Non-PhotoRealistic Rendering

I first became aware of non-photorealistic rendering in 2000 when Alex Mohr, Christopher Herrman and some other students at the University of Wisconsin created a non-photorealistic rendering version of the popular first-person shooter “Quake”, NPR Quake. NPR is simply taking tools that are commonly used to create “photo-real” images, think cameras or software, and creating something that looks like it isn’t photo-real. Images can appear as drawings, paintings, cartoon cells or sketches… only no pencils were harmed in the creation of the images. A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon an app for the Apple iPhone called ToonPAINT, and it’s rocked my world. ToonPAINT takes any of the pictures on your iPhone, or the camera itself, and allows you to create images that are startlingly cool. Cool because they can take most mundane subject and render it as beautiful art.

The team behind ToonPaint is headed up by Dr. Bruce Gooch, who specializes (among other things) in Computational Aesthetics. His vision is to create tools that engage and inform the artistic process, and with ToonPAINT, they have a winner. The thing that I like about NPR is that it allows the creation of an image that suspends disbelief. The more photographically real something becomes, the more our brains try to reconcile, what Jeff Hawkins refers to as, our invariant model of the world. In other words, we compare what we think something *should* be, with what it is. If they don’t line up, somewhere in our consciousness, there is a disconnect. In 3D computer graphics and robotics this is called the “uncanny valley“. Moving away from the “known” allows the mind to accept imagery that is more “mythic”, less literal, and potentially, more narrative. Black and white photography has occupied this space for the past 150 years, as the primary tool that photographers had to create images that convey another time or place. This is also the power of comics and animation. Now, thanks to ToonPAINT, anyone with an iPhone can create stunning effects in a short time. Check it out, it’s really fun!

Note: There’s now a version for Mac desktops called ToonPHOTO (get it here).


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