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Review: Flame Painter 4, a VFX toolbox designed for photographers

Available for Windows and Mac OS for $89.99 on Escape Motions website, Flame Painter 4 may be the tool you need to add some extra magic – read special effects –  to your photography. Try it!

Review: Flame Painter 4, a VFX toolbox for photographers

Launched in June, Flame Painter 4 celebrates a decade with many new features. If you’ve never used the app, the trial version available will be a complete surprise: it’s special effects for photographers.

The email I received last May, with information about Flame Painter 4, a new version of the app which was about to be released, made me curious. I am not the typical user of paint and particle effects apps, as my photography is essentially documenting the real world, and the few editorial post-production liberties I will take are usually related to a specific need, like placing a Moon on an empty sky, to illustrate content, or cloning out garbage left by previous visitors on a landscape I want to capture.

We all have played with the brushes and other effects present in most photography editing apps, but unless one’s line of work asks for it, we rarely go beyond those experiences. On the other hand, if you are a photographer or designer using photos as the starting point to fantastic artistic creations, then apps as Flame Painter 4 are important tools to keep in your hard drive.

Unleash your inner creative dragon

Flame Painter 4 is not just a fun tool to explore. It’s also a key tool if you’re working in areas where extensive editing of images is essential, as it makes your job easier. I’ve written this before but let me repeat it here, because it’s important. “You owe it to yourself to check out Flame Painter, and unleash your inner creative dragon!” wrote Photoshop User magazine, while the Royal Photography Society Journal comment stated  Flame Painter is “one of the world’s top painting application”.

Comments like those above, coming not from painting magazines or websites, but from within the world of photography, made me accept the invitation to try the app. The note from the reviewer at Photoshop Creative, who wrote, “Flame Painter is an imaginative piece of software that enables you to create amazing effects and apply them to your Photoshop artwork…”,  make me want to take some time with the latest version of an app, now on its version 4, released to celebrate a decade since Peter Blaškovič developed, in 2009, a painting application as part of a project, never imagining it would become a successful paint and particle effects software: Flame Painter.

Review: Flame Painter 4, a VFX toolbox for photographers

A new series of features

The examples available online show how powerful Flame Painter is, in the right hands, and with Flame Painter 4, Escape Motions has placed the bar even higher. The new version includes a series of features that expand the potential of the original tool set. They include:

  • New Particle Systems – The software supports a range of simulation types – Flame, Follow, Ribbon, Liner, Elastic and Fuzzy. The package comes with 3 different systems that users know from previous versions. Additionally, the new specially designed systems were introduced as add-ons to match your specific workflow needs for an additional price.
  • New Particle Brushes – Flame Painter’s organic brushes are a unique solution nowhere to be found in other software on the market. Flowing, lashing, neon, dots, or even tentacle-like brushstrokes create attention-grabbing effects on your designs.
  • Photoshop plug-in – Although Flame Painter works as a standalone application, a complimentary Photoshop plug-in ‘Flame Painter Connect’ stays at the disposal on EM’s website. This handy tool enables exchanging layers between Flame Painter and Photoshop making the creative process seamless and easy.
  • Editable Vector Layers – Within a click, the vector brushstrokes can be modified to achieve desired results. Flame Painter also lets you import your own vector paths and have the particle brush effects follow them.
  • Brush Creator – Ideal for creating and customizing custom brush designs, the advanced Brush Creator tool comes with a wealth of adjustable parameters. With newly introduced variables, the range of possibilities how the brush can look and behave is really limitless.
  • Extensive Brush Library – Browse hundreds of free brushes in the online brush library and choose the ones which fit your design.
  • Multi-touch support – Flame Painter has a complete support for multitouch gestures for Wacom, Microsoft or alternative tablet and trackpad devices, including Astropad application.

It’s magic, but you’ve to “learn” the interface

Flame Painter tutorials on Escape Motions YouTube channel are promised, showing the basic workflow with the key toolsets, narrated by experienced instructor and artist Jason Maranto, but until they are published, those interested in trying the app can download a trial version and explore on their own. Despite a clear interface, once you start you’ll find out that all the magic the app has to offer will only reveal itself once you understand how it all works. If painting and applying special effects over your photos is not something you’re familiar with, it will take sometime to get things right.

