Under the Hood Shop Talk

Rodney Chang
April 28, 1988

 

     I started creating images with the IBM PC, upgraded with a graphics software and frame buffer system by Time Arts called Lumena.  The screen resolution was that of about EGA (500x500).  The image processing was slow with the old IBM PC, since upgraded in speed with the XT, AT, and now PS/2 line of personal computers.  However, the graphic tools were as powerful if not more so than anything in today's software products for under $200 for personal computers like my Atari ST and Commodore Amiga 1000.  The Lumena package, by contrast, cost $10,000 in 1984 and is down to $5000 in 1988.  My IBM PS/2 Model 30 is supposed to run about three times faster than the original IBM PC, making it about the same in speed as the more expensive and older AT.  I purchased the classic small system computer, the Amiga 1000 about six months after it came into the market (1985-86).   It still is the watershed of the state-of-the-art graphics for home computers.   With its unique graphic board built in and with 16-bit chip power it leads the field in graphic software supporting it by third part software developers.  I started with the classic award winning software DeLuxe Paint by Electronic Arts.  Now there is an upgrade DeLuxe Paint II.  I also have in my graphic software library more Amiga programs such as DigiView, DigiPaint, Graphicraft, Pixmate, Aegis Images, Imprint, Easyl, and Prism.  I will be ordering more new programs now available in 1988, such as Photosynthesis, Photon Paint, Analytic Art, Prism II, Sculpt 3D, Deluxe Photolab, and Deluxe  Production, the latter claiming easy production of animation.  My central interest, however, is still images, not video animation applications.  Still images read "fine arts" to me and the conventional art world.  I now also have the Atari ST and IBM PS/2 Model 30 computers, both coming unto the market in 1987.   The Atari ST thus far has proven inferior graphically to the Amiga.  It is a 8/16 bit microprocessor and its color  has only medium resolution.  To do work with the resolution of the Amiga I would have to purchase an Atari black and white monitor.  Only 16 to 4 colors could be displayed with the SC1224 color monitor until Spectrum 512 came out for the Atari ST.  It captures more colors using the HAM Mode, such as the Amiga's DigiPaint, the latter providing a maximum of 4096 colors, as limited as the Amiga hardware architecture.  However, the Atari ST is limited by its hardware to 512 colors.  That is still enough colors to capture images that look like Atari, or un-Amiga, thereby providing a line of art a look that goes beyond one brand of computer.  With Pixmate, which I have yet to master, there is the possibility now, however, to interchange the two computer's images.  My latest purchase, the IBM PS/2, is still stillborn on the shelf.  It came with a black and white monitor and no mouse (my preferred way of working) in the second hand deal.  However, of the three computers, it shows the greatest hardware expandability through peripheral and graphic board add-ons.  For about another 3-3,500 dollars, I can soup it up to a system with an image resolution of 800x600 pixels (NEC Multi-Sync II or Princeton Ultrasync) or even possibly 1284x1024 with the expensive Hitachi Model 3719A monitor ($3000).  An upgrade graphics board has to be included to use these monitors and thereby also take advantage of the new VGA graphic mode ushered in by IBM PS/2 line.  Boards under consideration include the Paradise VGA Pro Card or the Orchid Designer VGA-2 board.   Graphic programs are behind in availability of diversity of choices.   Microsoft's windows graphic software and PC Paintbrush  are standards for IBM and their clones.  But these programs are tied more to business presentation graphic application and not designed for the serious fine arts artist.  My PS/2, out in 1987, is the first IBM machine that comes with a mouse input option other than the standard keyboard.  News in BYTE magazine 's May issue is that a PC-IBM version of Amiga's award winning paint program, which came out in 1985, is now available.   So there seems to be a 4 year graphic lag between the two industries.  But, at least now IBM, which dominates and targets the personal computer business application market, finally enters Amiga and Atari graphic marketing niche.  Because of this direction of "Big Blue" I predict a bonanza of graphic hardware and software in ALL computer lines, thereby enriching the opportunities for the computer artist.  Already there is a race among the major hardware developers to outdo current performance.  such competition will not only result in better pictures that bypass the resolution of today's economic monitors and television but also drive prices down, making it economically accessible to the free-lance artist.  Another computer that I am researching and planning to acquire in the near future is Apple's Mac II (historic note: purchased in 1990).  It's the latest Apple, another major player in the personal computer market, and the most powerful of their line in regards to graphic capability.  That would be a seven thousand dollar investment in equipment in 1988 prices (historic note: initial investment of $11,500 and up to $30,000 for total system with peripherals and software packages at the end). Instead of using Apple's own hi-res color monitor for the Mac II, with its limited 640x500 resolution (the same as the Amiga monitor, which I purchased in 1986), I would buy either a Princeton UltraSync or Hitachi hi-res monitor, thereby   superceding my work's current resolution limitation.  Pixel Paint   and MacPaint are the standards as far as graphic software goes for the Mac II.   A graphic board would need to be added to the basic hardware and memory has to be upgraded from the given 1 MB to 2-4 MB for professional graphics capability.  With the Mac II I finally work on a 32 bit microprocessor, surpassing the 16 bit Amiga, Atari and IBM PS/2 machines.  The Mac II is also noted as the best personal computer for desktop publishing.  This would be incentive to get into the publishing end to promote my artwork.  With access to the Atari, Amiga, IBM, and Apple computers, the next output book of images will display further variety of technical design support   and point more towards a centralized artistic intent and mind that is liberated by any one particular brand of computer and its peripheral and software support system.

 

Historic notes-

The same year this was written to document the artist's art tools, Chang exhibited at Shanghai State Art Museum  100 images executed on the Amiga and IBM using Lumena software that included the published catalog, Rodney Chang>Computer Artist.

Sept. 1989 - purchased a clone 386 32-bit Arche Rival microprocessor with 4 MB Ram and 120 MB hard drive, with added VGA graphic card and NEC Multi-Sync monitor to run Lumena software (around $5000), along with purchase of the Mac II 386 system ($30,000).