How To Screw Up Your Images
a case study
Have you ever done something digitally, and found that the end
result was just too perfect for your tastes? Sure, nice smooth
colors and perfect gradients have their attraction, but sometimes you
just want to make things look positively rotted.
Case in point: a composite I did as a throwaway gag for this very
website. It's accessible at the bottom of the page
about this site, by clicking on any of
the three links at the bottom where I show the conventions for
link colors. Go take a look at it.
That image is made of three basic parts. You can guess what they
are, but I'm going to insult your intelligence by showing two of
them to you: a scanned
photo of a corner of my RL apartment, and a
flat-toned drawing of me. The third element is an alpha channel so my
wings can be (a bit too) translucent.
Now, normally, I love flat colors. Flat colors and the occasional
subtle gradient will cover most of my coloring needs. But in a case
like this, where I wanted to match the feel of the background and
not look like, well, a drawing pasted on a photo, something had to be
done. Either I could get obsessive over detail on the drawn part, or I
could destroy some of the detail in the photo. I tried a bit of
posterizing, but when I scaled it down to the target size, the
distortion wasn't noticeable enough to work. Then it hit me: the Cheap
Digital Camera look. A little bit of grainy shadow painted onto the shirt
and pants, and I was ready.
There's more to getting a really horribly JPEGed image than
just setting the compression near the high end of the scale, though.
When you do that, important details get lost, colors smear all over,
and the image becomes incoherent (although this can be interesting
in and of itself; try it sometime). More importantly, it doesn't become
incoherent in the particular way I wanted. So, instead of saving it
as a JPEG, I rendered it out as a 256-color GIF. Then I loaded that
GIF back in, and saved that as a decent-quality (about 85 on
a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being best) JPEG. And loaded that JPEG,
took a look at it, and rendered that out as yet another
GIF. After two or three iterations, I saved the image as a JPEG at
several different compression levels, and wound up going with one of the
lowest-quality ones, as it had just enough detail that things
like the red of the mouth didn't vanish into grey, but was muzzy, abused,
and pleasingly fouled up so that it looked like a quick grab from a very
cheap digital camera, or from a low-end video stream grabber. I'm
still not happy with the integration of the drawn part with the photo -
it's still very clearly
picture pasted into a photo - but now they've been abused as a
single entity, and have been somewhat unified as a result.
Technology makes perfection too easy. The hard part is working out
new sorts of imperfection that are only made possible by the new toys.