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Free Hidden Tiger App: Core Image Fun House

A Zoom Blur and Lenticular Halo effect was applied to this wolf, a sample image included in Core Image Fun House.

I’ve always installed the developer tools each time I’ve upgraded to a new version of OS X, but I’ve never really poked around inside the Developer folder… until now.

Having just installed Tiger a couple of days ago, I’ve got a beginner’s mind again about my computer, so I’ve been entertaining myself by poking around in places I haven’t looked in a long time. I’m still putting together my first impressions of Tiger, but I’ve found a couple of hidden gems—free applications, if you will—there for the taking.

First, you’ll need to install Xcode Tools, if you haven’t already done so. Insert your Tiger installation DVD and open the Xcode Tools folder. Then double-click on the XcodeTools.mpkg file to install. After installation, look in the Developer folder (in the root directory of your main hard drive). You’ll find the first of the applications I want to tell you about, Core Image Fun House, in /Developer/Applications/Graphics Tools/. Of course, you can skip all this looking in folders nonsense by typing core in Spotlight.

Now for the good stuff. You may have heard about iMaginator, a new application just released by Stone Design. I’ve always liked Stone Design, so when I first heard about iMaginator, their new application for taking advantage of Tiger’s new Core Image (which lets Tiger access the power of GPUs, the graphics processing units in newer video cards), I was excited. iMaginator puts “106 filters and effects at your fingertips,” and it will only set you back $49! That sounds like a great deal. But free sounds better to me and Core Image Fun House is free. So let’s see what you get with your free Fun House…

Core Image Fun House has a barebones interface. When you launch it, you’ll be greeted with an Open dialog where you can choose any of four sample images, or navigate to another directory to select your own images. After you open an image, you’ll find an image window and an Effect Stack palette, where you build up your effects. Effects are Image Units (Apple’s moniker for Core Image plug-ins, which can include filters, transitions, and effects), and I counted 99 of them, give or take. They include everything from Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask, familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in any flavor of Photoshop, to some obscure sounding filters and effects like Torus Lens Distortion, Lenticular Halo, Lanczos Scale Transform, and Affine Clamp. I can assure you I’ve never heard of these before, but I like the way they roll off my tongue and my eyes are watering in anticipation.

As you add effects, the Effect Stack palette grows taller. Like Adjustment Layers in Photoshop, added effects alter preceding layers (though in this case, lower layers influence the layers above them). Many effects have various parameters, which can be adjusted at your whim, and you can select or deselect layers without deleting them to see how they influence the stack. Unfortunately, there’s no way to rearrange your stack; if you don’t like the effect, you have to delete (or turn off) the layers you don’t like and add them again in a new stack order.

You can save files as JPEGs or TIFFs, and Effect Stacks can also be saved as Fun House Presets. Unfortunately, while you can add several interesting transitions (like Copy Machine, Flash, Mod, and Ripple), there’s no way to save the animation as a QuickTime movie.

I’ve just scratched the surface here. Playing with the Fun House is a lot of… fun. It’s a little bit like opening the Giant Box of Crayola Crayons for the first time; with its 120 colors, it’s a little overwhelming. Even 99 is enough to keep you busy for a long time.

And what about iMaginator? I downloaded the demo, but discovered the Fun House before I had a chance to do much more than open it and click on a few effects. You’ll find the same effects you’ll find in Fun House (plus 7 custom effects), along with a few more features and a vastly refined interface. If you want to tap into the real power of Core Image, iMaginator will certainly save you time and unlock much more of Core Image’s potential. My suggestion? Download the demo. Play with it for 30 days. If you don’t think it’s worth fifty bucks, you can always pay an occasional visit to the Fun House. Admission is free.

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