Check out this collage app-partner video from Microsoft, featuring Expresii:
Panos Panay of Microsoft really likes Expresii and we were invited by Microsoft to be in their App Partner video and also showcase our Expresii app in their May 23rd launch event in Shanghai. It was a great honor that Panos introduces Expresii to the world in their keynote (starting 14m45s):
You can also watch the full keynote with Chinese translation here (按這裡看華語傳譯) .
Check out this collage app-partner video from Microsoft, featuring Expresii:
We've been asking hardware maker to add pen tilt support for years, and are certainly happy to see the new Surface Pen getting tilt sensing support. The new Surface Pro also features latest Intel processor and is completely silent thanks to the no-fan thermal design for the m3 and i5 models. See the details in Microsoft's blog.
Expresii is now also available in the Windows 10 Store for $89.99. The Store version of Expresii is the same as the Win32 version except that you can't have tabs in the Setting Windows as separate windows for now. FYI, we use a converter to convert the original Win32 version into what Microsoft calls a 'UWP' app as our Windows 10 Store version.
Brush as a Simple Circle
When Apple introduced the Apple Pencil, I was thrilled to find out the Apple Pencil supporting tilt. Eastern calligraphy appeared two times in their launch video. The first one is writing '書' in red (below).
Since its early versions, Painter has been using 'dots within a circle' as the brush footprint to give a 'bristle' effect (video below). Procreate seems to use a similar method to do bristle effect - the dab could be a captured image instead of one generated on the fly. Interestingly, Adobe's 3D brushes give effect similar to what these 2D brushes give - the 3D nature seems to be not put into good use. In fact, when Samsung's latest Galaxy Book tablet was announced, demonstrators actually had a hard time showing off the new pen tilt feature with Photoshop, because no matter how they tilted the brush, they still got strokes as if done in 2D without tilt support. By the way, when a brush is enlarged, why does it start to sprinkle smaller version of itself?
Our Efficient 3D brush model
In order to capture the nuance we normally get when using a real brush, we devised a more efficient 3D brush model. By efficient we mean we don't need to model it as 'individual bristles' as in Adobe's 3D brushes , and yet we believe we get more stroke variations than they do. Our brush model also looks and acts more like a real brush instead of a brush made of stiff wires. All in all, we believe our brush is the most natural and intuitive to use among all paint apps available today.
I can only recognize two characters '秋月' from what is written in the second appearance of Eastern calligraphy above so let's try writing the same characters in different styles in Expresii:
And another demo '筆墨' for you. In Expresii, every stroke has its own character, its personality. You can 't make the same stroke twice.
And I love doing designs like the following using Expresii. You can do designs quickly and easily just like using a real Chinese brush.
And don't just take our words. See what Shaun Bryant has to say:
I'm loving how quickly and easily I can make vastly different marks in Expresii
High resolution Rendering
We all know that raster-based paint programs are good for stroke richness but you can't really zoom in too much. Adobe came up with a solution of generating vector graphics  for high resolution rendering. For this to work, you're effectively switching entirely to their vector-based tool, namely Illustrator. When enlarged, you see many individual polygons overlapping each other (below). Personally, I don't think it looks too pretty nor natural, not to mention the added burden of rendering thousands of polygons. (๑´╹‸╹`๑)
We came up with an entirely different solution to the fat pixel problem. We can zoom in a lot, but the marks still look natural. Jony Ive ended Apple's launch video with "gives you the ability to touch a single pixel". And here I'd like to say we give you to ability to zoom in a lot without seeing a single pixel. (￣▽￣)ノ
In summary, we hope to do Eastern Calligraphy justice with our software tech :
People complain about the younger generation being occupied by gadgets and too few are doing traditional arts. If you are an educator involved with art or East Asian languages, please consider joining us for this digital calligraphy revolution. Technology and art are not mutually exclusive. You can start teaching digital calligraphy today. Together, we'll work to revitalize this ancient art form. Leave a comment below or message via Facebook, Twitter or whatever. Thank you!
 from their paper "Industrial-Strength Painting with a Virtual Bristle Brush", 2010.
2017.04.30 Update: we are informed that the piece of calligraphy was done by Prof 王冬齡, and in the video, the shot should be showing him signing his name '冬齡'. [ref 1] [ref 2]
The Nintendo Joycon connects to a Windows machine via Bluetooth and can be used as a remote control for painting. If you want a (much) cheaper alternative, here is one VR controller called 'R1' that costs only $5! Thanks to the booming VR thing, there're many such controllers released recently, but you have to be careful because some of them do not connect to a PC. The R1 in particular is known to connect to a Win8/Win10 PC via bluetooth.
