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 simulated 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. ^_^
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✧
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 (e.g. those made with LivingCels) - which could make the animation look like 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 《斑羚飛渡》(youtube) 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✧
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.
Secondly, 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 be pirated. 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 for creators.
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
Our Nelson Chu couldn't make it to SIGGRAPH this year but huge thanks to our friend Li-Yi Wei for demo'ing Expresii at SIGGRAPH 2017 for us! We also thank all those who came to check our our program and gave us feedback! Many of you asked for a Mac or an iPad version. Yup, we hear you. One even mistook our Windows app for an iPad app. :)
Li-Yi told us Expresii was very popular at the Appy Hour. See Li-Yi speaking on behalf of us:
And in this video Akshay Agarwal, Mobile Chair of SIGGRAPH 2017 also specifically mentioned Expresii as one of his favorite apps shown at the event:
New to this year is the Facebook live videos. Review those videos on their Facebook page or their Youtube channel. And, again, if you are new to Expresii, be sure the checkout this demo video for what can be achieved with our revolutionary brush and ink simulation and hybrid-vector-raster rendering:
SIGGRAPH 2017 is just around the corner!
In celebration of Expresii showcased at SIGGRAPH 2017 Appy Hour, we're running a 25%-off SALE till 4 Aug 2017!
Download Expresii: http://www.expresii.com/download.html
Use this link to have the promo code pre-applied at Gumroad: https://gumroad.com/l/FLdY/siggraph2017
WHILE SUPPLIES LAST: Use the promo code "FriendOfPixel" to get a free Exhibits Only pass to SIGGRAPH 2017.
Register for SIGGRAPH here.
Update: Hear our Nelson Chu talk about his experience on attending SIGGRAPH and his story creating Expresii in this SIGGRAPH SPOTLIGHT podcast .