Vectors. Generative vectors. Text, as made in Toolbox, by the software’s creator Simon Strandgaard.

Something’s happening in software. Generative techniques have been around about as long as computers, but from Spore‘s game design, soundtrack and creature editors to new music software like Nodal and Noatikl, in 2008 we’re seeing those techniques more accessible than ever. Good news for fans of the demoscene (an underground movement melding coding and art): it’s back with a vengeance, now interconnected with the larger Web and friendlier software-making tools.

It’s only a public alpha, but Toolbox, bargain-priced at 20 Euros (EUR50 when released), suggests what graphics apps might look like with an entirely different metaphor, built on generative lines. The creator describes the tool as a “node-based editor for making digital art,” or a “visual programming language” — the latter something we usually associate exclusively with patching tools like Max/MSP/Jitter and Quartz Composer. The difference here is, whereas those are open-ended software sketchpads, Toolbox is a single-window editor and integrated environment for making visuals, more along the lines of a Photoshop or Illustrator. I’m not suggesting you’ll toss your Creative Suite 3 license out the window, but what this does mean is you could generate an asset from start to finish in this tool — and, perhaps, take it out to another program.

Toolbox App Product Page, Download
Video Album on Vimeo
Flickr Set

The whole project is the work of one developer, Simon Strandgaard. (Remember, too, Quartz Composer began as the project of one Pierre Oliver-Latour.)

What does all this mean? It means you can make UI elements quickly, or destroy existing graphics, and play with vectors in a fluid, magically generative way. The alpha state can make it slow and unpredictable to work with, but it’s already capable of some fun stuff. Here’s a look at vector filtering:


Random vector filter experiments from Simon Strandgaard on Vimeo.

I also enjoy these “supershapes” when combined with vector filters. (and this challenges me to work on some of my Processing code a bit more!)


Supershapes and vector filters from Simon Strandgaard on Vimeo.

The one thing you won’t find, unfortunately for readers of this site, is any kind of live performance mechanism or video output. I’d love to see these two added — even if you could output without the UI to a second monitor, you could “play” with Toolbox live.

Also, the tool does appear to have a sea of palettes and sliders, which is why I actually like developing graphics with code. And some may be disappointed that, for the same reason, they didn’t adopt the lovely floating palettes in Apple’s Motion and Aperture.

But for an alpha version, this looks very promising, and it could be an interesting companion to your VJ app or performance environment of choice.

If you give it a try and have any impressions or tips, do share!

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