Monday, November 26, 2007

Colors! and Inchworm: digital painting applications for Nintendo DS

Colors! and Inchworm: digital painting applications for Nintendo DS, art by Simon Rodgers, Sparth, Mattias Snygg, Bob SabistonSince I first was introduced to computer graphics back in 1994, I’ve wanted a digital sketchbook.

My wife still kids me because that year, after I was introduced to digital art by working with Photoshop on a friend’s Mac, I took a Photoshop book to the beach with us and read it like a novel, before I had either Photoshop or a computer to run it on.

I also found myself right away imagining a Mac tablet computer, on which I could paint with digital colors on the beach, without the hassle and complications of carrying around the materials for plein air painting. I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for Apple to release one for the last 13 years, and, though rumors are flying again about an iPod Touch style tablet, I’m still waiting.

In the meanwhile, I haven’t been willing to drop $1,200 plus on a Windows tablet computer that I would have to buy additional software for and that I would use for only one purpose, so I’m left with few options. I do some digital sketching with my Powerbook and a small Wacom tablet, but the combination isn’t as compact and portable as a tablet.

I’ve been running TealPaint, a fairly clever little digital painting application on my Clié (Palm PDA), but it’s frustrating in that there is no allowance for “soft” brushes that simulate painting with lowered opacity strokes; everything is hard edged, and blending can only be simulated with patterns.

Simon Rodgers, a concept artist who I profiled in 2006, and who enjoys painting digitally, was kind enough to write and let me know about what amounts to a pocket sized digital sketchbook for under $200. It’s a solution that allows digital painting with soft and hard brushes and varied opacity. Oddly enough, it’s by way of a portable game device.

Jens Andersson has written an application called Colors! that runs on the Nintendo DS portable gaming device (Amazon link). The Nintendo’s pressure-sensitive screen and stylus, combined with its small size and relatively low price, make it an excellent candidate for a digital sketchbook.

Though I haven’t had a chance to try this yet (I may wait till after Christmas to see if I can pick up a DS cheap, and just to make sure they don’t announce an Apple tablet at Macworld), but by all accounts Jens has done a nice job. The consensus seems to be “It may not be Corel Painter, but it’s pretty darn good”.

The app lets you use the aforementioned hard and soft variable opacity brushes, that by all appearances look like they do a pretty good job for digital painting, a color picker, eyedropper and other simple tools. Jens is still developing the app, but points out that his intention for it is to remain simple.

The site for the Colors! features an online gallery that includes some impressive work. There is also a YouTube vid in which a user gives a short tour of the app.

For more impressive images that show off the applications possibilities, see some of Simon Rodgers’ quick concept sketches, and some en plein air digital sketches by Sparth (Nicholas Bouvier) a concept artist who has long been an advocate of on location digital painting with a laptop (see my profile of sparth construct from 2006). You’ll also find his concept sketches in the Colors! gallery.

There is also a similar application for digital painting on the Nintendo DS under development by Bob Sabiston, who created the Rotoshop software used in the rotoscoped movies Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, under the working name of Inchworm. You can see some of Bob’s Inchworm images here, and a Popular Science article with a video tour of the app.

Inchworm has not been released. It may become an official Nintendo product, or it may be released to the homebrew circuit, but Colors! is available now and looks as good or better.

Unfortunately, creating a digital sketchbook with Colors! it isn’t quite as simple as buying a DS handheld game system (about $130) and downloading the software (free). You also need a “homebrew enabled cartridge” (about $50), which is a hardware adapter that allows you to put the application on a compact flash card that can then be read by the Nintendo’s top slot. I don’t know the ins and outs of this, as I haven’t purchased one, so I’m reluctant to recommend a cartridge or a supplier (it’s a specialty gaming item). There is a FAQ on the Colors! site, but it’s not aimed at newbies and non-gamers.

I’m writing to the Colors! developer suggesting a FAQ for non gamers who want to know how to get started with a “homebrew enabled Nintendo DS” required for running the app. I’ll append the post if I have news, or if I get one myself. [This has been added, see my addendum below.]

