Expresii version 2019.08.02 gets a face-lift! The Windows-7-styled frame of the Settings Window is now replaced with modern Windows 10 frame. Buttons on the Caption Bar now gives clearer clues on what options are there for the particular windows. We also jump onto the bandwagon of Windows 10 Fluent UI acrylic blur (shown in the Exit Prompt dialog):
However, we got rendering bug of only a portion of the window gets rendered (when DPI scaling is 200%) like this on Windows 10 ver 1803 Build 17134.885:
Updating to latest version 1903 Build 18362.267 fixed the rendering bug. So, be sure to update your Windows to enjoy our new UI facelift. And In case you don't like Arcylic blur, you can disable it in Expresii's System Setting Dialog:
The Acrylic Blur is applied on the exit prompt only at the moment and we plan to add the blur to where is appropriate. Let us know how you like the new design! ( •́ .̫ •̀ )
When using 'System Enhanced' mode override for high DPI, we notice shifted rendering of our UI.
We believe it's a Windows bug because when we don't use high DPI override, the UI rendering is correct. So, before Microsoft fixes this, please don't use override for high DPI.
Following our last blog entry, we continue to test Expresii on the Deskmini A300, this time with external graphics cards. We only bought two new items: 1. M.2 to PCI-E x4 Adapter Card (US$2; US$6 at Amazon), 2. PCI-E x1 to x16 ribbon cable (US$4; similar item $17 at Amazon) from taobao. This setup needs an external power supply and we simply use one from our other PC's.
We tried an nvidia GTX 1060 and two lower-end cards GT 640 and GTX 750 Ti. The M.2 adapter slot is not open-ended so in order to insert the graphics cards directly onto it, we need to first cut it open (reference).
1x versus 4x PCI-E
We get 180+ FPS on 4k with the 1060 connected at 4x PCI-E speed. When at 1x (via ribbon cable), we get only 80+ FPS. At Full-HD, we get 180+ FP with 4x; 150+ FPS, 1x. With lower-end cards, we basically only get around 30 FPS, which is even much lower then what we get with the integrated Radeon Vega 11 in the Ryzen 2400G (95+ FPS).
We ordered a 1x, instead of 4x, ribbon cable because we wanted to see how such low-cost setup performs. The 1x cable is actually thin enough to pass through the vents of the Deskmini case, meaning that we might be able to attach or detach the external graphics card from the Deskmini easily. However, after we ran the cable through the vent, we were unable to get the connection to work, probably due to the tiny space of the Deskmini enclosure forced the cable to bend causing e.g. the interface on the M.2 adapter to loosen a bit. FYI, even not physically restricted, the more interfaces you have, the more chance you get connection issues: we experienced e.g. a pink screen, or the card not being detected. We needed to resit the cards a few times before we get it to work.
With adapter and cable totaling a mere US$6, we are able to test out the external GPU setup with either 1x and 4x PCI-E speed. You probably want to use a US$89 riser (similar item US$43 at taobao) instead for easier setup with 4x speed for for proper performance. Or, at least this adapter+cable (US$17 at taobao) to minimize physical interfaces.
We're satisfied by the performance increase from Ryzen APU 2400G's Vega 11 GPU running at 95+ FPS on Full-HD to GTX 1060 running at 180+ FPS on 4k monitor.
See this youtube video for adapter & cable options.
We're often asked what PC would be good to run Expresii. In this blog entry we show you a few mini PC options. Note that if you don't need a PC such small, there're cheaper solutions if you build regular ITX PC's, which are a bit bigger.
Smooth painting at Full-HD ($350-$620)
For your reference, we tested a mini PC using the Asrock Deskmini A300. Specifically, we built a system with a AMD Ryzen 5 2400G CPU, 16 GB of DDR4 2666MHz RAM, and a 2.5" 256GB SSD hard drive. The Ryzen 2400G has an integrated GPU Radeon RX Vega 11, which performs much better than those integrated GPU's from Intel, is fast enough for running Expresii smoothly. Note that you can still go by with 8GB of RAM and just 128GB of storage space if you have a tighter budget.
The DeskMini PC box is only 15 x 15 x 8 cm, with the power brick 1/6 of the box size. Total hardware cost the main unit (i.e. excluding monitor, mouse and keyboard) is USD380. Depending on how you get a license for Windows OS, the final cost could be sub-$400. There are also ready-to-use pre-built units available at e.g. Amazon at around $620 (OS included) for those of you who don't want to build a PC yourselves.
