard to see the birth of a new type of artwork starting here.

But what does this mean for the label, “Made with Ultra Fractal”? Well, if done tastefully and intelligently like many of the examples that Mark Townsend has displayed using Sprite as a plugin for the previous version, Ultra Fractal 4, then little has changed and one can just assume that whatever was made exclusively in Ultra Fractal is exclusively “fractal”.

But I’ve noticed that it’s pretty rare that anyone uses layering with any intelligence or taste in Ultra Fractal. There are exceptions and I’ve reviewed such exceptional fractal art here before. In fact, I believe that these exceptional works of art made in Ultra Fractal have occurred because the artists deliberately tried to avoid the tempting “fractal pancake” strategy and instead exploited the powers of the fractal formula and its inner mathematical machinery and only used the layering capabilities to bring out more of the “fractalish-ness” of the image.

If the Ultra Fractal 5 image importing feature is used by most people as I suspect it will be, then it will become a golden crutch for those who want to make innovative images with Ultra Fractal but don’t want to do so with fractals, which have more parameters than just “cut” and “paste”. This might lead to some interesting photo montages with fractal “highlights”, but at the same time it could lead to a stampede of unicorns and an explosion of flowers leaving the fractal elements (if any) more hidden than a digital watermark.

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