Newsletter #140 - March 3, 2006
Fun with Images in Inkscape



Vector graphics tools can be a bit daunting to learn... but powerful and fun to use. Last April I received a pointer to Inkscape, an ongoing open source project. It seemed to work OK  but I didn't spend enough time learning it, and didn't see where I'd put it to use in my movies and stories. The picture has changed.

Newer versions keep rolling out, downloads passed the 2 million mark in January, and vector graphics is becoming of more interest in many areas. It's time for another look, even a newsletter.
Inkscape exports graphic images to .png format, complete with transparency... perfectly aligned with using them as custom title overlays in Movie Maker. Here's the link to get it. 
       Sample Clip (click the image)
With gobs of features, I expected to go into it far enough to explore the making of custom overlays for movies...
... but it sucked me in. I was having too much fun cloning things like the penguin, so I added that feature to this issue. Click the image to see a clip with the cloned penguin.
Here's a link to an online Guide to Inkscape. Before going into it more...
... a few notes...

Making Movies with Vista is a six page article in the Spring 2007 Special Edition of MaximumPC (see page 78). It's on bookstands now to May 29, 2007. It covers the movie making process from camcorder tape to viewing it on a standard video DVD.
Vista Corner... 
There's a new v2.70a of GSpot that works in Vista, and it now includes checking wmv and mov files.
For info, the Interactive Sessions that I use for training and tech support are gaining in demand and working well... sessions have gone as long as two hours, and I've yet to lose a connection. I'd been using my house phone to chat as we work interactively, but recently started using the Skypes service with a USB phone... which hasn't noticeably effected the sessions. 
.... back to the main topic...

Let's open an image, do some cloning, and then export the image for use in a movie or story.
Here's the main working window.... after
  • using File > Document Properties to change the size to a custom 640x480 pixels to align with standard aspect ratio video
  • importing a penguin image... File > Import > tux.png from the c:\Program Files\Inkscape\share\clipart folder
  • grabbing the upper right image handle and using it to make the penguin smaller, and moving him (or her) to the lower left of the page.

Clones Settings
From the main menu... Edit > Clone > Create Tiled Clones
I tested various settings to end up with the row of them shown.
Select the object you want cloned. Then use the Create button. Take a look at what happened, use the Undo icon to start over, tweak the settings, and try again... until you get what you want.
The software doesn't preview it this way... I copied the results from the working page to this figure to save some space.

When you finish playing with your picture, you'll need to save it as a .png file to use with an .xml file as a title overlay...
Use File > Export Bitmap from the main menu. Opt for the 'Page' if you want the 640x480 area within the working window...
The file will have a .png extension, the file type that's just right for an overlay. Select the folder and file name.
Press the Export button and it'll take only a split second to save it... longer for more complex images.
Export Process
For a widescreen image to pan in a Photo Story, exporting a 'Selection' might work better. Note that each of the 7 lines of penguins is a separate 'object'. To save them all together as a single object, use the selection tool (the one with the arrowhead) and drag it around them all... then use Object > Group from the pull-down menu.
After grouping them, saving the selection will result in a .png file that looks like this, transparency and all.
Exported File
In IrfanView the transparent parts of the picture will appear black... but in places where the transparency works.... such as in this newsletter or as an overlay in Movie Maker, the blackness will be 'see-thru'.
To undo the grouping of an object, select it use 'Ungroup'. That'll let you work on them as individual objects.
Let's look at another example, making a high resolution image of 'eye-candy'.

Sample Eye Candy
Eye Candy
Using a few sample images to arrange this image, I ended up with a 6 megapixel image for a Photo Story... 3103x1898 pixels. Click the link or image to see the story, saved to an 800x600 pixel size.
It took just a few minutes to put together the collage, using graphical eye candy samples that came with Inkscape.... it was longer to render the image to a .png file.
The steps to make it were
  • open one of graphics samples that comes with Inkscape...
  • clone it a bit... to your taste
  • import another sample file... I used the 4 gears... no cloning
  • import a third sample image... the car
  • use the Control-A keys to select all the objects in the collage
  • group them using Object > Group.... that links them together as a single object
  • select the object (if it's not already done for you after the linking)
  • export the Selection to a .png file... note the white background in Inkscape is transparent... in IrfanView, Photo Story, and Movie Maker, the background appears black.
Large images in Inkscape use lots of memory... and the exporting process is CPU intensive... Inkscape used 630 MB of memory, and the rendering to the .png file used 50% of my CPU for about 5 minutes. Being a 2 processor system, it limited itself to using one of the two, while I continued work on the newsletter as it went.
I added the text in IrfanView (making a mistake by referring to it as newsletter #139 when it's really #140).
The photo story used six copies of the .png file, another one for each change of panning/zooming motion or speed.
That's enough to get you started... you can get images into Inkscape, play with them a bit, and export the results to a .png file.

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
There's a rising tide of interest in software that uses vector graphics. One advantage is a vector image can be any size without being pixilated. 
Inkscape is a great open source app... well developed and getting stronger.
It crashed on me a number of times when I tried to execute some cloning.... an error message followed by shutting down. I'd open it back up each time, and assume it was something I needed to learn about. I still haven't read the directions about how to use the app. 
If you don't want to lose what you've done so far, save your work regularly.
Next week will be the last newsletter before I head off to Seattle for the MVP Summit, followed by a somewhat traditional vacation in Carmel, California on the way home. I'll be skipping a week when gone.... maybe two.
Have a great week!!