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Softechnics
1986
Utility: Graphics
£12.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
None

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31,32,33
Phil South
Chris Bourne

A comic book drawn on the Spectrum, and all done on The Artist II from SofTechnics? Drawn by Phil South? Now I know you're kidding! Does it fill areas with textures? Does it cut, insert and paste? Does it us Windows Icons Mice and Pointers? Does it use your underpants to make soup? Well, dunno about the soup, but the other stuff's very likely.

If anything's worth doing, as Steven Spielberg will tell you, it's worth doing a sequel to it. Not content with producing the artful Artist SofTechnics has now released Artist II. Although containing most of the familiar bells and whistles, like magnify, brush size, fill, line, box, circle and ellipse, Artist II now has a gallery of added features like an (eek!) mouse control option and cut, insert and paste tools! Look, I know this sounds like cosmetic surgery, but try to keep your mind on the article please!

There are facilities for grey scale dumping too, for those of us who don't have a ginormous amounts of dosh for a full colour inkjet printer. Compatible with most printers, it reproduces the colours in a picture as tones of grey, allowing you to print out as many black and white versions of your pic as you like. Golly!

Far from being a mere upgrade of Artist, Artist II is a unique new program in its own right. (Or should that be draw?) Although you can use it with the keyboard or a compatible joystick, the program really comes alive when you attach an AMX or Kempston mouse. This allows you to draw freehand where joysticks fear to tread.

CUTTING

COMMENTS
The major improvement over the previous opus, and indeed over Rainbird's Art studio, is the Cut and Past tool. This tool is so important, that it touches every part of the program; you can cut an irregular shape from any bit of the screen, position it, and paste it down instantly.

You do this by selecting a work area and painting over the graphic you want with a fat brushpoint. You can then position the resultant copy of the graphic on the screen, and paste it down. What's more, the Insert Mode aSows you to cut and paste a section from any screen you have on tape, without losing the screen you're working on? As well as the improvements to the package, it comes with three graphic utility programs which you use separately from the main program, to extend its range of uses still further.

If you've got a yen for publishing, Page Maker will supply you with the technology. Loading ASCII text files from The Writer, (Artist II's sister word processor) and screen data from Artist II you can make up A4 pages ready for printing by mixing them together. Brilliant, eh? (Who needs an Apple Macintosh, anyway?)

The Screen Compressor is another useful utility; it takes your Screen$, which usually take up huge amounts of space, and crunches them down to a third of their size. This means you can load a lot of compressed screens into another part of memory, assign them a number and print them back whenever you want to, instantly.

Lastly, there's the Sprite And Font Designer. Not only is it a super fast font jiggler, but a full feature animated-any-size-sprite-handler too. Your sprites can be up to six characters square, and if they're small it can handle up 1073 frames of animation! Quite a shock, that. Almost an animated cartoon on its own!

Using the Page Maker, you could get yourself in print, with a newsletter, fanzine or comic, or even make your own greetings cards. With Compressor you could write a graphics adventure game, or cartoon adventure lie Red Hawk, switching screens Quickly in memory for different locations. And using the Sprite And Font Designer, you can make short animated cartoons, or 3D shoot 'em ups. The best bit about all of this is that you don't have to be able to draw! The juggling and editing of graphics mean it's easy for anyone to make good looking pictures.

COMIC CUTS
As you can see, the applications of a full function WIMP (Windows Icons Mouse Pointers) graphics package are many and varied. Not least of these is the computer-drawn comic book, like the famous Shatter, by American artist Mike Saenz. Mike uses an Apple Macintosh, and a paint program containing the same features as Artist II!

In setting out to renew Artist II, I tried to think what I could draw that would realy show off the facilities of the program, and be a new application for a draw program on the Spectrum. Then I remembered Shatter. Wouldn't it be fun to draw a comic on the Speccy, just to see if it could be done? It was a bit of a struggle, but here it is.

FINISHING TOUCHES
Artist II is a very good graphics package. On its own it would be pretty nifty, but the utilities you get with it make it hard to beat. If you bought Art Studio, you may even want to get Artist II too! There are enough extra facilities to make it worth your while, and the merging/cutting and pasting are second to none on the Speccy. It's probably a swell plan if you use them in tandem, taking the best qualities of both. If pressed to choose between them I'd say Artist II wins by a nose, but it's very close.

There were a few things that I found a little bit irritating, though. Sometimes when you select the brushpoints, the spaces between the different shapes were filled with corrupted code. Well, it's annoying, but not fatal. And another thing that struck me as odd - when I saved a picture, the program saved it, then when it returned to the program the picture had gone. It went to tape all right, but it was a pain to have to reload if you wanted to continue.

As you can see from this brief summary of its abilities, Artist II is a full feature, state of the art paint package with a string of possibilities as long as your brush. Now the features and power of the big graphics crunching computers can be yours. All this for fifteen quid. Amazing!

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WHAT'S ON THE MENU?

Ah, yes, we'll have a number 23, a 14 and sweet and sour with noodles. Better still, let's pull down a few menus and look at Artist II's new features.

Here insert enables you to window a portion of the screen, then insert another screen into the window. A bit like cutting a hole in the first screen and looking at the second through the gap! You can then scroll the screen underneath to position it. Using this technique you can merge two screens very accurately.

Thicken has exactly the opposite effect. Any lines or shapes in the picture can be thickened, a useful tool if you've a tendency to draw skimpy ones, or you want to beef up an image that you've scaled down in size.

