Admit it: you’ve always wondered what your portrait would look like as one of The Wall Street Journal‘s famous hedcuts. A fun new iPhone app will help give you an idea — and in far less time than the five hours it can take the WSJ artists to draw one.
That app is SnapDot, which arrived in the iOS App Store a week ago. For 99 cents you can take any picture and with the tap of a few onscreen buttons and adjustment to three sliding bars, you get yourself really amazing stipple art, in color, grayscale or black and white. (This one at the right took me about six minutes.)
You can vary the dot sizes, the brightness and contrast to transform a photo into anything from a bright, Monet-like watercolor to a black-and-white, WSJ-appropriate portrait. While you’re working on it, you can see the dots move and grow, live before your eyes, which is really neat. That sets it apart from similar apps like Stipples, which is much slower about that process.
SnapDot currently lacks the social-sharing element (like Stipples or Hedcut) that I think could make this app grow quickly. For now you can share your creations by e-mail only. But Facebook integration is coming soon, I’m told.
The app was created by the two-person team of Jim Collier and Adrian Secord at DotWerx, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Collier has the business background and the artistic ambitions, while Secord is the technical brains behind their “stipple rendering engine” that underlies the app.
While recreating those famed newspaper portraits aren’t the only use for the app, they were definitely the inspiration, Collier told me in a phone interview this week.
In the 1980s as a student at Harvard Business School, Collier said he’d often be distracted and reading the paper in class. “I would see the stipple drawings in The Wall Street Journal and think, ‘I wish I was doing that instead of sitting here.'”
He did the corporate thing for a while, at Hewlett-Packard and Lotus and as an independent tech consultant. But five years ago Collier says he got serious about stipple drawing and taught himself to draw. Soon he met Secord, who’d been working on stipple patterns as a computer science problem.
Stippling is basically the varied pattern of dots to create shading in an image, but it’s actually kind of hard, he says. “It’s really about placing the dots in a manner that they convey the same information as a full-blown picture,” Collier said. That’s why the app’s simplicity is so impressive when you realize what’s going on underneath it. And smartphone screens are great delivery methods for these images.
A stippled image “lends itself, with the iPhone, to smallness. Meaning, you’d never want to look at a few dots on a big screen,” he said. “But if you’ve got a little device in your hand, if you can take a few dots to convey a whole lot of information that’s really interesting.”
DotWerx isn’t only interested in making entertaining photo apps. The team is thinking deeply about the possibilities of what images comprised of dots can do. Dots are basically a really low-definition way of communicating information, which means those images don’t require nearly as much bandwidth to send over networks as high-definition images.
Those possibilities include sending animated stipples as really low-definition video, or encrypting information within the dots.
That’s a ways off. But in the meantime, the rest of us can download an iPhone app and quickly fulfill our digital hedcut dreams.