I once had a Mac Mini but it died in just a few years - since the CPU is soldered onto the main board, I can not simply replace the faulty component like I can with a regular PC. What is great about this Deskmini is that you can still upgrade the various components like CPU, RAM, storage like you do with a regular PC. So I think the a mini PC with Ryzen 2400G & Asrock Deskmini A300 is a sweet spot on price, compactness & ability to change components.
Thanks to AMD for making great performing APU at affordable price, and Asrock for making such a compact box!
On such a system with Ryzen 2400G, we get 95 FPS when using a FHD (1920 x 1080) monitor. The mainboard allows a little overclocking of the RAM, and we get 100+ FPS if we overclock the RAM from 2666 to 3000 MHz.
The Deskmini also has an Intel version, but the supported Intel GPU's (e.g. HD 630) are much slower so we don't recommend the Intel variant.
Smooth painting at 4K+, as an upgrade (+$116 + Graphics card of your choice)
Fullscreen painting using a 4k monitor with the above A300 system with Vega 11 is a bit slow. One thing I like about these mini PC's is that they are equipped with NVMe M.2 slots, which can be used to connect to an external GPU to improve the graphics performance. That means you can upgrade your system if you need to (the setup is a bit geeky though). If you're a tinkerer, you can check out this video with an actual A300 (left) and another (right) showing using an eGPU kit with a similar mini PC:
The m2 eGPU kit with power supply mentioned in the 2nd video costs $116 from Ali Express (get the same thing + power supply for $50 from taobao if you can read Chinese and get them ship to your region). A used GTX 1060 with 6GB RAM could be as low as $135 on eBay. So, with a few hundreds of dollars you can add a powerful graphics card with when you need it. For even cheaper solution, look at this guide and buy the NGFF version (i.e. for M.2) dock. More reference here.
Smooth Painting At 4K+, Compact, ready-to-use ($1150-$1300)
If you have some more money to spare, and don't want to mess around with PC building, we recommend the Intel Hades Canyon NUC:
The Intel Hades Canyon NUC (Vega M GH, 16Gb RAM, 256 GB SSD at $1300) is even smaller than the Asrock DeskMini A300 yet much more powerful. Its Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU, which is much faster than the Vega 11 in the Deskmini, allows you to run Expresii on a 4k monitor smoothly. If the 1k+ price tag is a litte too high, thre's also a version with a slower GPU Vega M GL. Also, look at eBay and sometimes there're offers in the $500-600 range as a barebone (i.e. you add your own RAM and storage).
Other ready-to-use mini PC's with Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU (but not as tiny as the Intel NUC) include this Beelink Kaby G7 (with 16GB RAM + 256 GB SSD at $1150) and the HiGame from Chuwi at $1300.
Conclusion? You don't need a huge PC to run Expresii fast! ╭( ･ㅂ･)و ̑̑
We use the Quarter Mode of Expresii to create the ambigram《瑞豬 己亥迎春》. This mode shows the reflected images as you paint.
Note that the strokes produced by Expresii are highly detailed and nature-looking, thanks to its true-to-life brush simulation and superior rendering method.
We export the ambigram from Expresii as a snapshot, which we then import into Inkscape for further manipulation. After some arrangement, we print the design onto paper to make a paper cut. We even pair the ambigram with a double-sided QR code, which we wrote a program to generate with reference to Aleksey Tikhonov's article.
Flipping the ambigram and testing double-side QR code:
Here's the final product. Check out our previous blog entry to learn more:
And here's one video that shows the whole process:
The 2019 Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Spring Edition) is a huge show. Among the many exhibitors is Huion:
We try out Expresii on the new Huion Kanvas Pro 12, which supports pen tilt sensing. The device looks really nice. However, the glass surface is a bit too slippery to my liking. We also found a few issues: the touch stripe doesn't work with Expresii out of the box, and the pen tilt angle is sometimes off. We have informed Huion about these and hopefully things would be improved. As always, we will work with them if they need more feedback from us.
And in case you wonder: the laptop used was a Huawei Honor MagicBook with AMD 2500U & Vega 8 GPU. It ran Expresii at around 60 FPS, with screen being Full-HD. See a review of the machine here:
The AMD model is cheaper than the Intel + Nvidia MX150 model, but is only about half as fast for GPU performance.
Meeting PiPO's Owner
We also visited PiPO's booth. Glad to have a chance to talk to Ben Lai, the owner of PiPO. He is kind to share his views and offer advice on the Chinese market. Note that we used PiPO's US$150 W5 back in 2014 to demo Expresii.
