June 2001

From University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Virtual reality studies allow creation of original 'paintings' without all the mess

CHAPEL HILL -- Thanks to recent advances in computer graphics, it's possible to produce painting-like images without the mess and odor of real paint.

A new electronic system developed by graduate students Bill Baxter and Vincent Scheib at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a twist on existing commercial computer-based painting software.

Completed under the direction of computer science professors Ming Lin and Dinesh Manocha, their innovation could eventually lure serious painters away from their easels to create art electronically.

Commercial computer-based painting systems and recent research on the automatic generation of "painterly" images have emphasized the appearance of the final image, according to Lin, project principal.

"However, the word 'painterly' also describes a fusion of feeling and action, sight and touch, purpose and paint, beyond merely producing an image that gives an artistic impression," she said. "Our project complements existing research by offering a man-machine interface that captures the artistic process."

Their computer painting system, "dAb: Interactive Haptic Painting with 3D Virtual Brushes," employs a haptic, or "touch-enabled" interface. It runs on a standard dual processor personal computer with a commodity OpenGL 3-D graphics accelerator and a haptic device made by Sensable Technologies.

The system puts users more in touch both with materials and the painting process by providing a "minimalist" interface with as few complicated buttons, key-presses and controls as possible, while still offering much expressive power, Lin said.

Paintings created with dAb can be stored, enhanced and printed on canvas, according to its developers. An artist can use dAb as a painting environment or as a practice tool for sketches of a painting being considered.

"We envision that dAb will offer an effective training system for painting in the future by providing a natural interface that can take advantage of skill transfer from a traditional painting environment to a computer-painting program, a feature currently not available with any existing computer painting system," Manocha said.

The dAb team works as part of ongoing research by the UNC GAMMA group on high-fidelity haptic display and physically based modeling and interaction. Members intend to capture the paint strokes of master artists soon and use the computer-recorded strokes to train novice artists.

Creators say the unique components of dAb include:

Deformable, three-dimensional virtual brushes that give painters control of complex brush strokes similar to those of various real brushes.

Feedback that provides a sense of realism and tactile cues that enable users to better manipulate the paint brush.

A novel two-directional, two-layer paint model that allows for easy loading of complex blends onto the 3-D brush and generation of interesting paint effects on the canvas.

Artists can paint directly onto a virtual canvas displayed on the screen. Using the space bar as a toggle, they can bring up the virtual palette for paint mixing and brush cleaning or put the palette aside to paint directly onto the canvas.

A simple menu allows for saving and loading a clean or previously painted canvas, undoing a brush stroke and quickly drying the canvas partially or completely.

"dAb offers the simplicity and ease of use similar to that of a traditional painting setting, while providing technology and capabilities (quick drying, save, undo) of a computerized system," Lin said.

If some of the great masters were alive today, what would they think of these dramatic new tools? That's difficult to say, but today's tech-conscious artists and designers are likely to be fascinated, the scientists said. According to Baxter and Scheib, several amateur artists have tested dAb and began creating original artwork within minutes. They were captivated for hours.

Sponsors of the GAMMA research group include the Army Research Office, the U.S. Department of Energy's ASCI Program, Intel, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. Additional information and a demonstration can be found on the project Web site, www.cs.unc.edu/~geom/DAB.

Note: Lin can be reached at 919-962-1974 or lin@cs.unc.edu











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