Teaching yourself graphics and computer animation doesn't have to cost a fortune with this collection of free software. Just download it, install it, and start messing around wiht the features.
Learning how to find answers is part of learning, so I'm not providing explicit download and installation instructions. Help is available from the user and developer community, user forums, and the software's help files.Be sure to look at the galleries for inspiration.
What's included: This collection is for graphics creation, not photo editing, although some of the software can incorporate digital photos. Check the system requirements, because they vary from program to program.
Basic information: There are two kinds of graphics images for computers: vector-based or pixel-based.Vector-based images are drawn on your screen with a text-based language that tells the software to "draw a red line from here to over there".Pixel-based images are colored dots on screen.The file they are stored in has information for all of those dots.
InkScape is vector-based graphics software similar to Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, and CorelDraw. InkScape uses the W3C's standard scalable vector graphics format (SVG).The supported SVG features include basic objects. In addition, it supports Creative Commons meta-data, node-editing, layers, complex path operations, text-on-path, and SVG XML editing. It also imports several formats like EPS, Postscript, JPEG, PNG, BMP, and TIFF and exports PNG as well as several vector-based formats.
What you can learn:InkScape uses bezier curves, control nodes, text manipulation, layers, shapes, paths, text, markers, clones, alpha blending, transforms, gradients, and grouping.
Fun lesson: Draw a square, fill it with red, and save it. Open the file with a text editor such as WordPad and look at the text code. Can you change the color to blue just by typing?
InkScape exports images as SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) that most browsers can read, PDF, OpenDocument (OpenOffice reads this), Postscript, or POVRay files.
TwistedBrush V. 3.5
Twisted Brush Website
TwistedBrush is a pixel-based paint program that has some of the features of high-priced professional graphics software. It will be low-level graphics fun for kids. For a user with patience and some artistic ability, the results can be stunning.NOTE: Version 3.5 is free, newer versions are not.
What you can learn: TwistedBrush introduces the important concepts of filtering and masking to protect parts of a drawing from the brushes.It also introduces the concept of recording scripts - the equivalent to macros in an office suite - for repeating brush strokes.You can create your own brushes and "Art Sets", which is another technique used by professional artists.
Fun feature: The tracing paper lets you load a digital photo and trace over it. The tracing paper can be turned on and off to check your results. This is useful for planning gardens, home decorating projects, or making sketches based on photos.
Alice is animation software from the Stage3 Research Group at Carnegie Mellon University that also teaches the animator how to write programs. It's used by middle schools and universities as a fast, fun way to present the basics of computer programming.If you don't want to be a programmer, it's just plain fun.It comes with a tutorial and examples to modify. There is also a gallery of downloadable objects at the alice.org site.
What you can learn: Script-based animation, object-oriented programming, and basic movie-making. Alice also teaches if/else statements, loops, and even recursion, which makes the transition into real programming easier.
Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) is essential for any programmer. The basic idea of OOP is that a object, such as a rabbit's left arm, has properties that define what it is, and methods that are applied to the object to make the arm do something such as move up and down, change color, or fall off.
Alice's programming interface, called an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) resembles the IDEs used by professional
Coming later to Alice 3.0: A joint project with the maker of the popular SIMS games, Electronic Arts Inc., will make it possible for Alice to use the SIMS 2 animation characters and methods for sleeker look.
Smooth Teddy Website
Smooth Teddy grew out of some Japanese research on freehand 3D sketching. Conveniently, the file format is the format used in the Alice animation system. Teddy is simple to use, just read the help files that are included in the installation.
Small children will probably just make blobs on screen, paint them, and delete them.More capable users can make models to use in Alice. If you switch to the expert mode you can make better-looking models by directly working with the mesh that creates the forms.
Google SketchUp is a more traditional 3D modeling program than Smooth Teddy.It provides "primitives" - shapes that can be combined, edited, and assembled into larger objects.It reminds me of some of the simple 3D CAD software I have used in the past.
What you can learn: You will learn 3D navigation and view control. Instead of drawing intricate detail, Sketchup teaches you to add "textures" to objects using digital photos of buildings, building components, or other things.
POV-Ray is not an easy program to learn. It's a high-powered professional quality program. This is probably best for teens and extremely patient younger children. The tutorial leads you through the basic actions, and the online help.
What you can learn: Ray tracing, of course. Ray tracing works by following, in reverse, a path that could have been taken by a ray of light which would intersect an imaginary camera lens. You can even do animations with it, frame by frame, if you have the patience.
Scenes in raytracing are described mathematically, usually by a programmer, or by a visual artist using tools that hide the math, but they may also incorporate data from images and models captured by other methods such as digital photography.