It has been one year since the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 was released. We got ourselves an i7 model to test with. We've had it for about a month now and it has been very responsive.
The following is a quick test on its performance. As you can see, it allows fluid digital watercolor in Expresii. In case you can't afford the i7 model, you can still get by with the i5 model, but you may want to use the Fast Mode for more responsiveness.
Did some calligraphy test too:
Don't have the original Surface Pen with us right now, so we picked up a Surface Pen alternative in these tests.
Finally we'd like to show you some sneak peek at some latest development in ink-painting-style animation (水墨動畫) that we are working on. Follow our animator collaborator's Instagram to learn more. Their work is so cool & cute at the same time!
And yes, Surface Pro is used in producing this animation, in case you wonder. (・ωｰ)～☆
This is an adaptation of the fluid simulation in Expresii to do Suminagashi ('墨流し' in Japanese), a form of paper marbling. Suminagashi is said to have originated from China and today it's called 水拓畫 in Chinese. What we show here is a WIP (work-in-progress) and has not yet been released in the public version of Expresii.
We show that it's possible to load an image acting as obstacle for the flow, thus creating flow patterns that relate to whatever you put in that image. One useful application is making animated title sequence.
Changing the palette used results in interesting organic patterns. And what about applying the sprayer with suminagashi?
Let us know how you like it.
The Lenovo Yoga Duet 7i was announced earlier in May this year as a 2-in-1 tablet / laptop computer. The design is very similar to that of the Surface Pro, so we regard the Duet 7i as a Surface Pro competitor.
Digital Pen captures Colors From Real World
Perhaps the highlight of the Lenovo Yoga Duet 7i is its support for the brand new Lenovo E-Color Pen. Among all the pressure-sensitive styli for iPads, Windows or Android devices, the Lenovo E-Color Pen is the first that can capture colors from the real world. Recently, the Apple Pencil was rumored to add such a feature given they filed a related patent application. However, It's not likely Apple would be granted such a patent, as suggested by Jeremy Shu, CEO of Ufro Inc, the company that provides the color capture technology in the E-Color Pen .
The Lenovo E-Color Pen is a rechargeable Wacom AES pen. Its USB-C charging port is hidden behind the color capture module, which unplugs from the top of the pen. The pen is pressure sensitive and drives the cursor when hovering. It doesn't support tilt sensing, but you can use one of the two side buttons to adjust brush tilt in Expresii.
The pen is not magnetic like the Surface Pen, so you can't just stick it to the side of the tablet. Previously Lenovo supplies holder for their active pens that plugs into USB-A ports of the tablets, but now they switched to USB-C for the Yoga Duet 7i so you will need to find another solution if you want to keep it attached e.g. this pen sleeve on Amazon, or the same thing on TMall of China for half the price.
Software Takes the colors & Magic happens
Currently our app Expresii is one of the select apps that natively support the E-Color Pen color capture function. Its watercolor simulation is a good reason for anyone to use it for showing the capture capability beautifully. When you pick a yellow and a cyan from the real world, the virtual paint mixes together to give a nice green and Expresii's watercolor flow further mingles the paint with gorgeous flow patterns in very high resolution. Expresii supports Ufro's Mozbii pen since 2018 and we thank Wacom for linking us up leading to hardware and software innovations working well together.
The following is a video showing general color picking and the use of the pen for Eastern calligraphy on the Yoga Duet 7i. The machine used in the i5 model, but it's already fast enough for using Expresii. There's the i7 option that gives even better performance for you to choose from.
Pen & Keyboard included
I came from the Surface Pro family, and I really prefer the keyboard of the Duet 7i being able to operate via bluetooth when detached. It's good that Lenovo is including both the keyboard and the E-Color pen, at least in the markets of Hong Kong and the Philippines, instead of needing customers to fork out another USD 90 to 160 for a keyboard cover and USD 99 for the official Surface Pen. There're cheaper aftermarket alternatives for both items (like these pen alternatives), but consumers need to shop around separately. The Yoga Duet 7i is called Yoga Duet 2020 in the Chinese market, and a normal Active pen instead of the E-Color Pen is included.
Expresii receives colors from Color King, the proxy software that sends the captured colors to supported apps. Our Expresii not only can directly receive colors from Color King, but it also offers you the option to auto-load single or multiple-colors into the virtual brush. This is a unique feature made possible by the native support for multi-color loading in Expresii. As demonstrated in the above video, you could pick a few colors in sequence to make a gradient in the brush. You then can make strokes with such a gradient for even more interesting marks!
A Coloring Demo
We further demo coloring a piece of ink work using the E-Color Pen. In this demo, we celebrate brush stroke economy. We appreciate watercolor having a life of its own. From the thumbnail, you may not be able to appreciate the simulation quality so we urge you to watch the video:
The following video shows the performance of color capture and making strokes on the i5 version of the Yoga Duet 7i. The color transfer can be immediate. In the above videos, most of the clips are played back at 2x speed up for editing purpose. The following video shows you the performance in real time.