I love the R1 being a one-handed bluetooth device, but it may not be the most comfortable to use because of the positions of the buttons. You can of course use a conventional game controller like we showed you in this blog entry, but then they are designed for two-hand operation and are less portable. Personally, I use keyboard shortcuts mostly because when I paint, I'm mostly sitting on a desk. I think if I train myself well, those controllers can be very useful for quick operations when I don't have a keyboard. FYI, the R1 doesn't send multiple-button signal and the thumb-stick doesn't give analog signal when paired with a PC. Normal game controllers designed for the PC should have no problem with these two things.
We're also lucky enough to finally get hold of a Surface Dial. The following is a quick video after we have had it for a few days with the Surface Pro 4:
My first impression for the Dial is that it's not designed for quick muscle-memory operations. I wished it had more buttons. As it is, I think it's best used for timeline scrolling or, like in our demo video, canvas rotation. For zooming & panning, I surely prefer multi-touch gesture. Interestingly, a dial with buttons actually already exists - the $60, wired ShuttleXpress (and also other similar products). Wish to try it one day. ﾍ(=￣∇￣)ﾉ
Made a few animated GIF for the new year with Expresii.
This one is a design made using the Chinese character 鷄 , which means Chicken:
Running chicken 走雞：
'Sleep well on the 3rd day of the new year':
Essentially these animations are done using the Overlay as onion skin. You can also apply LightBox effect on the Overlay. You can toggle the Overlay via hotkeys ~ ` to alpha = 0 and 1. We output the frames to another program to do cropping or composition, and then feed the final frames to an online GIF maker to make the GIFs.
The following videos shows some of the stroking process:
Finally here is a Lion Dance greeting GIF made by Rooftop Animation using Expresii (along with Photoshop, etc) for the new year:
Endre Penovác from Europe is famous for his amazing ink/watercolor paintings on real paper. We are often asked if Expresii can do something similar. We need to paint some roosters for the Lunar New Year so we took the opportunity to try our hands on it and It turned out great! See the process yourself in the following tutorial-style video:
Before Expresii, this kind of organic rendering can only be dreamed of by digital painters. Expresii is really a break-through in digital painting technology. No matter if you're a beginner or an expert, such a tool should be inside your arsenal!
Screenshots showing details of the rooster - we use hybrid vector-raster rendering so that you can zoom in a lot - something not possible with traditional paint programs:
And of course we need calligraphy for the new year too. In the following video we enabled multiple tuft which currently is only available in Developer mode:
New year greeting card made with painting & calligraphy done with Expresii:
The Steam Greenlight is a place where games or software get votes so that Steam could decide if that particular game or software is worthy to be put on the Steam platform.
If you'd like to see Expresii available on Steam, please go to this page and press the 'Yes' button. Don't hesitate if you have any feedback for us. Thank you!
Thanks to CGVisual.com, we were able to participate in the SIGGRAPH ASIA 2016 Exhibition held in Macao last week from 6-8th Decemeber 2016. The show was busier than we expected! As a long-time SIGGRAPH visitor commented, "The show is quite respectable!" (๑•̀ㅂ•́)و✧
28" Tiltable & Rotatable Surface
For this show, we brought to you the freshly baked Expresii running on a 28" 4K screen held on a gas-strut flexi mount, which provides more degrees of freedom than the just-released Microsoft Surface Studio. We still can't get hold of a Surface Dial yet, so instead we use game controllers as our non-dominant hand remote. For pen input, we still use our trusted Wacom intuos 3 that supports stylus tilt sensing. This new version of Expresii accepts user-definable game controller button assignment. We ran Expresii on an ITX desktop equipped with a mid-range nVidia GPU from the latest generation (Pascal ) for a very smooth painting experience. This CPU used was only an Intel i5 from a few years back. Although Expresii's simulation is so much more advanced than all other paint apps, no super computer is required to run it! OpenGL is used for both our watercolor simulation and rendering.
SIGGRAPH is poised as the most prestigous conference for Computer Graphics & Interactive Techniques in the world. This time with a large 28" 4K screen, we amazed many visitors with the high-quality rendering of brush strokes and ink flows in Expresii. Everyone says WOW when they see us start rotating the screen and the ink flows down according to the inclination - just like in real life! （°o°；）
The following video shows you the secret of how we combine low-cost off-the-shelf hardware with Expresii to crerate this amazing painting experience:
We got lots of praises from Computer Graphics professionals including Richard Chuang, co-founder of PDI. It was much fun talking to visitors, student volunteers, or other booth staff members alike from all over the world. Look at that cute fox animation that got made right on the spot below! ୧༼✿ ͡◕ д ◕͡ ༽୨
Gamepad as Controller for Digital Painting
Did we mention we can‘t get hold of a Surface Dial so we use a gamepad instead? Both our i-rocks gamepad and the Dial are connected via bluetooth, but the former provides more direct buttons/control than the latter. It can also be held by your non-dominant hard for quick control as you paint (instead of having to be put on some surface level enough so that it doesn't slide down). We believe this is generally preferred over the Dial by digital painters - we want to use muscle memory for fixed functionality instead of figuring what mode we are in or going through radial menu . Wacom offers a similar hand-held Express Key Remote Control with several buttons for their large Cintiq (vs. just one single button and a dial rim). And ClipStudio Paint also offers their own one-hand controller. If one really likes a circular motion offered by the Dial, we can simulate it with the joystick, with which you can, say, circle clockwise & anti-clockwise for undo & redo.
