The art and craft of screen graphics – interview with Stylow

April 19th, 2019  |  FUI · Interviews

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews on fantasy user interfaces, it’s my honor to welcome Stylow. In this interview he talks about breaking into the world of screen graphics, the ever-raising bar in the field, finding inspiration and pushing forward. In between and around, Stylow dives deeper into his work on the screens of “Ghost in the Shell” and “Ready Player One”.


Concept art for “Ghost in the Shell“, courtesy of Stylow.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Stylow: I’ve always been creatively active without me realizing it. My parents were always involved in the creative industry; my mom is a singer and my dad is a dancer, stepdad an actor, so I was always surrounded by creative individuals.

As I kid I was always active. I remember I spent a lot of time playing with Kapla blocks, making all these weird structures. I had books of them which were basically tutorials for kids on how to make certain structures. I also went to a Steiner school where they focus on the children and bringing the best out of them through arts. You are exploring creativity through painting, sculpting etc at very early age even in classes like math or biology.

Much later on I was really excited by the VFX industry when I saw “The Matrix”. I was blown away. It was insane, and I was just trying to understand how they’ve done it. I was around 15 when I started looking at behind-the-scenes of how you make movies and how you do certain VFX. I then discovered Photoshop, and I initially thought it was a program to edit cars with.

I was playing with Photoshop, and that later led me to making VFX in AfterEffects. For quite a long time I was stuck in this world of 2D, I always admired 3D work because the possibilities are endless. I didn’t do 3D, so I was trying to fake it in AfterEffects by using 2.5D effects.

After a while I told my step-dad that I will spend a full year doing dailies around the age of 23. It’s quite famous nowadays on Instagram, you see it everywhere. He liked that decision, because he saw that I wanted to push myself. I was never spending any time with 3D, so to actually learn it I would have to dive deep into that world. When he heard that, he said that if I miss a day, he would shave my hair [laughs]. I agreed, and that was our little contract. That got me going for 365 days and I learned so much by just sitting down everyday and learning from tutorials. Anything I saw and didn’t know how to do it, I would google it and try to mimic it.

That is how I got into the industry. It was through posting that work every day on social media. I got in contact with studios, and eventually worked with Territory where I’ve done most of my UI work.

Kirill: Do you think that you are a part of a newer generation that was not exposed as much to the more physical side of design? Would you say that the digital side of it has been the dominating force on your path so far?

Stylow: Technology is advancing so fast that these days you can do very cool things with very cool software. I remember back when I was trying box modeling. I started with Maya and then went to Cinema4D, and it was difficult. I think that technology definitely helps making it quicker for, let’s say, the younger generation out there.

And it’s good to know how difficult it was as well going into that space. You should know some of the basics, how it was before, so that you can adapt to that new space which is 3D. It’s like sculpting with actual clay can be transferred these days to sculpting in software, or lighting an object for photography vs CGI as well. I still try to think how would you light this if it was an actual physical thing. So knowing the real thing will help for sure.


Concept art for “Ghost in the Shell“, courtesy of Stylow.

Kirill: One thing that people always mention in these interviews is that render times stay roughly the same no matter how much the underlying technology progresses. The hardware is getting faster and the software is getting more sophisticated, but the level of demands from clients and productions keeps on rising as well.

Stylow: It’s the natural evolution of almost anything, really. When something is quick and easy to do, I guess you don’t feel fulfilled in some ways. I start feeling that I haven’t pushed it far enough. I was working with a 7-GPU system, and some renders in OctaneRender were so quick that it feels like you have to add more and go another level deeper or at least it gives you the possibility to now do more thanks to technology moving forward so fast. You’ll definitely always push that bar.

I think it will never stop, but the teams might become smaller because of that. There are amazing artists out there these days. Somebody talented can make a full CGI short by themselves, and nobody would take you serious if you said that just 20 years ago [laughs].

Kirill: I remember when I was in college in mid ’90s, and the high end graphical SGI stations cost over $150K each, not even adjusted for inflation. Probably today it’s much more affordable to get into the field, where you can get a decent desktop machine for so much cheaper.

Stylow: We were talking about pushing the bar. So yes, it is easier to step into it because the tools are way cheaper, but the bar is so much higher now. It’s almost scary to start in that aspect. You have all these amazing artists out there, and it’s daunting to look at it when you’re just starting out. The bar keeps on going higher and higher because in some aspects of that the tools are cheap.


Concept art for “Ghost in the Shell“, courtesy of Stylow.

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Guard rails

March 18th, 2019  |  General · Technology

I’ve been fascinated by this story ever since John Carreyrou started untangling its web of lies a few years ago. His book “Bad Blood” came out last year. ABC’s multi-part “The Dropout” podcast was released earlier this year. A new documentary airs on HBO tonight. And at some point in 2020 there’s a movie with Jennifer Lawrence playing Elizabeth Holmes.

You can see it as a story about a misunderstood genius who, against all odds that the heavily regulated environment threw at her, tried to push for a tremendous innovation in the field of blood testing. You can also see it as a story about a misguided idealist who was willing to lie through her teeth as her carefully crafted house of cards started collapsing with absolutely nothing she could show the world – or even her investors – that could back up her crazy dream.

We need the crazy innovators who are not willing to play by the rules of old industries. But we also need some educated adults in the room that should provide guidance on why those, perhaps outdated rules, are there to begin with.