The scroll mode allows you to scroll the contents of a window so you can place it with precision. If you, like me, are a bit shaky with you placement of windows round a subject, this is a good way to keep everything straight. You can actually window the whole screen (a default setting when you turn off all other windows) and scroll it to position a graphic within the screen.

Outline if the kind of thing that would've gone down well int the sixties (hey, like wow man!) This transforms anything in a given window by turning the ink white and drawing a line around the object. If you do this repeatedly, the effect is a weird "op-art" look which is really hard on the eyes. (Gives me a migraine, anyway!)

Pattern mode allows you to paint with textures. You can fill with solid colour or a texture, as usual, but the real flexibility comes when using textures with the paintbrush. As you paint with the brush, the paint appears on screen with the texture running through it, a bit like seaside rock. Except it doesn't rot your teeth.

As well as clearing the screen, you can move it up and down to see the rest of it. The whole screen can't be viewed in draw mode, but using the view option, you can get a preview of what it'll look like. If you make a mistake, you can even Undo it. Very handy, in my case especially.

BEHIND THE SCREENS

To give you a little peek into my brushstrokes (cheeky) here's a step-by-step look at the development of the third comic frame.

I began by sketching in the basic construction lines. The head of the robot and the man were freehand sketches. I used circles for the shoulders and straight lines for the first lines of the raygun and word 'crunch'.

I then filled the head and shoulder of the robot with the basic texture (50 percent grey). This is the one thing that the Artiest II is really hot on: it supplies a good selection of textures.

In order to make the robot look more solid, highlights were needed on its surface. I selected the finest brushpoint and erased a curved line around the top of the head, to imitate light reflecting off it.

To balance the shading on the head and shoulders, a shadow line was needed. I used the same procedure that I used in producing highlights, though I set the brush to paint instead of erase.

The hairline I originally drew was nothing like the trendy flattop our hero sported in the first frame. So a little editing was needed. The textured fill contained in the rest of the hair had to be much reproduced pixel by pixel.

I found magnify mode the best way to clean up bad sketching. Here I'm switching off erratic pixels along the line of the poor guy's face. They had to go, really, 'cos nobody likes a hero with spots!

Another good use for magnify mode is to check there are no broken lines in the picture before you fill a section. Patch them all up in magnify mode, unless you want textured fill spilling out of the screen over your shoes.

It's far easier, and in the long run quicker, if you draw more detailed bits in magnify mode. You can be much more precise, 'cos your hand has to move more to make less marks on the screen, so you can actually draw, rather than just sketch.

Okay, so the robot's been filled and shaded. The arms are straight lines, for machine precision, and the elbows are just filled circles. I made the 5 with continuous straight lines.

I made the radiating lines using the line mode. A thicker pen point makes the lines thicker. So, the accentuate the action of the robot bursting in, I placed lines around it, extending into the room.

In the process of shading the door with a texture, some of it overflowed onto the man's hand underneath. I removed this and teased it up using the magnify mode. Because the radiating lines got in the way, several applications were needed to cover the whole door.

To show that the robot is hovering on a sort of anti-gravity stream, I used a ghosting effect. I painted in the stream with a zigzag textured brush, and then erased over it with a 50 percent grey texture. I then dotted in the fizzy bits around the base with a fine brush.

Making sure that all the lines were unbroken, I filled the walls and the man's hair, making sure that the texture matched the other frames. It didn't matter that some things were obscured by textures 'cos that could be fixed later.

To emphasise the word crunch, the robot and the man's head, I erased a white line around them in magnify mode. This makes sure that the textures don't mix and obscure the detail in the drawing.

Once the walls and so on were finished, it

became clear that the radiating black lines weren't clear enough. I emphasised them with white lines erased in between, drawn freehand with the finest brushpoint.

And finally, the speech bubble. I designed this from an ellipse. I did this after the wall and anti-gravity stream, but I had to erase the inside of the bubble to makes it clear. I then placed the text in the bubble and windowed an repositioned it with move mode.

To do the title screen, I simply selected the Future font (for that sci-fi look) and typed it in the middle of the screen. I then scaled it up to fill the whole top half of the screen, and erased over it with a horizontal line texture. Next I had to clear a white box and give it a drop shadow, for the small piece of text under the main title. After typing in the text, I windowed it and first moved it into position, then outlined it. Finally I filled the background with a dark speckly texture. And there you have it, a super title.

I drew the main character's face freehand using the finest brush point and then neatened it up with the magnify mode. The hair and shadows were filled with different textures and the mouth with solid black. The speech bubble is an ellipse, placed on the screen before the wall was drawn or filled, and two intersecting lines make the spike pointing to his mouth. The text was windowed and positioned using the move function. The 'Not For Long!' caption was written inside an area cleared with the window function.

Et voila! The finished second frame. With a lot of cleaning up and teasing, the final action effect is complete. At the end of each drawing you can go over any pieces of it that look to clinical and empty and add the final touches freehand. The final screen will then look drawn, rather than the product of a computer program. It's often a good idea to make a rough design of your ideas on a sheet of paper first. Just sketch the layout of the frames and use them as a guide when working.

The main character was cut and pasted from the first frame and then adapted to fit the new situation. I rubbed out his old eyes and mouth and then drew them closed. The balloons, text and fills were all done like the other screens. The whoosh as the robot leaves the room was painted in in black, erased using the zigzag pattern, and painted over with a shaded paintbrush. Then the whole thing was airbrushed by erasing with the spray brushpoint, producing the white spray effect.