Dear Wacom, Where is My Hoverboard?

-By Justin Gerard

Digital Painting is one of the most amazing technologies to hit the art world in centuries. It has affected the very way that people perceive and interact with information on a daily basis. Most of the interest (and money) from the average person for art in this era is largely spent on films and video games.

In 2010 $25 billion was spent on video games, and an unthinkable amount for movies.
And currently the ones that are the most successful are extremely reliant on digital art for their visuals.

Consider this from 2010:


How many of these were heavily reliant on digital art?

Perhaps because of this, most of the progress in recent years has been largely in the 3d field. Video games and rendering in movies have progressed at a frightening pace. Games look real. Animated films look really real.

Yet, 2d digital painting tools themselves have remained largely unchanged since their introduction. Even though 2d is where all of it begins, in the conceptual and pre-vis artwork stages.

The Pen and Tablet

For the input devices themselves, apart from pressure sensitivity, (which Wacom doubled from 1024 to 2048 in 2009) we have been stuck on the same technology for about 11 years now, with little or no meaningful progress in the area of actual painting. We have seen the tablets become more streamlined and get more buttons to do fancy things unrelated to painting, but nothing to actually really improve the input process for the pen.

To understand this better:  Essentially what happens is, when working in Adobe Photoshop with a Wacom tablet, what we have is a binary input from the tablet that detects where on the tablet an input occurred and at what pressure it occurred at. This input is transmitted to Photoshop, which then rubber stamps a pattern on the matching area on the screen, and modifies this rubber stamped pattern based on pre-programmed settings.

So in the end, it is synthesizing the look of traditional media by pasting an image where the brush tells it to.

The Wacom Cintiq

For the screens, we have seen Wacom do truly amazing things with the Cintiq, which allows input directly on the surface of the screen, creating the uncanny illusion of actually painting. And the Cintiqs are improving with each iteration. (A thinner screen surface, a faster response time, more pressure sensitivity, and so on.)
But this improvement is limited to the tablet itself, and so far still nothing has been done to make the brush part of digital painting feel more natural.

It could be argued that digital painting doesn't need to feel like traditional painting. That it is its own animal.

 Consider the works of:

 Craig Mullins

 Android Jones

Ruan Jia

These artists are taking the tools for what they are and are doing incredible things with them. They are blurring the lines between digital, conceptual, illustration, and fine art. They are taking the medium beyond itself.
But I still can't help but feel that while all the other technologies, and specifically touchscreen and 3d modeling technology, are progressing; that input for digital painting is still in its infancy. Or at least in a sustained adolescence from neglect.

So, to just lay it on the table, what I want is something like this:
To work at 24" x 18" touch screen,
That is as responsive as the Intuos5,
Which allows me to use brushes on the surface to make the strokes.

I could see this going 2 ways:

1. A Supersensitive Tablet

A tablet like the Intuos5, but that responds to all media that it comes in contact with (such as your hands, or a pencil or a traditional hogs hair bristle brush) and captures all of what feels on the surface, and transfers that to Adobe/Painter, which then displays the brushstroke on the monitor.

Interesting developments along these lines can be seen in devices like the Optipaint.  (Article here)
And in Disney Studios Touché.


2. A Cintiq With a Fiber Optic Brush

The Brush would have fiber optic bristles, which would transmit light from their tips (and if possible, from several nodes along each bristle as well) to optical sensors on the screen itself. If it were possible to have several nodes along the fiber of the bristles, then it would be possible to have even more input for how each bristle is bending, thus allowing the programs to render a much more accurate representation of the brushstroke you just applied.

Patents for a brush like this already exist. Check this out

This would allow true to life brushwork and would be what I would consider the Holy Grail of digital painting.

Note: Fiber Optics make the most sense to me, but then again, I failed Algebra 2, so maybe I am not going to be the first person Wacom's Engineering Department is going to listen to on what they should use specifically. I would accept anything that accomplished something similar to this.

The traditional painters who are still reading will be smirking at all these hoops I am jumping through for this.
(Hey Gerard, I have an idea, why not just paint on this new technology called paper with this new technology called watercolor?)
And yes, I am painting traditionally more and more these days as my frustration with the limitations of digital increases.
But I would love to see this technology become fully realized. The possibilities are amazing and I can't help but want to see them become reality.

Why Do I Demand this of Wacom?
Because Wacom has long been the industry leader in this field, and since they brought about some of the greatest advancements in the field of digital painting, I am hereby laying the burden upon their shoulders to take the next steps.

There are already many other companies hot on their trail.  The Flow for the iPad. The Next Window for the desktop.
But these are not true digital canvases.  They leave us with a sense that the technology exists to make this happen, but without anyone who can actually provide it. (The point here being that if Wacom wants to remain the industry leader, it should definitely listen to me on this, even though I failed Algebra 2.)

Lastly, some might argue that this is the job of the programs themselves. The 2 industry giants being Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop.

Here is why this won't happen from them: Adobe has improved a little (for the digital painter) in the last decade. It is overall more stable than it was, and its brushes are on their way to catching up with those of Painter. But with their pending move towards a renting "cloud" model after CS6, I am doubtful that we will ever again see any meaningful progress from them. When a company has a captive user market, that must pay them a monthly fee to even use the product, then that company no longer has any incentive to improve its product. Whereas before, they had to at least have the appearance of new features to entice the market to pay for an upgrade.

With the new cloud model we will be paying more than we were before, with no likelihood of any real improvements. I am not counting on them to have much to do with improving the state of digital painting tools.

For more on this, read: 

(Wether the cloud model is a good idea or a bad idea is perhaps a subject we can take up in a future discussion. The question of what to do about piracy is a legitimate concern on their part. The monthly usage fee for a program that may cease improving itself is a legitimate concern on ours.)

Too Long; Didn't Read: 
I want you Wacom, to take the current Wacom pen, which is a marvel, and multiply it times 100. I don't care if you have to do it with nanobots, gel, cold fusion or beaver pelts. Just make it happen.  
We are counting on you for this.  

And for our hoverboards. Thank you.

No beaver pelts were hurt in the making of this article.  Please send all other complaints to: JustinGerardillustration (at) gmail (dot) com.

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