Monday, August 1, 2011

When I Think of Carlson, I Think Color!

It's been a long time since I sat down to write something here, almost 6 months.

Lately I have been exploring the vibrant colors associated with Carlson fractals. In fact, it was Paul Carlson's program, Mind-Boggling Fractals that got me interested in creating fractal art in the first place. I had dabbled a bit with Ultra Fractal 2, and actually owned Ultra Fractal 3, when my mind was first boggled by the shiny metallics of the MBF sample images. I had to have that software. (For more information on this program see Although it is no longer supported, and website is gone, you can still find it for download from the web.

The image above is a single layer in Ultra Fractal 5 made with the formula Big Brew Julia (tma2.ufm) and using the Carlson Orbit Traps Coloring (kcc3.ucl) with the trap parameters set to Curl and First Iteration and the Default color preset. These are the colors that got me hooked on fractals.

Where is this all going? Ultra Fractal gradients, of course! I decided that there had to be a way to get those zingy colors into any image, so I proceeded to the tedious, but rewarding, task, of copying each of the colors from Carlson Orbit Traps palettes and pasting them at each control point in a gradient. I discovered that this process is truly a 'by the numbers' project so I had to first come up with gradient templates for the 8, 12 and 16 color palettes. It seemed to me that to get the color and shine I desired, it was necessary to evenly space the control points in the gradient. A quick look at the various Carlson pallets in the coloring shows that there is a high and low range for each color, which means that the Default palette of 8 high and low color ranges requires 16 control points in the palette.

You have to know that I do not write this blog from a mathematical point of view. Math and I are on somewhat good speaking terms, but, when it comes to fractals, I'm all about the graphics and not about the formulas that are at their heart. Sometimes I may not use all the right terminology, and sometimes I may not use the words  I pick up here and there correctly. If you come across an error in my descriptions, please feel free to leave a comment so I can fix things up.

If you look at Carlson Orbit Traps, you will find a section called Color Settings with a drop down that allows you to select a preset and an ‘x’ box to allow you to see the colors in that default. Here are the color palette and the gradient I created from it:


Carlson OT Default Color Settings   Carlson Default Gradient

So let’s take a look at what the same Big Brew Julia looks like without Carlson Orbit Traps, and my gradient:

Big Brew Julia with Carlson Default Gradient

Now I can go from this starting point and use any coloring and still start with a colorful gradient of my choosing.

There is a school of thought that one should craft a gradient for each image starting out with just 2 control points – one black and one while. I find that I don’t usually see the possibilities in a formula and coloring combination from that starting point. I most often go the route of starting with a random gradient that strikes my fancy and going from there. The problem with this is that after a while, the random gradients Ultra Fractal generates all start looking alike.

If you look at my gallery on Renderosity ( you will see that many of my images tend to be dark; I’m trying to change that. So often when I am aiming for vibrant, I end up with dark. To that end, here is a piece on which I was working earlier that uses a gradient derived from the Carlson Orbit Traps palette Evening Sky 8.


As a footnote to the length of time between posts, I would like to add that the online Blogger editor is not easy to use when uploading multiple images. Since there are alternative methods to doing whatever you want to do on a computer, I turned to Google to find an editor that would work offline and publish to my blog. This entry was composed using Windows Live Writer 2011, which I downloaded earlier from It seems to do everything I need it to do.

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