Developed by the team behind Flame Painter, Amberlight is based on an experimental particle field sandbox called Fields (opens in new tab), written by Peter Blaškovi. It's a user-friendly package based on particle field algorithms that enables you to generate wonderfully exotic swirling patterns - ideal for space backdrops, motion graphics, illustrations and more.
The concept revolves around up to 12 'fields', which attract or repel a sea of particles, and which cause distortions as the fields interact with each other. Control is all done on-screen, and each field can be moved and its force, intensity and falloff altered to suit. As you make changes a preview of the particles appears, roughly showing how the scene will appear. When you stop making changes the scene will render, gradually refining the image over multiple passes (the default is 5,000, and while you can crank it up as high as 999,999, we saw no discernible difference after about 20,000).
The app features more than 50 preset gradients, although you can easily make your own. Gradients can be flipped and inverted, and the knots toggled on and off and their order cycled. You can then apply a graduated tint to the background, and add a glow much like you would in a compositor. And with control over the contrast and opacity, you have quite a lot of influence over the finished image.
Joy of discovery
The intriguing thing about Amberlight is that the image can change quite a bit as it renders. The particle previews gives only the most basic of guides, and each pass adds more and more detail, with some lines eventually disappearing while others resolve over time. There's a real joy of discovery each time it runs (you can simply stop the render when you're happy with the result), and you can spend ages repeatedly hitting the Random button.
Results are reminiscent of FraxFlame, part of the old Kai Krause Power Tools Photoshop plug-in. Its fibres loop and flow, and resemble anything from wispy nebulae to fluids to bioluminescent sea creatures. When you render at the maximum 5k resolution, it'll resolve incredible amounts of detail, and images this size are ideal for large scrolling or zooming backdrops (you can even tile the image). Renders can be exported with an alpha channel, so you could composite several layers in 3D and fly 'through' them.
We would like the option to have additional layers with export directly to a .psd file, and an undo function would be nice - although at this price, it's really hard to complain. Our big hope for the next major release is for animation.
Amberlight is a fascinating and unpredictable app, sometimes offering up quite beautiful and enigmatic imagery. It may look like a novelty, but you'll definitely find some way of using it!
Operating system: Windows/OS X
Amberlight is pretty much your 'press a button for instant backdrop' toolkit. At this price, it would be rude not to.
- High-res exports
- Colour and image editing tools
- Undo is missing and saving can be flaky
- No layered .psd export
Words: Steve Jarratt
Steve has been into CG for many years. He's a regular contributor to 3D World and edited the magazine for a period of two years.