Our app uses GPU for rendering and flow simulation, so it's often the GPU being the bottleneck. If you find it too slow on your machine, we can still enable Quick Stroke Mode (Fast Mode), and Expresii would be more responsive as you stroke. If you're on Win10, it's easy to download this Store Demo version of Expresii for you to test out the performance.
How accurate is the color capture? I'd say pretty accurate, as you can see from our demo videos. I tried picking the neon orange from my sport shirt and the color captured was obviously off. But other than difficult situations like that, it's pretty accurate for the most part.
We appreciate the startup Ufro Inc bringing low-cost color capture tech to the masses. Color sampling devices used to be rather expansive, and only specialized people would buy them. FYI, you can also order Ufro's standalone color picker InstaPick for as low as USD 60. We also appreciate Wacom and Lenovo for adopting the innovation.
We hope that the Lenovo E-Color Pen would be supported on future pen-enabled machines from Lenovo. They just announced the Yoga 9i, which uses Intel’s new and much improved Intel Xe integrated graphics of the 11th Gen CPU. We also wish Lenovo would opt for tilt sensing for their coming pen models. The future looks bright for creative professionals!
Earlier this month we were invited to visit NTU, Singapore. Our Dr. Nelson Chu gave a talk titled "The Quest for Digital Ink: developing tools for Painting, Calligraphy & Animation" (Abstract & Bio) on 20th Sept 2019, jointly organised by the School of Computer Science & Engineering, the Alibaba-NTU Joint Research Institute, and the NTU-UBC LILY Center. Dr. Chu shared his journey developing digital brush and paint dating back to 1999. We also met with folks from Cacani the animation system.
We also took the chance to visit the Singapore Zoo, and used Expresii on a 2017 Surface Pro to do some sketch there:
We miss the food there already. （*´▽｀*） We look forward to visiting Singapore again!
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
Note：You need to watch it on 4k uncompressed to really appreciate the difference. Previous "ink animations" often use fume or make things blurry to give an impression of ink. In contrast, the teaser of <Mai> shows texture that is never seen before. 現在的動畫大都是‘單綫平凃’，而之前的’水墨動畫‘基本三類：1 用CG’雲烟’當水墨，2. 把東西 ’模糊化‘ 當水墨 3.用真的水墨筆觸貼圖。而此《紅》樣片出來的效果是有質感的！這個你必須要用4k 原片才感受到。網絡的FHD 版本太失真了！。。。所以才說像李小龍功夫片，李小龍給你的感覺是’真功夫‘，其他人的動作就是沒那麽快，不是同一個層次的。
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. ^_^
We were excited ever since the first Surface Book came out in 2015, since it gave the option for a discrete GPU. Now we have a chance to test with a Surface Book 2, thanks to Microsoft for providing the hardware for testing.
We are provided with the 13.5" model. Coming from the 12" Surface Pro, I like the bigger screen size. The hardware feels really solid and clean. And of course, with an nvidia GTX 1050, we get very good performance, although it gets a bit hot and the fan would kick on.
You need the base
When you detach the base, the GPU performance drops significantly, so you would like to attach the base when you use Expresii. In fact, when I detached the base and held the tablet part only, I realized how convenient the kickstand of the Surface Pro is! Note that the tablet part doesn't have any USB port (or video port), so you can't really use it in place of, say, a Surface Pro. I believe they designed it for only brief detachment like for the case of quick presentations.
See the calligraphy process video in Youtube:
Hong Kong-based artist Shuen Leung tries out Microsoft Surface Studio and Surface Book 2:
Shuen does artwork in both traditional and digital media. She specially likes Expresii for its ability to undo. "Expresii 是可以undo 的 水墨!" (ﾉ´ヮ´)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧
Have you thought about making comic with Expresii? Here we show the process MEERKAT OJISAN produces their comic with Expresii:
STEP 1: Make a sketch on paper by hand
STEP 2: Digitize it into your computer
STEP 3: Trace the sketch with a dry brush using the Underlay (or Overlay) function in Expresii
今天，我們介紹一下 狐獴大叔 (ミーアキャットおじさん) 是怎樣用Expresii 畫出水墨漫畫來的：
步驟 3：用Expresii 的 ’背景圖像’ （ ‘前景圖像’ 亦可）功能導入草圖，以乾筆把草圖描成線稿
STEP 4: Switch to another layer and put down wet ink
This is what it looks with 'ink work' added to the 'line work' in Expresii：
It's so organic. Look at the subtle details! (ﾉﾟοﾟ)ﾉ
With 12k output, you'll have no problem making a large print of your work if you need to. 👌
Here is another example 這是另一範例幅:
STEP 5: Export a snapshot as PNG or PSD (alpha supported; layers preserved in PSD) or do a Copy (Ctrl-C)
STEP 6: Import or Paste (Ctrl-V) the image into Photoshop to do some color adjustment
STEP 7: Frame and add text (using third-party tool)
步驟 5 ：匯出畫作為PNG 或 PSD 圖檔 （支持 alpha；PSD 還可保留圖層），或拷貝（Ctrl-C）到剪貼板
步驟 6：匯入或貼上（Ctrl-V） 到用Photoshop 調一下顏色
That's it. Here is the finished piece 這樣一格漫畫就大功告成啦，看完成圖 :
February went too quickly. On the last day of Feb, we took a day off and visited some friends in Tai Po, Hong Kong. We also took the chance to get some inspiration for sample sketches.