We also had a chance to try out Expresii on some of their devices. Unfortunately, we are not able to even read the pen pressure on their 2-in-1 tablet device with Celeron CPU. On their Atom-powered device (shown below), we are able to get pen pressure but the responsiveness is not the best. PiPO now switched to using Active pen instead of EMR technology as in the W5.
Expresii is being used for producing the animated feature film Red Squirrel Mai 紅松鼠米高. Do check out the teaser above (those from China can see it here)! This film uses Expresii extensively - both animation background and foreground are drawn with Expresii. The teaser video is shown at Hong Kong Filmart 2019 earlier this month. We thank Ink Culture Ltd and Rooftop Animation for producing such a meaningful work - this animation is the first one made in Hongkong/China that has a distinct style different from all previous works. It's been only less than two years from the setting up studios in Hong Kong and GuangZhou.
Seeing the teaser of Red Squirrel Mai for the first time reminds me of my feeling when I first saw a Kungfu movie of Bruce Lee - it's different from all the previous 'ink wash animation' I've seen! - Nelson Chu
Ink wash animation is a proud product of China from the 60's to the 80's. Nowadays, many attempts have been made to modernize ink wash animation. Our Expresii does provide a refreshing visual style that couldn't be achieved before.
One of the film Directors of Red Squirrel Mai Angela Wong draw Mai the squirrel, the movie protagonist, on the spot:
Visitors can get a glimpse of of the production processing:
Our Nelson demonstrates calligraphy in the show:
And also some doodles (after the famous comic artist 草日 from Hong Kong):
An inkjet printer was also setup there to print artwork done with Expresii on the spot:
We're lucky to encounter Kumamon as our Mai just stepped out of our booth: ^_^
P.S. Now you know why we have to put up a notice forbidding new users to use Expresii for making feature films till later in 2019. ^_^
I can't emphasize enough on Pressure+Tilt. The minute change in your hand movement should translate to the marks you are making.
用Expresii作畫，最好配有 【側鋒感應】 的繪圖筆。一劃、一點、一提、一按 ，特別有韻味╭( ･ㅂ･)و ̑̑
Trying out Huion's new Tilt-sensing tablet
Recently there are more tablet makers releasing models that support pen tilt sensing. One of them is Huion.
We got hold of a new version of Huion H950P (US$80) that supports tilt sensing. The following is a quick demo video of using the Huion H950P. 以下試用 《繪王》品牌的 950P 繪圖板，利用【側鋒(tilt)】+【筆壓】做出多變筆觸：
用後覺得，硬件方面，build quality 很好、筆很輕，且重心適中地落在握筆位置，還配有像Wacom 的rubber grip，故拿筆不累。筆不用電池所以不用換電或者充電。 軟件方面，Huion 自家config程式有時會偵測不到板子，不過這算小問題，且有機會日後軟件更新可解決。還一個小問題是那個火山口形的筆座的設計：筆座看起來是學Wacom 的，但卻改小了。可能Huion 不知原 Wacom 設計，是筆平躺和直插均可，改小了的Huion 筆座承托範圍有限，令 平放筆時很容易掉下，直插時卻又不知為何弄到筆座凹處跟筆頭角度不匹配，導致插着怪怪的不穩當。∑(O_O；)
相比Wacom 的專業有tilt 系列，Huion 的價格絕對是優勢(現在最平宜有tilt 的Wacom 是Intuos Pro Small US$238)。用慣Wacom 的筆者，發現 Huion 的筆，壓下去很容易就到壓感最高值，而Wacom 的是 壓值越接近最高值你越要用力，所以挺不習慣。現在Expresii 是較適合Wacom 那種壓感特性的，所以現在用Huion 寫字覺得有點難控制(已試過調pressure curve)。也許這是個人習慣問題，所以建議大家先到體驗店親身試試看。有機會我們會把Expresii 的内部pressure curve 調控範圍廣大，希望可以有所改善，或者希望Huion 也可以硬件或者軟件上加入讓用家可切換成模擬Wacom那種壓感反應的可能，還有希望提供像Wacom 那種有彈簧的筆尖，以便更好模擬毛筆的提按。筆者覺得，寫不寫到好字，那個筆尖’軟硬‘度跟軟件配合是成敗關鍵。
還有一點要點讚是，Huion 的斜度感應，像Wacom那樣是懸空時也可以讀到的。要知道其實Surface Pen 跟Apple Pencil懸空時是讀不到 tilt 的呢（2019-03-06 更新：Surface Pen 起碼在 Surface Go 上有hover tilt，但2017 Surface Pro還是沒有）。懸空有tilt 有什麽好處？就是讓我們下筆一刻，可看到筆頭正確角度，清楚知道下筆是怎麼樣的筆觸咯～
期待之後試用他們有tilt 感應的pen display，如US$400 的 Kamvas Pro 13。
I am too used to Wacom's pressure profile. A Wacom stylus requires significantly more force to reach the max pressure value in comparison to the Huion. Right now Expresii is more tuned for Wacom's pressure response so it's a bit hard to control the height of the virtual brush to do calligraphy with the Huion. It could be a personal preference, but so far even after adjusting the pressure curve in both Huion's tool and also in Expresii (yes, internally we do have it), I was still not able to write as well as I can with a Wacom. I'd try to adapt the pressure curve and see if helps. I also hope Huion can adjust the spring in their stylus so that it can better mimic a brush. I'm glad that they would invite me to their Shenzhen Headquarters. I haven't met them yet and I look forward to a fruitful discussion.