Radiance 2.0.1

March 11th, 2019  |  Desktop · Flamingo · Substance · Swing · Trident

It gives me great pleasure to announce the second major release of Radiance. It was all ready to go as 2.0.0, but what’s a release really if a blocker bug doesn’t make it in? So instead, you get to get 2.0.1 for now – pending any other blockers that would require a couple more minor re-spins. Anyway, let’s get to what’s new. First, I’m going to use emojis to mark different parts of it like this:

💔 marks an incompatible API / binary change
😻 marks new features
🤷‍♀️ marks bug fixes and general improvements

General

  • 💔 Java 9 is the new minimum requirement for build time and runtime of all Radiance modules

Modules

  • 💔 Removed Spoonbill (SVNKit-powered implementation of Flamingo’s breadcrumb bar
  • 😻 Added Meteor – Kotlin extensions for core Swing APIs
  • 😻 Added Ember – Kotlin extensions for SubstanceCortex APIs
  • 🤷‍♀️ Renamed Kormorant to Plasma
  • 🤷‍♀️ All core Kotlin modules (Ember, Meteor, Plasma) moved under the top-level kotlin-ext folder
  • 🤷‍♀️ Jitterbug (visual tool for editing Substance color schemes) renamed to Apollo
  • 😻 Added Ion – sample walkthroughs for replacing SwingWorker with Kotlin coroutines

Neon

  • 💔 An almost complete rewrite of NeonIcon APIs
  • 💔 Most Flamingo and Substance APIs moved off of ResizableIcon and to ResizableIcon.Factory
  • 💔 Moved some icon colorization APIs from Substance to Neon
  • 💔 Removed usage of UITable from FontPolicy API

Photon

  • 💔 Removed default public no-argument constructor from bundled templates for Java and Kotlin targets

Trident

  • 💔 Moved to builder-based construction of timelines

Substance

  • 😻 New Graphite Electric skin
  • 😻 New APIs for working with complex renderers, including built-in animations
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix for incorrect offsets of rotated texts
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix for inconsistent font metrics between preferred size and rendering passes
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix for incorrect vertical position of icons in JOptionPane
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix for crash in showing JColorChooser dialog
  • 💔 Moved all three Office 2007 skins to the extras pack

Flamingo

  • 💔 Moved all lower-level components (command button, command button strip. command popup menu, command button panel) to the new world based on content models, presentation models and projections
  • 😻 Added support for placing any ribbon content (including components, application menu links and galleries) in the taskbar
  • 😻 Added support for taskbar overflow (including built-in horizontal scrolling)
  • 💔 Keytips for taskbar content are controlled by keytip policy
  • 😻 Added support for separate keytips on action and secondary / popup areas of command buttons
  • 😻 Added support for global contextual menu on the ribbon
  • 🤷‍♀️ Added complete documentation

The first Radiance release focused on bringing all the different Swing open-source projects that I’ve been working on since 2005 under one roof. This release (code-named Beryl) is about making them work much better together. And it’s also about making it just a bit easier to use Flamingo components in general, and the ribbon in particular, in what one might call serious, if not even boring, business applications.

There’s still a long road ahead to continue exploring the never-ending depths of what it takes to write elegant and high-performing desktop applications in Swing. If you’re in the business of writing just such apps, I’d love for you to take this second Radiance release for a spin. Click here to get the instructions on how to add Radiance to your Gradle / Maven / Ivy / Leiningen / Bazel builds. And don’t forget that all of the modules require Java 9 to build and run.

Middle ground

March 9th, 2019  |  Politics


Photo by Kimon Maritz on Unsplash

Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine is one of my favorite sites to follow. It offers deep, thoughtful, approachable analysis of the current state of media and how it might (or should) evolve going forward.

Jeff’s latest post from last Sunday linked to his earlier Medium post on what journalism is:

Convening communities into civil, informed, and productive conversation, reducing polarization and building trust through helping citizens find common ground in facts and understanding.

Much scorn and derision has been heaped on Newt Gingrich a few years ago when he was talking about “What I say is equally true” line (seen in this clip from John Oliver’s show, with generous background laughter track from the audience).

It’s easy to dismiss that entire interview as somebody who is spinning the tale that his “side” wants to hear. A tale not supported by any of the facts, any of the numbers, anything of what is actually happening across the country. Looking back at it through the prism of “alternative facts” of the last 2-3 years, such condescending dismissal can be seen as an instinctive, gut-based, knee-jerk reaction. Reaction that is built on the same quicksand “foundation” as the narrative Newt Gingrich was trying to defend.

You can’t find middle ground when one of the sides argues with facts, and another argues with feelings. You can’t throw numbers and charts out there, and expect the other side to change the way they feel. That’s not how humans work, unfortunately. Maybe you can try to convince that other side that numbers are more important than feelings. Maybe you can try and dig deeper into understanding where these feelings come from. But that’s not quite what the new left seems to be doing these days.

The new left seems to be taking a page or two straight out of the new right’s book. Forget the facts. Forget the numbers. Go for that punch to the gut. Speak to the instinct. Speak to that primitive, lizard brain that lurks just under the surface, ready to spring into that sweet “us vs them” mode.

As much as I want to live in the world where political and social issues can be discussed in a “civil, informed and productive conversation”, the world that Jeff Jarvis imagines, I don’t see that happening in the next decade or so.

If you were to ask me – today – what is the social, fiscal and political platform of the Democratic Party going into the 2020 elections, I would struggle to answer that question. “We are not Trump” is a political platform of feelings and not facts. If you can even call it a platform.