Now with "Whole View" window, you can always check the overall balance (thanks to a user from Japan for his feedback). You can reposition and resize the "Whole View" window to suit your need.
Expresii Lite forces us to draw in only one single color. We have to rely on positive and negative texture to create value variation. Expresii's eraser is your friend for negative texture!
Zoom in to do the details and use the "Whole View" window to check the overall look.
If it's not for the recent nvidia driver issue with Expresii, we'd have made an announcement to call for more artists to try Expresii Lite preview. We notified nvidia about the issue but we never hear back from them. Hopefully this could be resolved soon. If you're an nvidia GPU user and you can't wait, you can still enjoy Expresii Lite by using an nvidia driver version 345 or earlier. If you're *not* using an nvidia GPU , great, just download Expresii Lite Preview and try it (and give us some feedback)!
Expresii Lite is something waiting to be discovered. Try it yourself to see why early adopters are saying that it's the most organic among all the tools they've ever used!
Finally, we wish you a happy and prosperous Year of the Goat 2015 !
Let's try some Chinese Brush sketching! 走，試毛筆速寫去！
[Continuing from last entry] So we took the W5 out and tried sketching on it with Expresii Lite. Frankly, the W5 is not a powerful machine and the frame rate is only 35-50 FPS. While you can easily get 10 hours of usage for an iPad, the W5 only gives you less than half of that, like 4-5 hours. The W5 doesn't come with a built-in stylus pressure curve adjustment tool (Wacom's driver does) and the larger Hanvon stylus feels too hard on the W5. We will add an adjustment tool in Expresii to help with the situation later.
[續上回] 今回要試試拿 Pipo W5 用 Expresii Lite 出外寫生了！因w5 比較慢，其實不能‘速寫‘啊，筆劃如果太快會出角，畫者要自我調整。還有W5 續行一般，只有4-5 小時，比較下 ipad 則可以有10小時。那支漢王筆用起來比較‘硬’，要適應一下，我們之後增加軟體筆壓調控到Expresii 去改善情況好啦。
We found that unplugging the machine from power doesn't affect the drawing frame rate. This suggests that the CPU throttling works really well in lowering the CPU frequency while you're not painting, and increasing it while you are. 沒接電源，感覺沒影響繪畫速度，都是 35 到 50 FPS。
I ended up doing only rough sketches and then finished them when I got home, with the luxury of a Wacom Intuos 3, which gives me stylus-tilt sensing.
最後還是把sketch 帶回家來完成，而且忍受不了 W5 沒有筆的斜度感應，用回wacom的 intuos 3了！W5 是一部完整的Windows PC，是可以連接intous的。以下是完成了的作品，隔天帶回原地對比拍照，呵呵。
Tip: hold the stylus vertical to the surface, so that the pressure gets registered.
I was so tempted to slant the brush when I need to do texturing, just like in traditional painting - only to be frustrated by the W5 not supporting tilt sensing and that a too-tilted stylus won't get its pressure registered.
If for sketching with the W5, the pros and cons are:
Granted, the W5 is not a perfect sketching tool, but given its price which is only 1/12 that of a Wacom Cintiq Companion and 1 / 5.3 that of a Surface Pro 3, you should consider it if you are on a budget.
用W5來畫畫並不完美，但它的價格是最便宜那款Wacom Cintiq Companion (US$1800) 的1/12，最便宜的Surface Pro 3 (US$800) 的 1 / 5.3，初心者可以考慮 (btw, Cintiq Companion 其實挺重的)。期待下一批 Core-M 跟Cherry Trail 平板於2015年的出現，並希望廠商可以加入筆的斜度感應，配合我們Expresii 軟件，打造完美的毛筆水墨寫生利器!
Update 12/31: The maximum output size of these sketches generated by the W5, which has only 2GB of RAM, was 5,120 x 7,680 pixels. If you load the artwork on a desktop with a discrete GPU, you can easily get 8k x 12k.
測試發現，用W5輸出，最大為5,120 x 7,680，但你可用家裡有獨立顯卡的電腦讀進作品檔，就可輸出高達 8k x 12k 的圖檔了！
Check out the 5k x 7k output at here.
Update 1/6: The following are screenshots showing you the details of one of the sketches we did (in case you can't watch the youtube video above). It's amazing what such a small device can handle.