I think Huion's stylus sensing technology is really close to that of Wacom. Huion's tilt reading is as stable as Wacom's, and I'm glad to see tilt reading is also available while hovering, just like a Wacom (note that Surface Pen and Apple Pencil won't give tilt reading during hovering). Previously, the main advantage of Wacom is its ability to sense pen tilt+twist (i.e. 6 DOF totally). No other stylus makers can sense pen twist just yet, so Wacom still have some technical advantage. I have always been eager to tell Wacom what to improve in their technology and I did tell them last time I was at Connected Ink. However, I'm not sure if they would do anything about what I said.
I look forward to testing Huion's new Pen Display featuring tilt sensing such as the US$400 Kamvas Pro 13.
In conclusion, I think the Huion has made signification improvement (last time I tried it wasn't that great) and is now a company that can rival Wacom. This would be good for the consumers as they now have more choices that are budget-friendly. I hope Wacom can up their game by developing new technology for brush sensing. I am of course always ready to offer my opinions on how things can be improved.
- Nelson Chu
🍊🧧 🏮 Best Wishes for the Year Of The Pig 🐖 2019 瑞豬 己亥 迎春 🏮🧧🌱
Ambigram 瑞豬 ⇔ 己亥 迎春
See it displayed on Surface Pro's / interactively
Chinese Characters 漢字 Ambigrams × Paper Cut 紙雕
We designed the ambigram [瑞豬 ⇔ 己亥 迎春] using Expresii's new quarter mode to celebrate the New Year of the Pig. T he year 2019 is marked as [己亥] in the lunar calendar. [迎春] means welcoming spring; [瑞豬] pig that brings luck. Paper Cut is good for showing flip-type ambigrams since you can easily flip the paper to show different sides of the design.
No ordinary Lanterns 不一樣的 🏮 花燈 / 燈籠 🏮
It's common to display lanterns for Lunar New Year. We therefore try our hands on making a few lanterns featuring our ambigram greetings. We wanted to have a blend of tradition & tech and also make the piece interactive so we made an attempt to embed QR code into the design - not just any QR code but ones that can be read from both sides carrying different messages just like an ambigram! To complete such a design, artist ability alone is not enough.
QR Code Ambigrams 也可翻轉的QR CODE
To make our two-sided QR code, we asked Prof. Tim Leung of HKUST to help with the number crunching. Specifically, we need to write a computer program to untie the knot in producing two-sided QR Codes.
'We have a UG student working on this problem. It's a good training for the student, which involves math and (computer) coding,' said Prof. Leung. Our Dr. Nelson Chu, designer behind the ambigrams and lanterns, is an alumnus of HKUST and hopes to get current HKUST students inspired by interesting projects like this. ’This is a typical real-world problem we need to solve everyday. In contrast, usually clear instructions are given in a school assignment. But now one needs to be critical and be able to judge the correctness in the information gathered', said Dr. Chu. 'There may be more solution to one problem, and some hidden issues yet to be solved.'
抱有懷疑態度是做研究的基本；我們應保持好奇的心去探索 -- Prof. Tim Leung
The following are a few of the QR Codes we made:
And here comes the Moment of Truth - see if the two-sided QR Codes work in the following video: (*ﾟﾛﾟ)
And if you are to try out our 2-sided QR codes, note that some QR code scanners would only give the message from one side because they would flip the input automatically. We use this scanner on Android, which can read the two messages.
