When Big Data And Graphic Arts Collide
September 28, 2013

Painting Software Lets You Paint Digitally Using Your Own Strokes

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

[ Watch the Video: Redefining Painting With A Computer ]

A new computer program developed by scientists at Princeton University allows graphic artists to produce their own digital brushstrokes using algorithms, quickly and easily.

The team created the program, called RealBrush, by combining graphics algorithms with data storage and retrieval techniques. Artists can use RealBrush to create, bend and shape a wide array of brushstrokes. The program includes effects such as smudging, smearing and merging as well.

The scientists used "Big Data" storage to help create RealBrush. Big Data is a term for the paradigm shift in which the ability to capture, store and analyze huge quantities of digital information allow scientists to use data to address new challenges. Using Big Data allows programmers to use data to answer questions, or create simulations, through examples rather than just mathematics.

"Our goal is to have it look like a photograph of a real stroke but to have it follow whatever path you happen to be drawing," according to Adam Finkelstein, a computer science professor and the senior researcher on the project. "The challenge is if you have a photo of a paint stroke, how do you make it fit a different path?"

When using RealBrush, artists need to first create a few sample strokes of their own using anything from oil paint to nail polish. The user then photographs the strokes and enters them into the program's library, which uses the samples as baselines indicating fundamental characteristics of the strokes. RealBrush can use the artist's samples to warp and blend the original strokes into any curves or forms the user wishes.

"We use feature matching — it is a machine-learning approach," Jingwan "Cynthia" Lu, a graduate student in computer science who was the lead author of a paper, said. "Based on the shape of the spine, we want to find segments of the exemplar that have a similar spine and use the segments to make similar shapes."

Users can either use pre-captured strokes, or paint their own strokes and record those in the system. They can even share their strokes with their friends. The researchers say that RealBrush shows how programming could have a huge impact in many fields, including graphic design.

"In the old days, people wrote clever algorithms to simulate what they were trying to achieve. What algorithm can I use that will look like a brush on canvas? It was hard, and it met with limited success," Finkelstein said. "How do you draw the fundamental characteristics of paint from many examples of paint? How do you extrapolate traffic patterns from what traffic was like today, or last week, or last month? We are entering a realm where you don't have to apply a clever algorithm to simulate the world; you can say, 'this is how the world really is.'"