Lunar new year day was 16th of Feb, 2018. We wish you all the best for the new year of the dog!
Now it's being a tradition we play with the Chinese character for the year. This year, we play with the character 狗, which means dog:
Recently, ambigram is popular around East Asia, so we make one that reads dog and shows a dog 90-deg turned.
And notice how we use pen tilt to make organic marks.
Chinese characters give you so much room for imagination! We can't stop playing with them!
Only Expresii gives you this level of expression with brush and ink!
Soon after the Nintendo Switch was released in March 2017, digital artists have been using the controllers, called Joycons, as a hand-held controller for digital painting. In contrast with all previous low-cost single-hand game controllers we tried before, the joycons ($80 a pair ) are equipped with gyroscopes, accelerometers and even IR motion camera.
The joycons works on Windows even without installing a driver but the analog thumb-stick only works as digital buttons. Thanks to this Joycon driver for Windows by Matthew Fosse, we can now also use the analog joystick (and maybe later the gyroscope too).
After installing vJoy and Joycon driver as instructed by the Joycon driver page, we are able to use Joycon for quick controls for Expresii. We had to connect the Left joycon instead of having left and right combined, since the mapping of the combined controls is different from what Expresii currently accepts. We tried x360ce to remap the controls but we didn't figure out how yet. :) Currently, Joycon driver outputs gyroscope data as rotational impulses rather than tilt angles so we can't really make use of the gyroscope for brush tilt yet. Anyway, here is a short video of using Joycon with Expresii:
We thank Mandy Ng of Rooftop Animation for providing the Joycons.
We ended last year with SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 held in Macau. Little did we know it was a great start of an amazing year ahead. For Expresii, there are mainly two major themes in 2017: 1. Animation. 2. Microsoft.
Expresii x Animation
Soon after SIGGRAPH Asia, Angela Wong took Expresii for a spin and made some simple yet impressive animations like the Red squirrel and the Swallows . I think the Red squirrel now becomes a classic sample for modern ink animation. A Japanese anime studio has been using Expresii for background paintings for some TV series but now Expresii is used even for foreground animation! o͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡╮(^ ਊ ^)╭o͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡
'Ink Animation' (or 'Brush Painting Animation' or 水墨動畫 in Chinese) was a proud product of China from the 60's-80's but there wasn't much new development since then. There have been attempts to do ink animation using existing fluid simulation in 3D CG software packages but they mostly created something that look like fume (e.g. this) instead of Eastern ink painting. Another popular way was to map captured real brush strokes textures and map them onto 2D or 3D geometry - which could make the animation look like Chinese shadow play where you see fixed textures shifting around. In 2017 summer, Shanghai Animation Film Studio (上海美影廠) unveiled a new title 《斑鹿飛渡》 and gave a talk on the their new development on ink animation. However, what they claimed to be breakthroughs (building a library of stroke forms and combining 2D with 3D) aren't really breakthroughs.
Now with Expresii we hope to develop a truly modern way of doing ink animation. We are still experimenting and will unveil what we come up with when ready.
Expresii x Microsoft
We started to get attention from Microsoft near the end of last year. Once we got in contact with the right personnel things happened pretty quickly. In April we secretly flew to Redmond to meet with Microsoft technical folks and management including Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Devices, Panos Panay, who was impressed by our Expresii. Our saying 'every stroke has its own personality' struck him. He specifically asked to have our app ported to their App Store and we did . Panos asked why don't they hire this guy (i.e. our tech guru Nelson Chu). And he was told that Nelson did join Microsoft several years back and he was actually a key contributor to Project Gustav, which later became Fresh Paint - which Panos himself still uses to show their hardware. Within our short trip, we were filmed in Seattle for a Microsoft partner video (by Watts, see their page for a longer version of the video):
All these were in preparation for the then-top-secret global launch of the New Surface Pro in May. It's our honor that Panos decided to talk about Expresii on stage himself. We were also invited to local launches in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Later Microsoft also features Expresii on their Surface Pen page as well as their 'Apps for Windows Ink' collection.
We are especially proud to be the only team from Asia to be featured in Microsoft's 2017 app partner collage video. In fact, when we cut out the parts, we are surprised that Expresii bits total 30 seconds, or 1/4 of the 2-min. collage's length! And notice that the other app partners include giants like Adobe, Autodesk & Corel.
In Expresii, not only are we able to develop advanced software technology that even giant competitors can't make, we are also promoting the good side of our culture through technology. Expresii is not a me-too app. We have our own visions and we try our best to implement them even given limited resources.