This lantern creation is a perfect example of STEAM ( STEM+Art) projects. Apart from trying to get involved in multi-discipline activities, we strongly encourage students to learn computer programming regardless their majors. Being able to program a computer is empowering. You don't need to wait for someone to make a program suitable for your needs, you can just create one whenever creativity strikes! Being able to make the first move and create something never existed before makes you a leader rather than a follower.
STEM 是美國先提倡，然後香港、台灣等地跟隨。我們其實一直做的就是STEAM的工作：從一開始用 物理原理 模擬 毛筆，用 流體力學 做 數碼水墨，到現在開發 中文 翻轉字 (ambigramアンビグラム) 工具，全部都把藝術、文化、科技等結合，做出前所未有的新產品。我們非常歡迎各學校共同辦好STEAM 教育，讓我們的學生Future Ready，迎接未來的挑戰！東方文化有很多值得發展的地方，希望一天我們是領導者，而不是跟隨者。╭( ･ㅂ･)و )))
職場上通常是藝術系的只會藝術，工科的只會工科；雇主如遇到有跨領域能力的員工應該興幸，因他們能幫你解決其他人解決不了的問題 -- Dr. Nelson Chu
P.S. We'll post making-of for the laterns in a later blog entry. Stay tuned.
'Flip' Icon made by Vaadin from www.flaticon.com
SIGGRAPH ASIA 2018: Crossover - art, Culture, technology
It was great to be back to Japan, a country that gives so much respect to culture and technology! After taking part in Wacom Connected Ink 2018, we moved on to the show at SIGGRAPH ASIA 2018 in the same metropolis of Tokyo.
Hidden Gem in the Exhibition
There were so many stuffs to see in SIGGRAPH ASIA 2018. Our booth was located at a far corner of the exhibition hall so it was kind of hidden in the show. In the same show, we have studios like TeamLabs, Clip Studio Paint & Unity, along with various research institutes showing their latest developments. SIGGRAPH Student volunteers as well as visitors discovered us at this corner are all amazed by our Expresii app. If you couldn't make it to the show, here's a recap of what we have to offer:
Visitors who tried our app immediately noticed that our water-based paint simulation is the best in the world, beating even big players like Corel, Adobe or Autodesk. We also demo'ed our new feature for creating ambigrams. We hope to make it easier to design ambigrams with East Asian characters. We showed ambigram designs printed on art paper and engraved on seals. Our work is certainly aligned with SIGGRAPH ASIA's theme of art, culture and tech crossover. Everyone knowing kanji (Chinese characters 漢字) were amazed by our ambigrams as crossover of calligraphy and design.
It's about Meeting People
We're glad to have a chance to talk to visitors as well as having staff from TeamLabs and Clip Studio Paint visit our booth. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing happy faces of visitors and get direct feedback from them. In particular, students from Sri Lanka actually kept coming back bringing their teachers and friends because they think our app is so cool! \(-ㅂ-)/ ♥ ♥ ♥ Some university professors also visited us and gave us compliments, citing they were amazed by Nelson Chu's work since his MoXi paper published in SIGGRAPH 2005 and glad to see Nelson in person finally! Although most guests of SIGGRAPH Asia are from Asia, we still met guests from Western studios like Pixar showing interest in our technology. Finally, we also had an interesting technical discussion with a guest from Apple. (￣▽￣)ノ
We thank the organizer of SIGGRAPH ASIA, led by Chair Ken Anjyo, for putting together such a nice show, and also our fellow exhibitors who put so much effort and energy into the show.
As Wacom's software partner, we were demo'ing Expresii in Wacom Connected Ink 2018 held on Nov 30 in Tokyo.
Paint with Colors Captured from the Real world
We are also partnering with Ufro Inc, maker of Mozbii. Check out our demo with Mozbii Color Capture:
In the end of the video above, we also show sample Ambigram artwork done with Expresii.
Analog meeting Digital
Wacom is advocating digital stationary and marriage of Analog and Digital. We are definitely on the same page, since we paint with digital tools and simulation, and then gets the result back to the analog world.
After all, it's all about human & we love your feedback
We are happy to hear visitors saying Expresii having the best digital ink simulation! Most visitors from the East readily recognize the value of our brush & ink simulation from a cultural perspective, however, we're really glad that a Caucasian visitor from Google also appreciates our contribution to further developing traditional art, and he actually really likes our ambigram of 高錕<->光纖! (ﾉ^∇^)ﾉﾟ
We thank Wacom for holding this special event for supporting digital ink and facilitating partnership. We are staying in Tokyo for SIGGRAPH ASIA. Stay tuned for more coverage.