Let us know if you prefer a Dial or a hand-held.
more collaboration please!
We look forward to Surface Pen being tilt-sensitive so that we no longer have to use another controller for adjusting the tilt. We believe both mobile and desktop are important to creators so we will continue working our butts off to innovate in both spaces. It is great that now Microsoft enters into the creator market. We really hope hardware makers can work with us for the best expereince possible. (•̀o•́)ง
This SIGGRAPH ASIA booth showcase won't be possible without the tremedous help from:
Mark Lam of CGVisual
Ah Man from VTech
H2o and Maggie from lfxLab
Angela Wong from Rooftop Animation
And Shuen Leung, who allowed us to print her Expresii artwork for the booth
We also thank all the old and new friends who came and supported us!
Digital Ink - moving forward
Another Connected Ink event was recently held in Tokyo by Wacom for the promotion of digital ink. Nearly 200 industry leaders from various global technology and stationery companies took part in this event. During the event, Wacom CEO Masahiko Yamada announced the establishment of the Digital Stationery Consortium, Inc., whose mission is to create a movement with cross-industry partners to make digital ink widely adopted and to promote the evolution of smart digital stationery.
One of the presenters was Kuretake , a famous Japanese stationery brand whose root is in making traditional Eastern ink and related art supply. Mr. Suguru Takemoto from Kuretake Marketing talked about the "History of Handwriting – roots of ink” and Expresii was used for digital calligraphy demonstration during his presentation on stage:
Expresii was also used to demo Wacom's AES pens, which are found in today's various Windows tablets, including the HP Elite x2:
Check out the AES pen ID demo and more from our previous blog entry on CES Asia & Connected Ink Shanghai.
Digital Ink Calligraphy - Pen or Brush?
Today 'digital ink' is often referred to as the digital counterpart of physical ink used with a pen. It's often rendered as rather uniform-looking lines.
However, if you mention '墨' (the Chinese character for 'ink') to a Japanese or a Chinese, the first thing they think of is the ink used in their traditional art forms, which inspired great artists like Picasso and Matisse.
'Brush Calligraphy' is one of the most important art forms in East Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea. For thousands of years, East Asians have been using brushes instead of pens to write. For lack of a better word, I could only translate an East Asian Brush as 'writing brush' - because it's designed specifically for expressive lines as required in Eastern calligraphy. Another difference between Western and Eastern calligraphy is the paper used. Eastern art papers are absorbent and you can get a wide range of effects depending on the paper type and how diluted the ink is. There are even a few types of ink that you can choose from giving you even more variations.
In the future, we might create a new app specific for this ancient Eastern art form, making it easy for users to use subtle ink effects like these:
And in response to Wacom's effort in promoting digital stationery, here is a calligraphy piece '文房具', which means Stationery in Japanese, done by our Dr. Nelson Chu earlier:
Let us know if you'd like to see an app specific for Eastern calligraphy from us.
Per user requests, we have made it possible to separate tabs from the main Settings Window. For now, only two of them are separable, namely Colors and Brush tabs and you need to right-click on the tabs and then select which tab to separate. I know you want to be able to drag the tabs out instead. Well, that may come later. ;-)
After the tabs are out, you can resize the windows and adjust the scrollbars to so that only those parts you use frequently are shown. By default, the auto-roll-up feature is enabled so if these windows overlap with the main window, they would roll up when your mouse cursor is not on them.
The separated windows would be semi-transparent when rolled-up, like shown in the following screenshot.
Popup Color Picker. The Popup Color Picker is invoked by double pressing hotkey Alt (updated 2016-11-06). The hotkey was first introduced as Shift-Alt, but this key combo is often used for switching input method for non-English language users so I decided to change it.
I love to hear your feedback on these UI updates. Please leave a comment below. Thank you!
You can see separate settings windows in action in this video demo:
If you happen to be in Hong Kong, you might want to check out this talk by our Dr. Nelson Chu on the development of digital brush / ink technology held by the Open University of Hong Kong on 9th Nov 2016.
Poster PDF / List of their other seminars