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Interview: Ryan Clark, creator of CrazyBump

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Eariler this year, CrazyBump creator Ryan Clark finally saw his project come out of public beta and in to a fully developed, purchasable product; A tool for normalmap generation that some say is second to none. CrazyBump managed to pave its own way in an industry where tools of many uses are available.
I had a chance to talk with Ryan about where the idea came from, watching it come to Fruition, its public interest, and what's next for the man behind one of this years biggest breakthrough game development tools.

Before we begin let me just say congratulations! CrazyBump has finally gone out of Beta. It must be quite the feeling to see something you've worked so hard on finally come to fruition.

Ryan Clark: Thanks. It's been wonderful seeing CrazyBump take on a life of its own, in the hands of the art community!
[IMG2=left]http://boards.polycount.net/images/features/rclark.jpg[/IMG2]Polycount: It really was awesome to see this application take off - especially from someone who was relatively unknown, yet so eager to make it as accessible & powerful as it can be. Why don't you tell everyone a bit about yourself. What sort of technical background do you have?
Ryan Clark: I've been programming recreationally for several years. I started writing BASIC code on my parents' Apple II when I was eight or nine, and I've been hooked ever since. I studied CS in college and grad school, and finishing in 2001 with a master's degree.

After school, I spent a few years working for game studios in Austin. I gravitated toward graphics pretty quickly, having identified the field for the giant playground that it is. I discovered I could entertain myself for hours by creating visualizations of random ideas and functions. CrazyBump is a product of that entertainment; the first version of it was written for fun on a long airplane ride.
Polycount: It's interesting what a long period of time can do to one's imagination. Maybe thats why its Crazy (I had to). On that note, where did the idea for Crazybump come from?
Ryan Clark: The ancestor of CrazyBump was a small command line tool, born of necessity one weekend in 2003. I was trying to write a parallax shader, but I had a bunch of models with no heightmaps. I'm not much of a visual artist, so I just wrote a program to make the heightmaps I needed. I gave it the imaginative title “displacement creator.” Displacement Creator was dead simple. In retrospect, it's best feature was that it displayed my email address whenever you used it. So when artists started using it, they began to send me suggestions for features they'd like to see. Pretty soon, I had a list of great ideas in my inbox... early suggestions came from James Houx, Kevin Albers, Gary Bergeron, and other artists whose names I don't immediately remember. I did my best to add the features artists asked for, and I eventually found that my small program had grown into a powerful toolset.

In addition to artist suggestions, I find a lot of ideas just playing around. I throw formulas at my compiler without any real idea what I'm doing, and every now and then stumble on an effect that looks cool. Very little development is planned out in advance; CrazyBump is a mixture of artist suggestions and freak accidents.
Polycount: In your eyes what does it bring to the table that other software out there doe not?
Ryan Clark: CrazyBump brings speed. It's designed to save artists' time. CrazyBump gives you a simple interface to powerful tools so you can use them quickly. With CrazyBump, you can make materials in minutes rather than hours. And every control has immediate visual feedback, so you can see what you're working on.
Polycount: You've updated CrazyBump to not only be a normal map generator & editor, but to be a fully fledged material creator - utilizing or generating all major texture passes. On top of that, CrazyBump was updated to allow the users to import their own meshes to see their textures on. These features were something the videogame artist communities asked for and you promptly delivered. What is the community asking for now and will they get to see these new addition ideas come to fruition?
Ryan Clark: CrazyBump has always been driven by the 3D community, and will continue to be. Probably the most popular request at present is for a macintosh version of CrazyBump. So we'll be seeing that soon!
[IMG2=right]http://boards.polycount.net/images/features/rclark.jpg[/IMG2]Polycount: Tell us some of the major obstacles you've faced with creating a tool as robust as CrazyBump?
Ryan Clark: One major obstacle has been maintaining a simple interface as new tools are added. As a tool becomes more powerful, the interface has a natural tendency to expand and become unweildy. With CrazyBump, I've tried very hard to keep the interface simultaneously simple and powerful. Adding specmap-tools, diffuse-tools, and occlusion-tools without bloating the interface was a significant challenge.
Polycount: How are you finding the development of CrazyBump now compared to when it was handling normalmaps only?
Ryan Clark: Development is more fun at this point, because there's more to play with. I can work on new filters for specmaps, or normals, or displacement maps. I have more data to play with, so the whole thing is more fun!
Polycount: Have you anything else you'd like to say about the tool or its users?
Ryan Clark: Firstly, I'd like to say "thanks" to all the artists who use CrazyBump. You guys have done a lot of my work for me by telling me what features you'd like to see. Without your direction, CrazyBump would not exist in its present form. You've given the project a life of its own.
Secondly, I'd like to say "please continue to do my work for me." Tell me what features you want to see in CrazyBump, so that I can hook them up!
ADMINISTRATOR NOTES: This is a work-in-progress. I am going to be working on the formatting as well as image placement over the duration of this week. I'll remove this notes when I think its 'done'. When I'm finished I'd like to show qube and ask him to put his touches on the way our header images can look for each feature type, etc. Consider all images placeholder.


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