Jan 23 2011

Building Your Own Custom Movie Brush for Photo Mosaic Effects

by Synthetik in Uncategorized


The photo mosaic image above was created with a custom movie brush i generated from a collection of digital photos of beach boulders i photographed yesterday. This post will run you through the complete process of building your own custom movie brush. You could use it to make custom photo mosaic effects, or all kinds of other things we’ll explore in future posts.

The first step in building a custom movie brush is to put together a collection of individual photos. Depending on what you plan to use the movie brush for is going to influence the process you go through to build the collection of photos that will be stored in the custom movie brush. For this particular example, i was interested in building photo mosaic effects. And i wanted a set of images that had interesting textural characteristics.

So i grabbed my digital camera and headed to the local beach to take some photos of beach boulders. Again, i was interested in the textural characteristics of random fields of boulder rocks. I also shot another sequence of driftwood images at the same time. Because i was interested in textural characteristics only, i didn’t focus much on the coloring of the individual images. For other photo mosaic applications, getting a wide assortment of different colored images might be vital for the particular effect you are trying to create.

You don’t have to use a digital camera, google image search is a fun way to build collections of images based on specific themes or word based imagery. After taking my set of individual digital photos, i brought them into the computer using iPhoto since i’m primarily a mac user. If you are windows, use your appropriate photo management application there.

I made a gallery of my boulder images, and then exported the entire gallery into a single folder on my computer (labeled rocks1 in this particular case). I then booted up Studio Artist, and build the paint action sequence (PASeq) shown below.

The 2 step PASeq does 2 different things. The primary action step is the first one, which sets the canvas to the source image. This is all you really need. I added the second Image Compressor action step to add a small amount of contrast optimization to all of the individual images that will build the frames in the movie brush. This is not a requirement when building a movie brush, it’s just something i try and pay attention to.

I then ran the Action : Process with Paint Action Sequence : Image to Movie menu command (2nd gallery image above). What this menu command does is run the current PASeq on every image in a folder on your computer. So each image in the selected folder is processed with the PASeq, and then the resulting canvas is output to a generated movie file. The 3rd gallery image shows the image folder i selected, which contains my boulder images.

The 4th gallery image shows a dialog that then comes up that lets me specify the canvas size for the generated output movie. For this particular case i left it at the existing 128 by 128 pixel dimensions.

The 5th gallery image then shows the dialog that comes up to specify the name of the movie file that will be generated. Don’t place it in the image folder you already picked as your input image folder.

At this point Studio Artist will go frame by frame, reading in each image in your selected source folder, processing it with the current PASeq, and then outputting the result as individual frames in the movie file it is building up. When the processing is completed, you now have a custom movie brush file composed of your unique set of images.

I then used the paint synthesizer techniques described over the last few days to build a paint preset that generates a photo mosaic effect using my new custom movie brush as the movie source brush for the paint synthesizer effect.

The PASeq below shows all of the individual steps i used to build the photo mosaic image at the top of the post.

The AutoPaint action step is the one using my custom boulder movie brush. I took one of the brick wall paint presets described previously, and modified it to use my own custom movie brush by running the File : Paint Synthesizer : New Movie Brush menu command (2nd gallery image).

For this particular example i set out to build my image collection purely based on the textural qualities of the individual images (the organic textures of groups boulders by the ocean). As i mentioned before, oftentimes building a full featured color gamut in the individual photos when viewed as a whole is an important part of building a collection of images for photo mosaic purposes.

You can also pay attention to the meaning of the individual images, building collections that may reference irony, emotional content of the individual images, whatever suits your artistic purpose. For example, since the source photo for the example mosaic at the top of the post is Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, a more ironical artistic intent might have been to have put together a collection of photos of all of the celebrities he made fun of, and then used their individual photos to build up the movie brush for the photo mosaic picture of Ricky.

I’m not trying to make some grand artistic statement here, i’m just trying to show you how to build a custom movie brush. But if you are trying to make some grand artistic statement with your work, then how you choose the specific images that build your custom movie brush should be a very deliberate process, one that helps to reinforce whatever it is you are trying to achieve in the piece.

I also typically spend a lot of time working with each individual image prior to running the PASeq to turn them into a movie brush. I custom crop each individual image, and retouch or optimize them as appropriate for what i’m trying to achieve.

For example, a lot of my personal work involves movie brushes made from custom graffiti images i’ve taken over the years in intese urban settings. I go to great lengths to individually crop each photo to achieve a very flat look associated with each of the individual textures generated by the closeup photos of the graffiti patterns. So i don’t just snap a bunch of photos quickly like i did in this example, and then auto-generate a movie brush. I put a lot of thought and energy into individually working with each of the individual photos in the entire collection so that they will achieve the artistic effect i’m looking for in the final photo mosaic piece.