In Eastern Watercolor, every stroke is essential to the spirit, the emotion. Each stroke has its own personality. - Angela Wong in the Microsoft Partner Video
Year 2018 ahead
Expresii is being developed as a painting app and we didn't expect it to be used more and more in animation. It was even used in this 2017 TED-ed Animation . We may be a bit quiet lately but we are far from being lazy. We just can't wait to show you new stuffs when they are ready. We are really grateful to our partners and friends for making things happen. We look forward to more industry collaboration and new possibilities in 2018! (ﾉ´ヮ´)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧
This is mainly for those from China only. If you're from other parts of the world please just buy directly from Gumroad or Win10 Store.
好消息，现在Expresii已经开始支持微信支付，支付宝，银联等购买方式。想買的可以直接這個鏈接購買Expresii 的 Win32版，但先請確定你能用且用的開心才好買啊，因為退款比較麻煩 :P 謝謝支持！
進入Avangate 的畫面是這樣的，下面有可選 微信支付，支付宝，银联等的：
We thank Mark Lam of CGVisual.com for introducing us in the session 'CG in China' at SIGGRAPH ASIA 2017, held last month in Bangkok, Thailand.
Our new ink pusher tool was shown to public for the first time during the session. Here is the video again:
As you can see, you get just-right amount of control and things stay like water-based paint with details.
We can't wait to try it on big devices like the Surface Studio. Ψ( ﾟ∀ﾟ)Ψ
Earlier this month, our Dr. Nelson Chu, along with two more alumni , was invited to speak in an alumni sharing session by HKUST. You can review the whole sharing here. Nelson showed our ground-breaking app Expresii on a tablet computer to the audience.
Digital Art not real art? 數位藝術不是真藝術？
During the Q&A section, Nelson was asked to comment on how to deal with people saying digital art is not real art. To answer this, let's first assume people don't regard digital art as real art because they think operations like undo and redo mean cheating. Let's here what Nelson has to say:
One may say there's no mistakes in art so there's no need for undo. Okay, then let's regard undo's and redo's as opportunities to go back and forth in time. - Nelson Chu
'Long time ago when the Western fountain pen got introduced to the East, people might say "pen calligraphy" is not calligraphy. Only brush calligraphy is. But now people accept that pen calligraphy is also calligraphy' said Nelson.
Nelson is a firm believer of digital calligraphy. See how he does digital calligraphy with his own tool Expresii:
From the above videos, you see how undo's and redo's allowed more flexibility and save time to create the perfect design without wasting paper. (^(エ)^)
Embracing New Tools
In deed, if you look at the history of writing tools in East Asia, you will see we keep adding new tools to our arsenal over the years. If we insist that a new tool has to act exactly like what came before it, there wouldn't have been brush calligraphy in the first place because we would still be using carving knifes to write.
We should really embrace new technology and explore what we can do with it.
Changing Business Model
Another possible reason why people don't consider digital art real is that they can't sell it to galleries or collectors like they do with works done in physical media. People are concerned that artists (along with a whole ecosystem of art dealers) can not make a living if there are no originals (vs. digital copies) to sell.
To respond to this, firstly, we'd like to emphasis that artistic value is NOT market value. If we stick to the question of whether something is real art we should really judge it by its artistic value. Whether it sells or not is a completely different story. For a painting, we judge its artistic value by e.g. the use of colors or composition, which you can also find in digital art.
Second, business models can adapt to changes. A century ago, musicians made a living by performing live. With the invention of sound recorder, musicians don't lose their job simply because there is a way to playback their music. Instead, a whole ecosystem of record companies & distributors came into existence. And then came the digital age, when people don't buy CD's as often. Record companies could blame digital music making it easy to pirate. Then Apple fights the problem by providing a way to get legit music easier than looking for pirated copies. And if you think those big companies are paying artists too little royalty , now independent artists can sell their music, art or tutorials via sites like Gumroad with a much bigger cut, effectively democratizing art selling by creators.
Previously we've been trying cheap bluetooth VR controllers but they either don't really support Windows, or they don't offer analog joystick input (joystick only act as buttons):
Thanks to Shuen Leung, recently we discovered a couple of Keysco branded bluetooth controllers that could act as analog joysticks under Windows. However, they could only be seen as DirectX devices so we also added support for DirectX (DX) game controllers in Expresii. These should be the cheapest single-hand controllers that offer analog input for Windows on the market now. And they are more comfortable to hold than then R1 shown in the youtube video shown above. If you can communicate in Chinese, you can get one from Taobao for RMB35 (=$5.3). Otherwise, you can buy one from Amazon currently at $9.8 or Ebay at $6.95.