Flame Painter 4 is a paint and particle effects apps designed for anyone interested in digital art and design, and that includes CG artists, graphic designers and photographers, professionals or amateurs thinking of dipping their toes into the world of digital art for the first time. CG artists will probably be those who better grasp the potential of the app on a first contact, because artists moving from physical supports to the digital media will have to learn how to paint with the life-like particle brushes present in the software.

You hand does not follow your imagination

While the incredibly broad range of organic tools opens a whole new landscape in creative terms, controlling it requires some investment of time. Painting with life-like particle brushes over your images is exciting, but you really need to learn/relearn how to use brushes, while discovering the other tools available, to end with acceptable work. Escape Motion says your imagination is the only limitation, but your hand  may be, at least when starting, the main reason why you do not get the results you… imagine!

The particle systems included is breathtaking. Escape Motion says that the “technology allows you to create an unlimited spectrum of brush styles, ranging from classic light effects to structured patterns, textured shapes or even organic painting brushes. The package comes with Flame, Follow and Ribbon particle systems. Additionally, Liner, Elastic and Fuzzy – the new specially designed systems have been introduced as add-ons to match your specific workflow needs.”

It’s still easier than using a darkroom

So, in the end, Flame Painter 4 will give you more, the more time you spend using it. My experience with the app showed that the more time you invest learning it, the better results you get. The images created for this review illustrate one aspect that I deem to be important: within a couple of hours I was able to create images that started as photos but ended as potential illustrations for editorial work.

As a photographer and writer, this is one of the key assets of the software. If you’re working on one article  about the magic of some monuments and need an illustration that goes beyond reality, then Flame Painter 4 will make for a faster  workflow. One example is the image, published here, of a palace with the Moon. Adding a line of coloured light between the Moon and the palace, which is the center of mysterious legends, created a magic that was not present in the original photo. As an editorial photographer coming from the days of film, I remember well how hard it was in the darkroom to make some of this “magic”. Even with digital tools is not easy, but Flame Painter 4 makes it more accessible.

Review: Flame Painter 4, a VFX toolbox for photographers

A Wacom-type tablet may help

The man with smoke and flames coming out of his hands is, probably, the best example of what anyone can achieve with Flame Painter 4  within a few minutes of starting using it. After a few trials (you can always Undo) and when I managed to move the brush the right way (a Wacom-type tablet may help, I used the mouse) I had the flames I wanted, creating one image that has multiple editorial uses.

Another good example of Flame Painter’s use in editorial work is represented here by the photo of the praying woman lit by a shaft of light coming from a window. The original, taken years ago, is one of my best photos showing a moment of faith. With one of the brushes in flame painter I just added a ray of energy moving toward the woman, as if she is being touched by God. The added element introduces a sense of movement, action, transforming the original in a more powerful image for editorial. If you’re writing a story about how religion, faith and how it touches people, the new illustration might be exactly what you need. It took a few trials to get it right!

Available for Windows and Mac

The photo with the runners and the dashes of light, or the mannequin face with the particles flying around are other examples of what is possible to create with Flame Painter 4. These examples are barely touching the potential of the app, because experienced users, as the illustrations available online reveal, can do some impressive work using these tools.

The conclusion is simple: if as a photographer you need to create special efects in your images, either for pure artistic pleasure or because of editorial or commercial needs, Flame Painter 4 should be an app to add to your toolbox. It makes life much simpler, and will continually surprise you, besides sparing you tedious times trying to get these effects with other software.

Flame Painter 4 is available for Windows and Mac OS for $89.99 from Escape Motions website. It has all the key features you need. But if you want to take it further, go for the whole package, Flame Painter 4 with Particle Systems Bundle, which includes the app and all new three particle systems – Liner, Elastic and Fuzzy – with 120 brush presets. It’s regular price is $149.96 but now, and for a limited time, it costs only $129.98.

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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…