(Images above: Simon Rodgers, Sparth, Mattias Snygg, image of Colors! color picker in use over Snygg’s image, screen capture from video about Bob Sabiston’s Inchworm application in use on the Nintendo DS)

Addendum: Jens Andersson has written to say that they had been planning and have now added a section to the Colors! FAQ explaining the basics for those of us who are unfamiliar with the Nintendo DS and related hardware. (I just took a look and it’s an excellent introduction and guide, even for those of us who are gaming impaired.)

Also a couple of things I didn’t mention in the original post: the images are saved as PNG files at the root level of the memory card in a folder called colors/, and can be easily transferred to your computer and opened in Photoshop/Painter/whatever. The resolution is 512×384.

Another interesting feature of Colors! is that the sequence of creating a drawing or painting can be recorded, and then played back like an animated movie (similar, perhaps, to the feature in Corel Painter). These recordings can be shared between Colors! users, and frequently are through the online gallery.

There is a Java applet running on the Colors! Gallery that lets you play back the recording of the brushstrokes in your web browser, giving you a time-lapse animation of the making of the painting. If you click on the thumbnail images to go to the large versions, you will see a Playback button below many (but not all) of the images.

 

Addendum II: Chantal Fournier has written with a link to a very good step by step tutorial by Jannis Borgers on how to set up Colors! on the Nintendo DS in the ConceptArt.org forums. The detailed how-to includes photographs of the DS, example adapter cartridges like the M3 DS Simplify and the R4 Revolution, and the tiny microSD memory card. The article thread also includes three pages (at present) of lively discussion about using Colors! on the DS.

Raphael Piasek, who created and maintains the Colors! gallery, has written to let us know about a more advanced feature. The current version of Colors! allows you to email your images to yourself (or someone else) using Wi-fi. In the process, will reinterpret the native format DRW file (not the 512×384 PNG) into a 1024×768 JPEG. As an example he points to this image.

There is also a Java applet by Ben Jaques called ColorsDraw that is used on the Colors! gallery to display the recorded painting sequences, the desktop version of which will run on any computer with Java installed and can interpret the images up to 2084×1536. How this works is still a bit of a mystery to me, but so is the nature of the native DRW file format, which apparently stores a record of the brushstrokes.

Piasek has written to say that the application apparently records the brush strokes as vector information, and they can be played back at a larger size with larger brushes to create a new, enlarged version of the image. Piasek mentions that the Colors! FAQ has been updated to include information about the ColorsDraw applet. There is also some discussion of this on the ConceptArt.org post mentioned above.

50 thoughts on “Colors! and Inchworm: digital painting applications for Nintendo DS

  1. ScottAllen

    Cool post, I have Colors on my DS and absolutely love it. Its really not that hard to set up, a simple download, place it on your flash card and your ready to paint. Capturing ideas and exploring with colors anywhere has really been fulfilling. Oh, and a new feature is that you can send your digital paintings over a WiFi connection. Pretty sweet stuff.

  2. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks for the comments.

    Scott,

    I’m glad to hear it’s easy, but it still doesn’t sound so simple from the outside. You have to remember that some of us are non-gamers and are completely clueless about the device.

    What about the “homebrew enabled cartridge” for allowing the DS to read the flash card? Any recommendations on brand, model and supplier?

    Don’t I also presumably need a flash card reader connected to my desktop to get the downloaded app onto the flash card and the images off? (I connect my camera directly by cable, so I don’t have flash card reader.) Also the Colors! FAQ says something about the flash card requiring “automatic DLDI patching”. Any clues there?

    John,

    Yes, images are stored in the colors/ folder at the root of the flash card as PNG files, and can be transferred to desktops on the flash card and via wi-fi, and opened in Photoshop. Image resolution is 512×384. This is just meant for sketching and roughing out quick ideas, you won’t be painting final masterpieces on the DS.

  3. Jack

    Great images, really really love the first one.

    Get a Wacom cintiq – I love mine.

    I think owning one would be a life changing event for you. If I win the lottery, I will buy YOU one, I promise.

  4. ScottAllen

    Hi Charley,
    The card I have is the R4 (r4ds.com) sold on amazon. The software updates can be done at r4ds.com and the current version doesn’t require any additional dldi patching, its included in the software! Once a digital painting is completed, it’s in PNG format and can be easily taken off the flash card. If you need any additional help, let me know. Love the site and take care!

