Metacreations KPT 6

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A completely new range of plug-in filters that maintains the series' reputation for creativity while moving more into the practical mainstream.

Metacreations KPT 6 Goo

One of the main reasons for the phenomenal success of  Photoshop is its extensibility through plug-in filters which means, if the  host program doesn't offer a particular feature, you'll probably find a  third-party solution. The advantages are such that nowadays every serious  bitmap editor and even many drawing, DTP, 3D and video packages now  support the standard. As a result the number of Photoshop filters has  exploded but the first set of plug-ins to capture users' imaginations,  Kai's Power Tools (KPT), remains the most famous and the most popular. In  fact at one time it seemed almost compulsory for users with design  pretensions to have a copy and many seemed to operate Photoshop just as a  shell in order to access KPT.

The advanced creativity of the KPT filters, such as the texture and fractal engines, was undeniably amazing but I've never counted myself as a real fan. My objection was that the filters seemed to revel in obscurity both in terms of usability and end results. The nadir was KPT 3's much-hyped spheroid designer where the interface was deliberately made to resemble "a bunch of balls dropped into a pile of mud" and the end results were pretty similar! Since then, however, MetaCreations has steered the program in the right direction at least in terms of usability with KPT 5's introduction of a shared interface built on a central preview panel surrounded by floating parameters panels. Thankfully, KPT 6 has kept this same look-and-feel for the majority of the new filters that it provides.

Even more welcome is the fact that most of the filters also have a much clearer and much more practical use than was the case in the past. A good example of this is the LensFlare filter which is used to produce realistic glows, halos and flashes simulating the reflections of a bright light on a camera lens. This is now a common effect used to give a dynamic edge to a photo taken into the sun. Some photo editors, such as PhotoImpact, now offer their own implementation, but none offers the same level of control, with dedicated panels for precisely managing the type of glow, halo, streaks and reflection. In fact the sheer number of options in KPT 6 can be a problem as it makes it difficult to quickly set up the effect you want. In most cases though you can work around this by choosing an effect from the library of presets and then interactively positioning the flare in the preview.

Another regularly useful and relatively simple filter that you couldn't  imagine in previous KPT collections is KPT Projector. This takes your current  image or selection and offers a number of interactive perspective warp effects.  To a large extent, with its draggable distortion handles and its moving, scaling  and rotating options, this simply duplicates Photoshop's Free Transform  capabilities. What's completely different is the ability to rotate your image in  3D space and to tile the results if desired. You can also animate your  distortions by dragging keyframes from the preview window into an animation  palette. KPT 6 will then preview the animation and output it to various sizes in  avi or mov format.

This animation capability is even more useful with the KPT Turbulence filter. This is another distortion filter, but one that treats your image as if it was completely liquid. Click anywhere on the preview panel and ripples spread out in real time, click and drag and you produce a realistic wake with the waves and troughs interfering with each other! The moving effect onscreen is extraordinary but stop the effect to save it as a single snapshot image and the result is much less impressive and often just a mess. By saving the sequence to mov or avi, however, you can produce some amazing video special effects.

To produce a single frame freeform liquid distortion you can instead use the Goo filter. Many users will be familiar with this from the standalone version aimed at the consumer market. It works by effectively turning your image into a liquid that can be interactively smeared, smudged, twirled and pinched with the range of tools on offer. The obvious use is to distort photographic portraits into caricatures. Both the process and the end results are a lot of fun and again you can drag and drop keyframes to produce a short animated sequence.

Metacreations KPT 6 Goo

The twirling, twisting, pinching and pulling of the Goo filter is ideal for creating caricatures.

Producing textures has always been a KPT strong point and version 6 provides a new engine in the form of KPT Reaction. This takes a reaction "seed" and turns it into a seamlessly tiling pattern based on a reaction diffusion process. You can choose random noise, regular dots or reticulated "voronoi" patterns as your seed or you can use your current image. This latter is particularly impressive, pulling out the main features in your image as the starting point for a final effect that lies somewhere between a woodcut and a zebra hide!

With the next filter, KPT Materializer, you can create advanced surface textures based on "bump maps" that define troughs and peaks. You can use any external image for the basis of the bump map or alternatively you can pick out the hue, saturation, luminance or red, green or blue channel of the current image. You can then offset, scale and rotate the texture map, control its lighting and even blend in a reflection map. The filter can be used for anything from providing an oil-painting feel to an entire image to giving the illusion of depth to a selection.

Also producing the impression of depth is the KPT Gel filter which uses various paint tools to synthesize photo-realistic 3D materials such as metals, liquids or plastics. Gel painting is very different to traditional 2D painting as the brush strokes pool together when they touch and refract the underlying image. You can also manipulate your 3D paint once you've added it by twirling, pinching and carving it. It's all very clever but I really can't imagine many occasions when it will be useful.

The opposite is true of the Equalizer filter which is used for applying variations on the most important of all effects, sharpening. The filter has three modes. The first, Equalizer, looks and works rather like the graphic equalizer on a hi-fi enabling you to adjust the level of pixel contrast within nine bands of different visual frequencies. The second, Contrast Sharpen, allows you to increase the contrast between light and dark areas in an image. The third, Bounded Sharpen, is perhaps the most useful of all as it means you can sharpen an image without the oversharpening that produces distracting halo effects. The effect comes into its own when pulling out the detail in an image softened by resizing.

The final two plug-ins work very differently to the main filters and each has its own very different interface. KPT SceneBuilder is used for producing photorealistic 3D scenes by importing and rendering 3DS files. The main image window offers three tabs for editing in 2D and 3D mode and for setting up your object's final texture. In many ways the filter is the most impressive of all, acting as a standalone 3D modeller, and providing control over everything from transparency, reflection, refraction, bump mapping through to multiple light sources and so on. On the other hand, with no ability to create or edit objects, unless one of the hundred or so primitives provided happens to be exactly what you're looking for, the filter is going to be absolutely useless. A simpler filter that allowed you to create your own 3D text would have been much more practical.

The final filter, KPT SkyEffects, also has its roots in Metacreations' experience with 3D programs such as Bryce and RayDream, and is designed to simulate the interaction between the light from the sun or moon with no less than six atmospheric layers of haze, fog and cloud. In many ways the filter is typical of the KPT 6 collection as a whole. At times the interface is inspired, offering the ability to create beautiful reddening sunsets simply by interactively dragging the sun toward the horizon. At other times it is infuriating, leaving the control of cloud formation to a series of obscure command icons which work in completely mysterious ways and provide absolutely no feedback. The combination of unparalled power with the lack of transparency means that you seriously have to work at the filter to get anything from it. If you do, though, you are certainly rewarded - in this case by the possibility of producing stunningly realistic sunsets and moonscapes.

Metacreations KPT 6 SkyEffects

The SkyEffects filter is complex but can produce some impressively realistic effects.

Overall, the plug-ins in the KPT 6 collection remain complex, especially compared to rivals such as the Extensis' range, and they certainly aren't recommended for the average user. With this release, however, the suite's complexity no longer seems to be indulged in for its own sake. In particular, the KPT 6 collection manages to be far more practically useful than previously while maintaining its creative edge.

Ease of Use

3

Features

4

Value for Money

4

Overall

3

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

Jan 2000


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