Filter Forge 3 - Introduction Tutorial

Filter Forge 3 - Introduction Tutorial by D&D Creations, Michel Rondberg

1: Introduction to Filter Forge 3, what is it?

On the surface, Filter Forge is just a Photoshop plugin, a pack of filters that generate textures, create visual effects, enhance photos, process images. However, there are 3 things that make Filter Forge unique:

  1. You can create your own filters. Filter Forge comes with a visual node-based editor allowing you to create your own filters – textures, effects, distortions, backgrounds, frames, you name it. All filters automatically support 16- and 32-bit modes in Photoshop, real-world HDRI lighting, bump and normal maps, huge resolutions, and most filters can be seamlessly tiledFilter Forge editor screen
  2. You get free access to 9654 user-created filters. Anyone can contribute their textures and effects to the online filter collection so it grows with every submitted filter. This means the more people use Filter Forge, the better it gets.  Filter Forge Most Popular Filters Library
  3. Contributors get Filter Forge for free. You submit filters, they get popular with the users, we send you a free copy of Filter Forge. Sounds simple but don't expect a giveaway, you will have to earn it. 


2: Which edition is right for me?
Filter Forge comes in 3 types, and recently they added the option to take a subscription for a low quarterly fee.

  • Basic Edition
  • Standard Edition
  • Professional Edition
  • Professional Edition by Subscription.

FeaturesBasicStandardProfessionalProfessional by Subscription
Bitmaps larger than 3000x3000 pixelsFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Unlimited number of CPU coresFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Support for 16- and 32-bit image modesFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
High-precision file formatsFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Bump, diffuse, normal and other mapsFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Ability to create your own filtersFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Ability to modify existing filtersFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Ability to put filters to FavoritesFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Ability to use non-Library filters (.ffxml)Filter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Command-line rendererFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Standalone applicationFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Smart anti-aliasingFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
HDRI lightingFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Seamless tilingFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Resolution independenceFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Free access to the Filter LibraryFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All ThisFilter Forge Can Do All This
Number of filters allowed to download and useUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Permanent or time-limited licensePermanentPermanentPermanent3 months
 

Personally, I find the most important decision making factor between these editions the support for the amount of CPU cores and the ability to create your own filters, and I will tell you why. The basic edition and standard edition are limited to 2 cores only. Or better put; threads. If you have a CPU with 1 physical core and 1 logical core (often referred to as Hyper threading in Intel CPU’s) Logically if you have a true dual core cpu with 2 physical cores, this counts as 2 threads too (Assuming this CPU has no Hyper Threading. The basic edition also does not allow you to create, modify or create your own favorite list. The standard edition does allow you to create and modify filters. For some people this might be sufficient. To give you a practical scenario: if you simple want to add some borders or effects to your images or photo’s, and those filter are not too demanding in resources than this would be the choice for you.

The professional version has all features, and allows support for an unlimited amount of cores. If you work with high resolution images, and plan on using complex filter graphs with anti-aliasing, than this is your choice (providing you have 4 or more cores).
Some images, with a 2k resolution, can take an hour or sometimes, many hours to process even on a 12 core Intel Extreme 3rd gen i7 cpu! So just imagine how long that would take on the basic version.

In short, for home artist and beginners, the standard option is a good choice. If you need to do lots of processing with complex mathematics and at high resolutions, the professional edition is a must.

On a side note, Filter Forge 3 seems to only execute a 32 bit process. Even when running in plugin mode inside a 64bit Photoshop version. This means it is severely limited in the amount of ram it can access. It is cleverly solved by very well written cache technology. And if you have a SSD, you can even the cache location to a folder on your SSD, and you will get a significant boost in processing.

3: Interface Overview
Mac users can download the usual DMG file to get it installed. Windows users can download the usual setup file, but if you are using Windows 8, you need to download a special version and ask for a key conversion to make your license valid. This seems a little odd to me, 1 installer that would work on every windows version would have been more convenient.
For this tutorial I will mainly be using it inside Adobe Photoshop cs6 (64bit) and my Wacom Intuos 4 tablet. (Who can live without one?)

Before you can launch filter forge you must either have a document open or create a new one. I created a new document at 2048x2048. From the filter menu select Filter Forge 3 to launch it.
Filter Forge Interface Small

On the top left, we have our filter library, here you can find your current filters, and create your libraries. Directly below that, is the current filter that is selected and its 9 presets. The main render window is showing a very coarse low quality preview to speed up the editing process. Each preset has a setting tab where you can modify its parameters.

By clicking on the top right button labeled Filter Editor we enter the true part of Filter Forge where the real editing and creating takes place. At first it might look daunting, like any other node editor. This particular filter, or more precisely grass texture generator (with tiling options) is a very complex filter, what is shown here, is only a small part of its function.
Filter Forge Tutorial Editor Screen Small

The button components opens up all the different nodes you can add to the function.
Filter Forge Tutorial Components
To describe all the different components would be way beyond the scope of this introduction tutorial. But simply put, only your creativity, and your drive and ambition to experience is the limit. Virtually anything is possible.