  5. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, Bob.

    The only reason Inchworm is de-emphasized here is that it hasn’t been released, and consequently doesn’t have a community of users or a lot of information available yet.

    Please let me know when it’s released, and I’ll revisit the topic.

  6. Sim-r

    Cheers Charley – great to see others jumping on this . I saw it through Sparths blog while browsing . I was just thrilled to see a small digital sketching device . I was thinking about the new cintiq coming out this month in europe – but it was still too big and I only needed something to sketch with .All it takes is someone to let the others know and then a community can grow from something small . A good few at work are already thinking about it .

    I really did not have to think twice . I thumbnail every chance I get and this was just what I was looking for .

    Also – I emailed you with a reply. Sorry for the delay but today was a bit hectic .
    Best regards .

  7. BumBum

    “The Nintendo’s pressure-sensitive screen and stylus, combined with its small size and relatively low price, make it an excellent candidate for a digital sketchbook.”

    I always thought DS screen is not pressure sensitive – can somebody confirm that the applications actually register the pressure or do you have to increase the opacity of the brush manually for every stroke?

  8. BumBum

    Looking at the videos it seems that there’s no pressure sensitivity … Also the applications look very slow (meaning there’s a visible lag between making a physical stroke and the cursor following it) – for those that use the app, is it a nuissance?

    Charley I wholeheartedly agree with you – the “programmerish” side of the whole project is a real turnoff even for someone like me that actually works in videogame graphics! It’d really be nice to see an edition of FAQs aimed at non-gamers.

  9. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, BumBum.

    I’ve corrected the original post. Wishful thinking on my part I guess. I probably jumped to that conclusion from the setting on the screen for the color picker that says “Control pressure”, but it probably sets the opacity directly.

    Can anyone working with Colors! confirm?

    Jens Andersson did contact me and said that they have updated their FAQ: http://colors.brombra.net/faq.php

  10. Jack

    Scott,

    I was once looking through some art mag, and they had a guy there who used a small portable French easel. On the easel he had mounted a small cheap ibook or some kind of lap top that would lay flat, and a small size wacom tablet. He just takes the whole set up anywhere he pleases, en plein air. It was a pretty cool set up. The emphasis was on how cheap it all was. Used old computer, used wacom tablet, free software. Looked pretty cool.

  11. Sim-r

    I can confirm that the option for pressure sensitivity is there and can be turned on and off . It applies to both opacity and thickness of line . I was not sure myself when I got this – but it works really well and with no lag .You calibrate it to your own pressure settings before you use the program and it stores those settings to be used each time you launch the prog . There is a little “jump” in the line from time to time – but it mostly results from leaning on or touching the screen while drawing . It’s like using a tiny cintiq .

    Great for comping and sketching .

  12. Treacle

    I am so giddy by this post I could pee. This is everything I ever dreamed my DS could be. I’m going to go home after work today and immediately figure out what I need to do to get Colors on my DS. I hope you don’t mind if I make an entry in my own blog about this, I’ll be sure to link you.

  13. Rekya's Bookshelf

    I’ve never played DS, but the digital paintings are beautiful. I’m a faithful Mac user and graphic designer, but this is a little bit different than plain old Illustrator or Photoshop. Props to you for learning new programs.

  14. Rafał Piasek

    Hello all!
    I would like to see your pictures from all of you in the colors gallery after you get your equipment ready.

    I confirm that it has pressure sensitivity, but it varies from DS to DS. It is usable on every DS we tested it with, but some has parts of screen that are more or less sensitive.

    You can use 512×384 png on pc, but you can also take native format drw and convert it with Ben Jaques’ java application (runs on every java enabled computer) to even bigger sizes. You can see example at http://colors.brombra.net/gfx/sentbymail.jpg

    You can save picture or animation. It is the same applet that is used in the gallery.

    At the moment we lack proper explanation how to use it in the faq but i’ll update it within days. You can already download the applet in the download section of the gallery.

    Have fun!

  15. Lane Meyers

    I bought a Nintendo DS Lite today because of this post. And I am going to order the R4 cartridge and download “Colors!”. But even if it doesn’t work for me, my husband will have the Brain Age 2 game to mess with even if I don’t have the computer savvy to download Colors! onto the Nintendo.

