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Free Fractal Art Software
How to Make Fractals?
Fractal art can be pretty amazing, complex patterns that are the same when you zoom in, governed by complicated mathematical formulae. It seems that people who create it must have an amazing talent and a deep understanding of maths. However, it is fairly simple to make original, complicated digital artwork using any one of a number of free fractal generators that can be downloaded from the internet.
I find it very satisfying to sit at my computer experimenting with various settings and colour gradients, and I use different programs to create different types of patterns. At first the software seems very complicated, but you don't actually need to understand any of the complicated mathematics. Neither do you need to master the software completely to start making fractal art. Mostly it is a matter of trial and error and experimenting with different settings to see what they do.
Here are the fractal generators that I use and love. As you can see, each one produces a very different type of image. Because the programs are freeware, they don't come with detailed explanations of how they work, but there are tutorials and guides written by other users, and I've provided links to them whenever I could.
Sterling2 My Favourite Free Fractal Art Software
Sterling2 is a fractal art generator released byTad Boniecki based on the original Sterling program which is no longer freeware. Out of all the software packages I use, I have the most fun with this one.
Creating fractal art (at least the way I do it) depends on randomly mixing different formulas (out of the 50 that come with the program), with a different render method (out of 32) and then zooming into the picture, until I find something interesting. This is always followed by experimenting with color filters, and controls.
In Sterling2 the image can be dramatically altered by changing colors.
The program does not take very long to render the final image, but as with all of these programs it is best play around with a small picture, then render it at high resolution when you are happy with it. You have total flexibility over the dimensions of the image, so it is possible to produce huge images, for example for posters.
You can download the program by following this link. I could not find many tutorials for this software, so I've recorded a Sterling2 tutorial, showing how I use it, based on an in depth description of the original Sterling (now known as Sterlingware) on this page. The two programs are basically the same, so the tutorial will work for the freeware program, but you what you see on your screen will not be the same.
Examples of Sterling 2 ImagesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Apophysis 7, The Most Popular Free Fractal Flame Generator
Apophysis is by far the most popular freeware fractal art software on the web. I must admit I am not a huge fan, creating fractals with Apo7 appears to be mainly down to patiently moving triangles around a screen. However, a definite advantage of the software is that there is a thriving community, who not only use it to create beautiful flames, but also write various scripts and plugins, which are then available for download.
There are two versions of the program, the original Apo, which is now in version 2.8 and the Apophysis 7 generator, which was re-written by Xyrus to provide a better interface and plugin support. Therefore I suggest you get the Apo7, since it is a more polished package.
The latest version can be downloaded from from sourceforge. The apophysis resources at Deviant Art, are definitely worth visiting, there is a huge collection of guides, tutorials, scripts and flames there.
If you like the fractals you see here, you can buy them on iPhone, iPad cases, postcards, and many other products in my Zazzle store.
Fractals I made using ApophysisClick thumbnail to view full-size
Create 3D Fractals with Incendia
If you think 2D fractals are cool, you will love Incendia, a 3D fractal generator. I am far from an expert on all the possibilities of the program but I've created some strange abstract objects with it.
Incendia is a "donationware" type of program, you can download it from here and use it for free, but its creator, Ramiro Pérez, asks that you donate money to him, if you like the program, to allow him to develop it further. A donation also unlocks the highest resolution mode (8192x8192), otherwise you are limited to a 2046x2046 images. Other than that, however, all the functions of the program are available for free.
The fractal engine comes preloaded with 59 base shapes, like a sphere, a torus, or an inverted flower. It also has a large set of different materials which are used to add colour to the fractal. You can choose to have several base shapes, each of which can have its own two materials (ambient and diffuse). The program is also preloaded with various types of fractal scripts.
The engine gives you huge flexibility in altering the shape or size of the base shape, changing transformations and controlling environmental factors such shadows and volumetric fog. Advanced users can also write their own scripts, but that is way beyond my pay scale.
The strange thing about the engine is that it never actually finishes rendering the fractal. You just have to leave it running for a bit (depending on the complexity and resolution) until you think the image is good enough and then you save it.
You can find tutorials and other information on the Incendia wiki. Below is also a youtube video with a very basic and simple tutorial, it is a little slow but explains the fundamentals you need to start creating beautiful 3D fractal objects or scenes.
Incendia works only on PCs, there is no Mac version available yet.
Some of My Incendia 3D FractalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Tired Man Explains Incendia Basics
Mandelbulb, A Free 3D Mandelbrot Fractal Software
Mandelbulb is a fractal generator based on the mandelbrot set, but in 3D. It will render a three dimensional object, using the formulae you choose from a drop down menu, with added modifications if you wish. You are then able to explore this structure by rotating it on your screen and zooming in on various richly structured sections. You can of course play around with the colours.
I really enjoy using this program. I think it is the excitement of zooming in and exploring different parts of the image, hunting for something interesting. I do find it slightly buggy, occasionally my navigation seems to go into reverse for no obvious reason, I suspect it might be my computer suddenly refusing to co-operate. But with some patience, anybody can find interesting spots to render.
You can download the latest version (1.8.2) of the software from fractalforums. I found this basic tutorial from an active member of the Mandelbulb group on deviant art to be very useful when I started.
Mandelbulber, is another free software that creates very similar types of fractals. I haven't used it yet, and I heard it was more difficult to master, but it is always good to have alternative ways of doing the same thing.
Mindboggling exploration of a 3D Mandelbulb fractal
This Time Explore Space Created with the Mandelbulber Software
Electric Sheep Animated Fractal Flame Generator and Screensaver
For me this is really an amusing toy, a screen saver rather than a serious fractal generator, although advanced users have produced beautiful images using it. It is huge fun, and I love the community aspects of it.
The open source program, created by Scott Draves, produces animations of fractal flames. The screen saver uses crowd computing of the approximately 500,000 users whose idle machines make up a supercomputer which generates new frames for the movies. In return they get to use the animations as a screen saver.
Users can vote the different animations (known as sheep) either up and down, popular flames are shown more often while unpopular ones are deleted.
Sheep that receive high ratings are allowed to "breed" and produce progeny, ok I don't really understand this, except that the "genome" of a sheep appears to be its fractal script. Presumably altering a successful script produces progeny. The aim is to get the algorithm to learn what humans like and the fractals will evolve to be more pleasing to carbon-based life forms.
The name "Electric Sheep" obviously comes from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I don't know about androids, but my laptop certainly does!
The nice thing about the program is that it can be used on both PCs and Macs. Serious users don't just let the algorithm do its thing on their computers, but create their own fractals. However, I haven't yet got around to figuring out how to do that, below are some fractal flames (sheep) produced by others.
You can download the interface, and check out the community on the Electric Sheep Site.