Nodes and their input/outputs are connected by the usual “cables” seen in most other node based editors.

4: Setup options
Let’s have a look at the setup options, accessible from the tools dropdown menu.

Interface tab:

Filter Forge Interface Options Tab

Much of it is pretty much self-explanatory. I would certainly recommend to leave “reduce preview size for large images ticked. This will speed up your workflow. Another interesting setting is “progressive previews” Here you can select the amount of passes you desire for your low resolution preview. Logically, the more passes the better the preview and the more time it takes. Depending on how complex your filter is, you can move this up or down. However 4 is a good default.

Rendering tab:
Filter Forge Rendering Tab

Multithreading: if you want to dedicate the entire machine to Filter Forge, use all cores. If you want to run other cpu intensive applications simultaneously than I would suggest to use only a single core.

For normal map generation, DirectX is for most cases right. In some cases (Like video game production pipeline, you might be required to switch to OpenGL.

The temporary files location is for most users best left at its default. However, if you have a RAM drive, or a fast SSD drive, I highly recommend to create a dedicated folder for Filter Forge for its cache. This can potentially speed up rendering a lot.

Memory usage limit, I am not sure what it does here, it launches a 32 bit executable, therefor it is virtually limited to use 2 or max 4GB. I have pushed Filter Forge to its limits, and never managed to run out of physical ram.

Online tab:
Filter Forge Online Tab

The default settings should be fine. I support the idea of sending usage statistics and especially bug reports if an application crash may occur. Usually the response on your bug report is prompt and the bug will be squashed.

5: Filter options menu.

Rendermaps: Here you can choose to render out different maps besides the main texture. All the usual maps are present, bump, normal, diffuse, alpha, AO, specular, Metallic etc.

Anti-aliasing: If you are generating textures to be used in animations, and they contain a lot of detail you might want to up these values or you might experience too much flickering. I will take this highly detailed grass texture generator as an example, as it is extremely crisp. Do note, the render times do not increase in a linear fashion, but rather exponentially. So decide wisely if you really need that much anti-aliasing in your texture. In some cases it is faster to do this in post work, or in Vue with texture filtering. So it depends on your needs. For still images you might even completely disable anti-aliasing and let your 3d software internal/external render handle it. In most cases, ray-traced render engines produce much better looking and more realistic looking renders, but again at the cost of long render times. The key is the balance between the quality and speed. You want speed, but not to the point that it affects quality. Experimentation and test renders and simple trial and error will teach you much more than any training video or written tutorial.

Here we see the grass render with default AA settings:

  • 5 Samples
Filter Forge default AA settings 5 samples


  • 17 Samples
Filter Forge grass render with 17 Samples

  • 37 Samples / All pixels
Filter Forge grass render with 37 Samples All Pixels


I hope you enjoyed this introductory to Filter Forge. Our next tutorial will be about Integrating Filter Forge with Vue using Dynamic Texture Linking. Learn how to setup Filter Forge and Vue and see the changes you make in your textures from Filter Forge being update live in your Vue Viewport.

About the Author:
Michel Rondberg
Michel Rondberg
Co-Founder/Owner at D&D Creations, 3D Environment Artist, Vue Animation and render expert.

Born in Tiel, The Netherlands, Michel started becoming familiar with music at a very young age of 5, when he discovered his hidden talent for music. He started learning to play the piano at the age of 8, and he started composing his own tracks at the age of 10, using his keyboard and home computer. His passion for music and the quick improvement of his skills have led to his first official album release at the age of 15. Since then he started performing in clubs and released multiple records. In the meantime he successfully completed the Digital Recording, Mixing and Mastering Engineering course of Sound Seminar Rotterdam. His greatest achievement in music was his 2005 album “Voices of Angels”, which ranked no.1 in the USA. Michel also became interested in 3D art and game development at a very young age; at the age of 13 he wrote the codes for a game by himself, just as a hobby. He started learning 3D applications at the age of 15, and has improved his technical and artistic skills to a professional level in Vue. Before founding D&D Creations, he spent more than 8 years working for a game studio where he worked with Drea as a terrain & level designer, and he composed more than 3 hours of music for the studio. Michel has also won several awards given by E-on Software and other art sharing sites with his work. Several of his tutorials, tips & tricks have been published online. Currently he works as a 3D Environment Artist, Certified Sound and Video Engineer and Music Composer in the Studio, and he has a publishing deal at Strengholt Music Group. Along with Drea, he also works as a Software Specialist for Vue and as a Product Copyright Consultant at YURdigital.
 

D & D Creationswww.ddcreations.eu