    BTW, the Nintendo DS is rather cool. I got the one in crimson and black at BestBuy for $129. Their Guru (hah!) had no clue whatsoever about “homebrew applications”, which told me a lot. I explained it all to him and his eyes glazed over. Oh my.

    Whatever I learn I will share here, I promise. And I will explain it in english.

  16. ScottAllen

    Hey Guys,
    Good for you Lane Meyers for that purchase. Once you download the most updated “kernal” from the site, just place the colors folder in the main directory(On flash card). Should be no problem. Also, make sure you press start to calibrate, and then you can create almost anything you can think up. Thanks Charley for the link to my website http://www.thoraxreunion.com” even though it is directed back to this site, the thought was nice and it put a smile on my face. Take care!

  17. Lane Meyers

    Sott Allen, thank you for the excellent link. I should print it out and take it over to BestBuy and give it to their Tech Guru. :)

    Seriously, great information and of course, it always helps to have images so I can understand what a micro SD card is, for starters. Now I know what I’m looking for. Again, a big thank you!

  18. Sean

    Posted: Fri Nov 30, 2007 4:06 am Post subject:

    ——————————————————————————–

    For anyone who wants to try this program relatively cheaply there is a cartridge at Wal-mart called Games N Music for $19.95 and comes with everything you need. (software, 128 mb micro SD card, and Micro SD to USB adapter) All you have to do then is download the Games N music version of Colors frome here: http://colors.brombra.net/downloads.php

    no patching required

    Transfer it to your card, put the card in your DS and you are up and running. This program is really really cool!!

  19. Nina

    Hmm… I don’t know if I could survive without a ONE-step undo function. I mean, let’s say you want to test how a certain opacity works, and it’s no good. If you erase the mark, you’ll erase whatever was underneath, too!

  20. Rose Welty

    Charley,

    First, you have an excellent blog, I’m a faithful and avid reader. Second, thank you so much for posting about this. I took the plunge and just love it. I’ve been trying to get into painting from a pencil and pen and ink background. This is just the thing for me to work on “painting” skills with. (And getting an image into a blog post was never so easy!)

    Thank you!

  21. Charley Parker Post author

    Rose,

    Thanks for the kind words about lines and colors. I’m glad to see how you’ve taken to the use of Colors on the DS as a digital sketchbook.

    (Hey! Another meaning/marketing tool for Nintendo: “DS” = “Digital Sketchbook”!).

    Other readers may be interested in Rose’s perspective as a non-gamer artist, picking up the DS as a part an independent program of artistic development that she is chronicling in her blog.

    My compliments, Rose, on your plan of study. I think you’ll find Mendelowitz’ book a solid platform to work from. You may also want to take a look at Kimon Nicolaides’ The Natural Way to Draw.

  22. Eric

    Hello Everyone,

    I’m about to purchase the Nintendo DS Lite to use it as my portable digital sketchbook. I was wondering if I may post links to this site and the sites you’re talking about in your post? Thank you very much in advance. If you say no I’ll delete them. Also, I’ll post my art created with the DS on my blog @: The Concept Artist – http://bleu-rain.blogspot.com/ Thank you to everyone involved in the creation of this cool software. If only Nintendo would pick it up and make a larger screen for the next gen hand-held gaming system they will introduce to us sometime in the future.
    As a Flash Animator I’d like very much to use Inchworm as an animation/illustration software for the DS Lite. That way if I’m thinking about something to animate/draw/paint while I’m in transit somewhere I can crank it out on the fly. When I get back to my desktop computer I’ll really have the gray matter workin’. This Christmas is looking good. It’ll look a whole lot better once I get this thing set up. Again thank you very much for all the hard work all of you have put into this.

  23. Eric

    Charley Parker I was pretty excited when I posted last time so I didn’t clearly ask my question. What I meant to ask is,”May I post links to this page and links to other pages about Colors! DS & Inchworm?” And, does anybody know when Inchworm will be available to the public? If not who should I contact to ask? I’d really like to use it. Furthermore, are there anymore demos of it that I can take a look at? Preferably something that showcases the interface and how to use it. Thank you very much in advance.

