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by Sylvie Parent

As part of the thirty-first annual Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media (FCMM; October 10-20, 2002), multimedia creators sponsored by the Interactive Project Lab (IPL)will meet for the third time to promote the production, distribution and marketing of their projects. The IPL is a program jointly managed by Montreal's Institut national de l'image et du son, the Canadian Film Center in Toronto, and the Banff New Media Institute. The program is financed by the Bell Globe Media Content Innovation Network. LopArt, http://www.lopart.net a software program created by Montreal's LopLop, is one of four different multimedia projects invited to participate.

LopLop, http://www.loplop.com is a development team that specializes in applications for the Internet and other multimedia platforms. Over the years, LopLop has been involved in a wide variety of projects serving museums, the private sector, and artists. These have included cd-roms, interactive terminals, and Web site database management initiatives. The team's most recent creation, LopArt, is the first graphic software package designed with education and mass markets in mind.

LopArt is not the first graphic software created by Alain Bergeron, the president and founder of LopLop. Throughout his almost twenty years of experience as an artist, programmer and software designer , Bergeron has always been involved in projects that combine artistic vision, computer expertise and communication networks. In cooperation with Philippe Côté and Jean-Joseph Rolland Dubé he founded the Société de conservation du présent (Present Conservation Society), and participated in numerous cultural happenings throughout the 1980s. In 1990, Bergeron created one of the first pre-Web bulletin board systems (BBS) featuring a graphical interface (rather than text only), to help him administrate the Standard Museum -- one of the first collections of digital artwork in North America. And though he now considers himself more of an "artisan" than an "artist", Bergeron continues to be closely involved with artistic creation. For example, he was involved with Liquidation, a cd-rom produced recently by the Agence TOPO (Michel Lefebvre and Eva Quintas) which won numerous prestigious awards.

What sets LopArt apart from other graphic design programs is its interface, which is very easy to operate, and allows the user to compose images of great complexity and fine detail. LopArt's functional icons can be recognized intuitively even by pre-school children; in fact, the software was originally created by Bergeron for his seven-year-old daughter. Yet, while it was initially designed as a young person's drawing tool, early versions of the software have been adopted by a much wider variety of users. Indeed, behind this straightforward interface lies a very powerful set of tools that has convinced teenagers and adults alike that sophistication need not be sacrificed in the name of simplicity.

LopArt's interface and functional design were informed by the real experiences that children have when they create art with traditional mediums, such as pencils or solid and liquid colors. Questions about what capabilities to include were approached comprehensively, through a survey of the options made available elsewhere. After review, many of the functions offered in standard graphics packages were deemed too "artificial": for example, the "fill" option for applying uniform colours within closed areas, as well as tools for drawing perfectly straight lines and instantly generating regular geometric shapes, were all selected for omission from the final version. Instead, LopArt offers a more "natural" set of options that reflect the exploration one might experience in the real world. The software becomes an extension of the natural processes of creation; the real and the virtual take on a certain continuity.

Among the many options available, users can modify the thickness, transparency and saturation of lines, or select colors from a wide gamut of available shades. Special consideration has been given to textures -- including aquatic effects, fur and foliage -- with the goal of conveying how artistic techniques are applied to create these effects. This emphasis on the natural world was deliberately chosen in response to the preferences of children, and in accordance with current instructional programs. LopArt's approach has attracted the attention of many teachers and managers in the field of art education in Quebec, in no small part due to the efforts of Marie Imbault, marketing manager for LopLop.

Another interesting feature of LopArt is the software's ability to revisit and replay all stages of an image's creation by using the animation function. Through the deployment of "undo" and "redraw" tools capable of moving forward or backward throughout the history of a drawing's composition, users are allowed to meticulously analyze and dissect their final product. Such careful review of their own creative process and methods may lead them to explore new creative avenues, improve on previous techniques, or simply enjoy the flow of the animations themselves. LopLop intends to add new animation options in the future.

LopArt also allows the user to send images by email, or to save and publish them on the Web in the "Museum"-- a virtual gallery which, though currently hosted by LopLop, will ideally be administered by the institutions that purchase the software in the future. This archiving function will facilitate the creation of a user community through the distribution and sharing of artistic projects, while still maintaining a focus on the importance of individual creativity. This in turn will express a core value that LopLop and Alain Bergeron have emphasized since the beginning: From the networking experiments of many years ago, through to the release of LopArt, accessibility has always been a top priority, both during the creative process and in the distribution of the final artwork.

By offering their software at a very affordable price, LopLop is positioning LopArt as an interesting alternative to expensive graphics packages distributed by monopolistic concerns. The ease-of-use of this software will also help to make it attractive to a wide audience, since more expensive graphics programs have now become so intricate and complicated that only specialists can hope to engage their full capabilities. The commercial distribution efforts behind LopArt continue to expand, and LopLop is actively working to open markets out-side Quebec. Because the LopArt interface is based on visual metaphors, and therefore understandable by anyone, language is no longer a barrier.

The release of LopArt is the end result of many years of exploration, research, analysis and improvement in software design, combined with LopLop's dedication to creativity, and their proven track record in programming. While the programming aspects of such undertakings are often afforded little credit or attention -- at least in comparison to what self-proclaimed artists later use these tools to produce -- LopLop's commitment to accessibility, whether creative or economic, extends many hard-won opportunities to the artists of tomorrow.

Sylvie Parent is the French Editor of HorizonZero. The LopArt software is scheduled for release on October 15, 2002.

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