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Genetica

Published by Spiral Graphics
Price $135.00
Website

Introduction
Genetica is a texture generation tool. The logic behind it is impeccable. A series of image generators or manipulators called "nodes" which are not unlike Photoshop filters, are fed through a hierarchy of the users design to create a stunning image at the end. The nodes are procedural in design and can be manipulated and combined in various ways and as you might expect are especially good at organic or noisy, dirty textures. The seamlessness of the images also makes the program useful for web page, or even fabric design.

This tiles seamlessly. The node tree in use.

A couple of things make Genetica more useful than Photoshop for texture design. The ability to tile seamlessly is designed into the image processing, and the texture can be zoomed in or out to create more detail. Every node on the tree is visible as it's resultant image so it is easy to edit one part of a texture and see your changes instantly proliferate through the network.

Setting Up
The program requires the dot NET framework, which if requested is downloaded and installed by the set up program. There are currently a few niggles on Windows 98 machines like mine, but there are work arounds and once I knew about them everything worked fine.

The first thing that struck me about the program was its complexity. The middle window shows the node hierarchy, that is the arrangement of nodes that make up the final texture. The hierarchy can have branches that are packed into one node, so one node in the middle of a tree could represent the end of another little tree. These 'group' nodes are like sub-routines in a program, little image processing boxes designed to your specification. It takes a little getting used to, but it makes the screen less cluttered, as well as making it easier to add a preset effect to any point you want in the tree.

In the top left of the screen, a second window shows a Windows style tree of the current nodes. You can't drag any of the sub-windows around but the default layout works well.

Node Processing
Like Photoshop filters, nodes can generate or manipulate images. The nodes are not plug-in based, but built into the program so Genetica is not as expandable as it could be but the ones there cover a very wide area and are all very high quality in end result. The 'Cells' node alone can be used to generate crusty skin, leopard rings, marble cracks, bark or cratered moon-scapes. Importantly you can use your own bitmap as a node which is great if you want to add dirt, or some other effect to an existing texture.

There is a fantastic Distortion node. Two images combine to distort your image, one channel specifies the direction and another the power or intensity. With both together you can create a massive range of distortions from refraction to fuzzy edging to whirlpool swirls to ocean ripples and more.

The 3D lighting effects are just great. It's a shame that the 'Illumination' mode functions more like a monochrome 'emboss' filter than a bump creator, but you can create height maps with a little work by combining multiple images. The refraction node can produce some amazing effects with minimal work too.

Nodes are generated as fades from red to black, a choice of other shades here would have been nice because red can be stressful to work with. To add color the exact gradient can be manipulated with a very good 'Colorize' node, that uses the common system of adding and dragging little anchors in the spectrum. With this you can add bands or design any other gradient, complex or simple. You can change the smoothness of the fade too, a nice option. Reduce it to quantize the levels of a blurred image and contour-up the edges.

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