  24. Charley Parker Post author

    I don’t think any of the sites mentioned here would have any objection to being linked to.

    As of this writing (12/16/07) Inchworm is “at least six months out”. It is intended to be an official product, not homebrew.

    For more information, see the developer’s site at http://www.flatblackfilms.com/Inchworm.html.

    I’ve asked the developer, Bob Sabiston, to let me know when Inchworm is ready for release. If he does, I will write a new post specifically about it. His contact information is on his web site.

  25. Eric

    I’m glad it will be an official release. Thank you very much for all of your help. And, I look forward to animating on the DS Lite with this program.

  26. Eric

    I’ve got my DS Lite, now. How do you get back to the main menu from Colors! DS? Currently, I have to turn the game system off to get out of it. Can somebody help? Thank you very much in advance for your assistance. Also, the cat painting playback file doesn’t work. How can I fix this problem?

  27. Sean

    Eric,

    Theat the way Games n’ music works. You have to turn it off. As far as the playback , I don’t know. Try coping it to you SD card again. Did yo uDownload the games n’ music version of Colors that i gave the link to above? Just recopy everything over. How do you like the program

  28. Eric

    Thank you for responding and answering so quickly. I’m enjoying Colors DS. Although, I haven’t had time to really get into it I will during the next couple days. Yes, I’m using the Games ‘n Music version. I will copy everything over and I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’ve done some research on the DS and now I wish I had bought this a long time ago.

  29. Eric

    Sean, I’ve had sometime to use Colors! DS. Yes, I did what you said to do about recopying the software to my SD card again. It works great. I love this program. If only the screen was a little larger and there were more options like Photoshop & Painter. Oh well maybe in a later version. Or, maybe Inchworm may have those functions when it’s released. We should know in a few months.

  30. James

    Hello, I was wondering If you could transfer the playback animation of a drawing from Colors onto your mac. I would like to do this in order to get an .avi file to use for a website. Is anyone familiar with this process?

  31. Eric

    I’m not sure how to do that James but, I use a PC running Windows XP. I take the .avi file into Quicktime Pro or Adobe After Effects to change it to .mov file which is a much better format. Since Quicktime is the native video codec for Macs all you really need is Quicktime Pro. The file size will be considerably smaller. If you don’t have Quicktime Pro it’s only $30.00 US. In After Effects you’ll need to know the dimensions of the screen and the exact length of the video all the way down to the last frame. I hope that helps.

  32. Jonathon

    To James: I’m not extremely familiar with the Mac, but since the applet for watching the .drw files is written in Java, anything that views .jar files for PC SHOULD read the file. I thiiink Macs view .jar files, don’t they? If not, surely someone has developed an emulator to read them…

    ANYHOW, to those who are wanting animation, Animanatee is a GREAT program! LINK >
    http://deku.gbadev.org/program.html

    It’s simple like COLORS, and has an onion skinning capability, plus exports to .avi.

    I admit, my drawing skills, er, suck. I’ve been better at photography, and apps like Poser, Bryce, etc. I’ve been looking for tutorials on the ‘Net for exercises on sharpening what few artistic talents I do have, heh. Anyone know of any?

  33. Eric

    Hello Jonathon. Since you’re looking for some real art instruction here’s a couple of links to learn everything you need to learn about how to draw.
    Andrew Loomis was a great illustrator but, not very well known outside of artist circles. You can download these out of print books for free and learn from an artist who has influenced millions of artists even to this day.
    http://www.artcone.com/forums/andrew_loomis_books_downloads-t1772.html
    And, another not very well known artist who has really helped me learn somethings and I’m still learning from him. Here’s the link to the Charles Bernard Arttrek videos. http://www.onlineartacademy.com/ I hope these help you.

  34. sheila graber

    LOVE your website and the “colors” program..have just started to use it on MY NIntendo DS…having animated since 1970 – firstly with 16mmfilm then “Painter” and a Wacom Tablet on my Mac.. I think I see the future here in my hand. but PLEASE explain (yet again-as I see others have asked this)how I can transfer those elusive
    .drw files to a movie on my Mac – I do have a PC if this is better.

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