Monster-Making App Splatters Virtual Ink in Delightful Ways
Aug 29, 2011 5:00 AM PT
I like a good monster. Good monsters can be scary, evil, otherworldly, or well-dressed feathery ink blots like those that spring from the creative genius of Stefan G. Bucher, the guy behind DailyMonster.com. Bucher has been turning blown ink blots into monsters on his website for years, and he's got an amazing eye and style, which you can now tap into yourself through his new app, Daily Monster.
It's available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and I like it best on the larger screen of the iPad.
Here's how it works. The theme of Bucher's monsters all start out with a gob of wet black ink that he blows air over to make it randomly spread and feather out into a blot. Once you understand his basic vision, you can look at one of these blots and see the possible shape of a monster's head, body, or wings. It's not unlike looking at clouds in the sky and finding recognizable shapes.
On paper, Bucher has the skill to start with an ink blot, then use a pen to draw bodies, arms, teeth, bow ties, shoes, and other such elements of monsters. I have no such skill. With a pen, I can sign my name, play tic-tac-toe, and draw far-off flocks of birds. That's about it. Bucher, though, is pretty awesome. You might want to go to DailyMonster.com and check him out. You'll see what I'm trying to explain easily enough.
Back to the Daily Monster App
But Daily Monster, the app -- how is it? As you might have guessed, it's cool and a heckuva lot of fun. I actually was so immersed when I was making my first monster that I seriously lost track of time. Here's how it works.
You start by tapping a blob of ink. It explodes into an ink blot. You can't shape it; you get what you get. If you don't like it, you can start over.
Once you have your base blot, you need to look at it and see if you can spot some element of a monster in it. If you need to rotate it, you can, using a two-finger rotate move. It turns out that I pretty much always do better when I use two hands for this sort of manipulation, and I recommend that you do, too.
Next, using a pullout tab at the left of the screen, you can select from a 150 elements -- "Parts," as they're called. There are tails, mouths, eyes, beaks, legs, arms, shoes and such, some with colors, some without. You can tap these elements to select them, then drag or rotate them into place on your screen -- the virtual canvas or paper, of course.
I tend to start with the eyes and mouth because of my limited artistic abilities. From there I try to figure out arms, feet and torso. Of course, simply adding a bunch of elements seems like it would result in a poorly integrated collage of monster pieces ... while this is a possible side effect, these elements all end up working in layers so that you can overlap them appropriately to help them blend together. It's confusing at first, and the way to change the layer is to select a Part and then tap the up or the down arrow in the right side tool bar to move the element up or down in the set of layers. You've got to watch closely as you're doing this because the layers are virtual and you can see them in any way. But layers are important to your success, so realize they are there going in.
Next, if you want to flip an element to reverse its direction, a left-right arrow in the tool bar does the trick. Quite handy. You can also delete elements, like a pair of shoes, if you don't want them. Easy enough.
At some point, you'll like need to do a little free-hand drawing to complete a line or monster body part, and for that there's a pen control. You can set the pen's thickness and level of blackness (to light gray) and then draw with your finger. If you make a mistake, you can't select your drawn element and simply delete it -- you must either shake your device to delete it (if you just drew it) or you must erase it with a white brush called "Correction Fluid."
I thought the brush was a paint brush, and it took me several minutes to figure out that it was a lot more akin to "white-out," which is white paint in a little bottle that people used to use before the age of computers when typewriters and hand-printed forms were messed up. I forgot it even existed!
This little confusion with the correction fluid brush and the pen isn't helped by the positions of the tools in the app itself -- the pen is on top, the correction fluid is below the pen, and the "brush" stroke tool is below the correction fluid icon, which seems to imply that the brush stroke changes would apply to the icon above it that looks like a brush.
This little weird positioning and naming of the tools used to draw and erase isn't exactly wrong, but it's not exactly right either, and it illustrates the rough edges in this app, which is just at version 1.0.2. It's not 100 percent intuitive all the time, but with enough poking and swiping, you can figure it out.
Beyond moving, shrinking and zooming elements, including drawing your own parts, the Daily Monster app has some cool additional features. You can let your monster say something with a dialogue box, you can save the monster as a photo to your camera roll, copy it to your clipboard, or email it out. There's Titter, FaceBook, and Tumblr social networking elements built in for sharing, too, if you're into that.
Last of all, there's a cool photo feature that lets you take a photo with your monster on the screen -- kind of like augmented reality. So you could have a parrot monster sit on the shoulder of your friend, snap the photo, then add a comment to the photo from the monster. Or you can choose to use an existing photo from your photo library on your iPad -- except this feature didn't actually work for me. Every time I tried it on my iPad 2, the app crashed.
Along the way, in fact, I managed to crash the app a half-dozen times in the first couple of hours of use. This wouldn't be so bad if you could save a monster along the way ... and then reload an unfinished monster sometime later. No, this app seems to be all about making a monster all at once, then saving it.
All-in-all, this is an awesome little creative app, but it's also got some rough edges. As long as you don't freak out when it it crashes and you lose the crazy monster you were making, you'll be quite pleased. Of course, you can always start again and quickly assemble a new little monster dude -- which is part of the joy, too -- fast monster making.
So check out DailyMonster.com. If you like what you see, buy the Daily Monster app. You can learn the app on your own or use the rudimentary help button, but you can save a lot of time if you watch Bucher's Daily Monster YouTube tutorial video.