Monday, October 12, 2015

It's been 2 years since our last 'big' release...v9.0. Now seems like a good opportunity to talk about how far we've come in that time.
(V10 is still a ways off)

From the beginning, it was our desire to make a unique paint and animation program based on a burn-and-go workflow. This means that we don't have a process where a user adjusts a number of parameters in a project, and at some time clicks 'render' and sees the final result. Instead, that means we are rendering as the user progresses, or in other words, a user's actions become pixels at the soonest possible point.
It was also our goal for the program to be system friendly so it can be used on a wide assortment of hardware, and not just high end workstations, but we wanted it to have that level of performance no matter what kind of hardware it was running on, including some rather low end laptops
To do this, we have had to make a number of engineering trade-offs. Howler has a unique workflow, not just to be different, but because it does different things. It does things that the other programs simply don't do.
That's not to say we are non-standard. We actually use a number of standards, not necessarily associated with some other popular image processing programs. We use anim-painting, which has been around since the 90's and continues to exist in professional and mainstream animation applications such as TV-Paint, and pixel pushers such as Pro-Motion. We use workflows and shortcuts that are enjoyed by users of a wide assortment of other programs such as 3-D renderers and high-end Node editors.
As the content creation industry continues to grow and change, we have had the opportunity over the last 2 years to reflect on our position it it, and to examine and re-invent the way Howler operates.

We recently released Particle 9, our entry level painting program. The project was originally slated to be a 2 week re-furbish of our Particles v1 line, however we saw it an opportunity to explore new ways for users to interact with our software, and the project quickly became a 5 month endeavor. In that time, we examined every element in our UI, and found new ways to solve problems and present features to users in ways that are simpler and less cumbersome. We believe Particle 9 was hugely successful in the terms of UI design, and now we are moving many of those ideas into Howler 10.

Now, let's talk about our progress from version 9 to version 10. It has been a long progression of minor versions. Let's look at each version and see what our motivations were and how we dealt with various issues.

This version introduced GPU accelerated ray-tracing, speed improvements, new vector tools, new crop tool, free transform tools, and a new fill panel.

It was focused on making the GUI more friendly and standard, and making the install process more professional. The biggest change in this versions was the addition of 95 more filters that now support animation options.

We greatly improved foliage rendering. Howler includes unique tools for drawing realistic or painterly foliage and other particle based effects. We also improved our 3-D technology with a floating point pipeline, raytraced shadows, ambient occlusion, texturing, sediment and erosion, obj export, as well as volumetric 3-D clouds and other wispy formations that can be animated. 9.5 also received advancements to the light-table, including more layers and a red-shift filter that makes it easier to distinguish previous and future frames.

In this one, we added numerous special effects related tools. Our history is full of innovations, many of them based on the FX industry, because that is where our interests lie. We also added a textured 2-d/3-d textured polygon primitive which will stand as the basis for some plans we have in the future. We integrated it into a new version of our greatly outdated 'rubber sheet' plugin. We also worked on navigation and addressed several issues for larger monitors, and found new uses for our motion prediction technology that helped repair video that was badly transcoded.

Now in version 10, we are again working on foundation issues, architecture, and future-proofing.
With 4k and higher resolutions bearing down on us, we need to be faster and more efficient than ever before. For starters, we are addressing this by adding a compression API, and the first part of the program to use it is the undo system. Not only this, but the entire undo system has been re-written. Undos are now objects that are more self-aware. They are not only simpler to program, but they can contain much more information than before and exist in memory or on disc. There are new options to control the number of undos that the user desire, allowing the balance of memory efficiency and usability. There's a lot to say about undos, but I'll save that for later. Just know that Howler 10 is more memory efficient and system friendly than ever before.

Thanks for waffling and howling.