Alien Skin Xenofex 2

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A range of clean and simple Photoshop effects - ultimately too simple for its own good

Xenofex 2 is an updated range of Photoshop-compatible plug-ins from Alien Skin, the developers of Eye Candy 4000 one of the most popular filter collections and one of my personal favourites.

One of Eye Candy 4000's big attractions is its interface and this is shared by the new Xenofex collection. Central to the full-screen environment is the huge preview - just as it should be - while running down the left are the parameters to control each effect. Particularly useful are the wide range of presets that Alien Skin provides from the Settings menu - over 100 in total -and the Random Seed button available in all filters that automatically randomizes parameters.

So what power is on offer? There are 14 effects in all and it's possible to spot some shared themes. To begin with there are some striking effects for simulating natural phenomena. The Lightning effect adds realistic lightning bolts complete with control over branching, spread and start and end points. Electrify takes a similar idea and applies it to a selection. Very different is Little Fluffy Clouds that lets you create a reasonably wide range of cloud forms - a good way of adding interest to otherwise flat skies.

Another range of effects is built around treating your images as if they are printed on paper or other surfaces. The Crumple filter simulates the effect of scrunching up your photo and then flattening it back out - particularly interesting when applied to text. That's also true of the Cracks effect which adds fissures and fault lines to your selection. More damage is applied with the Rip Open filter which simulates a piece of paper being torn apart and Shatter which creates the effect of a pane of glass exploding into shards.

Four other filters can also be loosely termed surface effects. Stain turns any selection into a soiled mark with presets available such as coffee, red wine and dried blood! Burnt Edges simulates the look of burnt paper. Flag creates the effect of windblown fabric using shadows, highlights and distortion. And Puzzle turns your image into a jigsaw complete with the ability to remove selected pieces.

Finally there are three filters that can only be put in a mixed bag category. Constellation reconstructs your image as starlike points of light (reminiscent of the Old Grey Whistle Test logo, if that means anything to you). The Television filter adds video-based distortion to your photo to make it appear as it is being displayed onscreen. And finally the Classic Mosaic filter breaks your picture into coloured tiles that follow the outlines and shapes in your image.

Some of the effects such as Classic Mosaic and Electrify are capable of producing impressive results, but generally I was left underwhelmed. The problem is that the filters tend to be just too simplistic to be realistic. This is particularly apparent as some of the Xenofex 2 effects, such as Cracks and Puzzle, are also catered for by the AutoFX DreamSuite collections which offer many more controlling parameters along with more interactive input. By comparison the Xenofex results can end up looking cheap-and-cheerful rather than photo-realistic.

It's not just the individual effects which feel a bit thin, the collection as a whole does too. With only 14 occasionally useful effects compared to Eye Candy 4000's more regularly useful 23, it's clear which collection should be first on your list.

Ease of Use
5
Features
3
Value for Money
3
Overall
4

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

July 2003

requirements Pentium II, 64/128Mb of RAM, 10Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Adobe Photoshop 6 or later or compatible host.

 


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