Satori PhotoXL / FilmFX 3

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Satori FilmFX builds on Satori PhotoXL's unmatched  vector-painting capabilities to offer unique resolution-independent video  creation, but the new web features are less convincing.

Satori PhotoXL / FilmFX 3

Satori PhotoXL 2.5 won a recommended award for its revolutionary object-based approach to painting and photo-editing that incorporates the best of both bitmap and vector editing. Satori FilmFX takes this PhotoXL core and grafts on advanced video editing capabilities. With version 3 it also includes Satori WebFX 2000 which is designed to take PhotoXL into new web graphics territory.

PhotoXL

Satori's huge strengths come from the fact that it doesn't store its graphics as finalized bitmaps but rather as ongoing actions. This offers three key advantages. As only screen pixels have to be updated in real time, Satori is fast. As any object or even brush stroke can be retrospectively edited, Satori is flexible. Finally as output size is only set when the image is rendered, Satori is resolution-independent. Taken together this offers unique power. No other program, for example, lets you paint a massive image with a 1000-pixel wide airbrush in real time and then change your mind and recolour the stroke and change the airbrush to a semi-transparent chalk effect. Thanks to its dedicated RIR (resolution independent raster) format, Satori is even able to offer similar speed and control when it comes to photo-editing.

The power is undeniable, but the object-based approach is so different to traditional apps that the learning curve is precipitous. With version 3, Satori's developers have listened to the criticisms and attempted to boost usability. On paper the new step-by-step wizards and the introduction of a beginner mode, look ideal but in practice they are disappointing. The new PhotoStitch wizard for building panoramas, for example, doesn't intelligently look for matching pixels but simply lets you specify which photos to include and how wide to make their overlap. The beginner mode meanwhile largely boils down to the fact that a couple of explanatory dialogs appear the first time you use certain tools. Version 3 might be moving in the right direction but don't expect it to be that easy.

In fact Satori works so differently to traditional Windows applications that you're actually better off trying to forget everything you've learned about graphics previously and starting again from scratch. When you understand that 95% of all work in Satori is done by making choices with the floating Actions palette's Paint, Geometry and Layer tabs then you can begin to make progress. With Satori 3 each of these major modes sees the addition of some important new functionality.

In Paint mode the first thing you'll discover are the new brushes. These are mostly based on new brush tips such as the Italic option used for creating calligraphic effects and the Clouds brush creating realistic semi-transparent clouds. Towards the end of the list are a range of completely new "movie brushes" such as leaves and dice. These work by spraying a numbered list of images onto the page either sequentially or randomly rather like an image hose. It's relatively simple to create your own nozzles from scratch and if these are created as CVS canvas files the results remain resolution-independent. Another new feature is the ability to tie brush size as well as opacity to pressure-sensitivity when using a supported tablet like the Wacom Intuos range. This makes working with the airbrush and retouching tools even more responsive and can even be used with the new movie brushes to interactively size the brush objects as you paint.

In Geometry mode, Satori works more like a drawing package allowing editable shapes and text to be added to an image. All objects can be given a fill and the control over these has been greatly enhanced. In particular using the Colour tab you can now create and control radial and linear gradients as well as the previous box and flat fills. Amazingly you can also specify the opacity of each gradient colour so that you can easily create graduated vector transparencies to produce advanced lighting and glass effects. Satori even lets you specify an "FX" fill so that objects don't have a colour of their own but rather affect all underlying objects like a lens. The core blur, sharpen, lighten and darken FX options have now been extended to offer distortion and posterizing as well as a whole host of new plug-in stylizing filters.

In Layers mode, Satori offers Photoshop-style handling of image layers for the creation of advanced photo-compositions. Each layer can be given an opacity setting and a basic blend mode and has its own user mask for creating transparency effects. Layers are also used for colour correction and version 3 adds a Levels Correction dialog in which the entire layer or individual RGB colour channels can be manipulated by interactively setting end and mid points based on a histogram of current values. Level correction is an important tool and, when added to the existing linear and curve based options, means that the most fundamental colour corrections are well catered for (and all in a non-destructive, re-editable way). However, there's still a long way to go before Satori can claim to match Photoshop's colour handling which is why Satori's ability to import and export multi-layered PSD files is so useful.

FilmFX

Satori 3 sees the underlying PhotoXL object-based engine enhanced in each of its main areas of functionality: painting, drawing and compositing. FilmFX builds on this same engine to take Satori into the world of animation and video editing. If you open a file that is clearly numbered as part of a sequence, such as movie001.tif, Satori automatically opens a rotoscoping toolbar that lets you move backwards and forwards through all the frames. Using the new Onion Skinning wizard you can also now specify a number of surrounding frames that will appear as semi-transparent guides. If you select the toolbar's new Animate mode, changes you make will only apply to the current frame, otherwise they will be applied to the whole sequence as soon as you hit the Render command. Sequences can be output as numbered files or directly as an AVI which then loads into the bundled AVI player.

The potential is enormous. It's simple to load a background as a layer, to colour correct a whole sequence or to apply an impressionist effect to live action. You can record brush strokes as rendered animations or add action sequences with a single click of the movie brushes. Best of all Satori's resolution-independence means that you can create massive output designed for the movie screen at first generation quality. However, there are also limitations. With its object nature, Satori should be ideal for the creation of automatic "tweened" animations rather than just the laborious frame-by-frame handling it currently offers. More worrying is the complexity and lack of control which means that it's impossible to specify the number of frames for brushstroke animation or even to automatically jump to the beginning or end of the current frame sequence. Worst of all is the flakiness which led to a number of crashes.

WebFX 2000

When it does work as intended FilmFX offers some amazing power - as seen recently in The Matrix - but at a rather more mundane level the same functionality can be used to create animated GIFs. In fact Satori FilmFX 3 offers a number of other dedicated web features through the bundled Satori WebFX 2000. This offers a Web toolbar with hotspot and slicing tools and three main Web wizards. The Web Optimizer can save to JPEG, GIF, PNG or BMP and provides a real time preview as you change such parameters as colour palette or quality setting. The Export Image Slices wizard walks through exporting graphics as HTML tables. Finally the Rollover wizard uses multiple frames in a sequence to specify the up, down, over and out states of each button in turn with Satori providing the necessary Javascript handling.

Of course it's always better to have functionality than not, but I'm not convinced about the WebFX2000 features. To begin with there are some important missing features such as the lack of multiple previews to enable comparison when optimizing. With the functionality that is in place there are too many rough edges, such as the inability to specify a target frame when setting up URLs. More importantly the whole Satori approach is just too complex. Creating a rollover is difficult enough at the best of times, so you definitely don't want to be using an idiosyncratic film rendering package moonlighting in its spare time. Spaceward are right to think that the scalability and editability of an object-based approach have a lot to offer in the production of web graphics, but that role is currently far better filled by Macromedia Fireworks.

Ultimately then using Satori to produce web graphics is like using a pile driver to crack a nut - it can be done but you'd be much better off with a simpler, more traditional solution. In fact for most users this will be true of the program as a whole. If your graphical needs are straightforward then you'd do better sticking with a traditional pixel-based bitmap editor such as Paint Shop Pro. On the other hand when Satori FilmFX 3 provides industrial-strength painting, photo-editing and video-editing power at a similar budget price - only 64 + VAT if you use the upgrade form from issue 59 - it's difficult to complain. For the dedicated user no other graphics application offers the same core power or value for money as Satori.

Features

6

Ease Of Use

4

Value For Money

6

Overall

5

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

July 1999


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