Below is a process walk-through video for connecting the controller and using it in Expresii. You can press WIN and type 'joy.cpl' and press enter to get to the control panel item for game controller shown in the video. And FYI, those Keysco controllers we tested only give 4 buttons - those shoulder buttons actually maps to one of those A B C D buttons! Also, the analog sticks are not very sensitive as some of the more professional ones like XBox or Plasystation controllers.
Such a controller is useful for quick access if you don't want to use a keyboard. In particular, if your stylus doesn't sense tilt yet, you can also use the analog stick for pen tilt, or even for painting surface tilt.
Let us know if you need more function assignment for game controller and we will consider adding them. ^_^
Update: Controller known NOT to work as expected
The white one on the left doesn't even connect to a Windows machine via bluetooth, although the description says it supports PC. The Mocute on the right connects to Windows device, but those buttons and thumbsticks map to number keys - not working as a game controller as expected. :(
The New Surface Pro was announced back in May this year. Today we will show you how Expresii runs on it.
The New Device
The outlook of the New Surface Pro is mostly the same as that of the Surface Pro 4, except that the more rounded edges now feels more inviting. The top model (CPU: i7 7660U; GPU: Iris Plus Graphics 640; RAM: 16GB) is capable of getting 100+ FPS. I'm very pleased with the performance given the sleek package of the Surface Pro. See a demo video below - which include spontaneous painting of some eggplants: (ﾉ･д･)ﾉ
The New Pen
Highlights of the new Surface pen over the last generation:
Without hover tilt sensing, you don't see your virtual brush in the right orientation right before you stroke. That'd be awkward because you need to know how the brush is touching the paper to make a mark. Fortunately, brush orientation left from the previous stroke doesn't affect the correct rendering of a new stroke with an initial tilt angle quite different from the final tilt angle of the previous stroke.
In most advertisements by both Apple and Microsoft, they would say 'tilt to shade'. Here, we show you that tilt is not just for shading, but also for making organic marks using the side of the brush as well. In Expresii, your ink and brush really interact with the paper.
Pressure Level vs Activation Force
A lot of people think the new pen is more sensitive because of the pressure level increase. To me, pressure level doesn't really make a noticeable difference (given >= 1024). It is mainly the improved activation force that makes the new pen feels more sensitive. Those who are not sure about this can try toggling the '1024-level' option on your Wacom device and see if you notice any difference.
New Pen on other Surface devices?
Yes, you're covered. According to Microsoft representative:
"The new Surface Pen works with these generations of Surface Devices: Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, Surface Book, Surface Studio and Surface Laptop. The new Surface Pro is the first Surface to enable 4096 levels of Pressure Sensitivity and Pen Tilt. These features will be updated on Surface Book and Surface Studio with updates in early 2018. All devices benefit from the 9g-low activation force."
To make sure you get the best performance, you can opt to use Game Mode for Expresii. What the Game Mode does is to minimize background activities to give way for the foreground program.
The Game Mode is available if you have the Windows 10 Creator's Update. Press WIN+G to bring up the Game Bar UI. Read more about the Game Mode here .
I'm impressed by what Microsoft has achieved over the years for the Surface Pro Family. I wish in the near future they are able to support hover tilt sensing as well. Expresii really shows off the sleek new Surface Pro for its powerful GPU and its new pen. Users can make vastly different organic marks simply by varying pen pressure and tilt angle, as well as the wetness of the virtual brush. This allows spontaneous painting not possible in any other app.
We are half way through October now and have you started your Inktober yet? This year, Angela Wong a.k.a. GingerCatSneeze on Tumblr. has been using Expresii to do her Inktober (re-posted with permission):
If you're on Tumblr, don't miss the chance to win a license for Expresii and her Inktober Zine! Head over to GingerCatSneeze's Tumblr :
The giveaway closes on 1 Nov 2017 at 23:59 (UTC). All you need to do is the reblog or like that Tumblr post to enter!
Expresii is a proud sponsor for the ASIFA-South Animation Conference & Festival 2017, held last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, USA!
Live Artist Battle with Expresii between Dan Flores (@deltatangomike) and Wayman Humphrey (@themaddpenciler) during the conference party:
Get a glimpse of animated shorts from all around the world shown during the Festival:
We look forward to seeing Expresii being used more for animation! o(^◇^)o