How I Created a Software That In-turn Helped Me Creating My Graphic Book

It’s the story of Rangoli , my own custom developed cloud based image editor software that helped in churning-out the print ready images to help in creating a graphic book with specific effects to set the desired nostalgic tone.

If I today look back in time, I find many memories from Rourkela, a small township around India’s first public sector steel plant. Like any other Rourkelite, I have been a true enthusiast about my town. This passion led me to spend some time in last few years to collects smaller yet evocative details of events that shaped the place and the life within it. Then a time came when I gave it a serious thought to give them a shape of a book. Last year I published the book as titled Rourkela – The Illustrated Journey Into The Life Of The City 

As the book was supposed to be a graphic novel, there were multiple challenges I had. The first and foremost of them was getting the images/photograph of the town across different times in history. Being a small town it was really difficult task as not much of the facts and history of the place was recorded from different aspects of life. before the Rourkela Steel Plant was built in 1950’s, the place was least known tribal area with in the dense forest across the hills. Even though a high level details I had collected from secondary research, still the details were not enough to come up with a photographic book with truthful and accurate particulars. The problem with photographs is that they are too real – there is a little room available for imagination when you see a bright sharp hi definition photograph. The less details are in photo including color, there is more to imagine , and no doubt that’s why a painting with less realism is always effective in igniting emotion in viewer than the same subject in photograph.

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(FIG: The images in the published book – the line textured engraving effect gives the feeling of vintage nostalgia.)

As the book subject was history of the town with reference to different location within and specially about the town’s inception in 1950’s, and before, I thought it would be great to use illustration type graphics to match the old times, specially 50’s and 60’s of the town. In addition to that the challenge was that as it was a place, about which very less photographs along with recorded information was available, it was difficult to come up with a graphical history of the places through photographs. Secondly due to unavailability of details of life style and location description of the area, (as Rourkela was mostly unknown remote hilly area filled with jungle and aboriginal tribal before the steel plant came up in 50’s just after a few year of India’s Independence ), leaving something to imagination of the readers in images is ideal to evoke certain emotions.

When I started looking for a theme of the graphic book on history of a location, I explored many font types, graphic styles along with sketch patterns. I wanted the book to bring back nostalgia about the past that gone by, to remind the readers of the days gone by which no more exists. So natural tendency was to select vintage designs mostly popular in the periodicals, books and magazines printed using older print approach like wood-cut , linograph and engraves and the kind, when digital print didn’t exist which ever maintain the crispness of our printing methods today and had the printing imperfections. So I selected the wood-cut, old style text and textured background of the background images which help get the reader he feeling of vintage nostalgia.

The next step was to look for options to produce such an effect. After a search I noticed there are some plugins to Photoshop and other similar photo editors which provide the similar effects. But as I am more biased towards open source and used GIMP most of the time for my graphical needs, I wanted a good plugin that would provide the desired effect . There were some yet they didn’t match the exact way I wanted to represent the images. I wanted something to closely match the childhood local magazines that were printed and were more crude looking printouts. So the one of the best choice was to rather develop a program to quickly produce the exact effect I wanted to invoke same feeling. Initially I thought of learning to develop a plugin for GIMP, but that included additional work to learn the new language and the methods to build the plugin. Yet I did not want to depend on simple actions. Also I was not interested in depending on a commercial software and stick to it and was also not sure how long it would take me to learn and there by come-up with the solution that will in turn will help me complete my book project. I was stuck at a cross road, where the other option is to look around and find an approach that would be easier for me to come up with a software solution that will involve less work. I realized, I knew a decent level of PHP and some open source image processing libraries. In my earlier days of my career as a developer, I had played a lot with such libraries which used to run over shell scripts and via PHP through Execs. So Decided to try out this approch and decided will build my own Image Editor application that will allow to upload any image and convert that to the effect I desired. Thus my pet project Rangoli came into being to help me out to finish my graphic book project.

After spending two months over weekends, quickly I managed to build a working version with a feature to convert my images into the desired effect. As I used PHP, I was able to host it locally and use it across different laptops I use at home via the wifi , without the need to install anything on the system I was working with my book project. Later I added a few more variations of the effect and build a template that can be used to add more effects like plugins into ‘Rangoli’. One such addition was to remove either the white or black from the image and make it semi transparent (the same effect you get in Photoshop by turning the blending mode to ‘Multiply’).

(FIG: Rangoli Interface showing the list of effects available and the preview in center pane. Multiple effects can be queued and batch processed.)

Later added the feature to process multiple effects one after another based on the queue — more like a batch process but through the GUI and by following human friendly language than the geek’s favorite commands. These helped me build a system that is scalable and cross platform by the time I finished the book.

(FIG: Rangoli user-interface showing the rendered vector image with transparency, ready to be used in the book.)

Using this then I started creating visuals for my book. I merged multiple public domain images and some photographs I took some time back across the town, to create desired frame which then I processed in Rangoli to generate print ready vector that with old engraved vintage type image.

(FIG: From Left to right, different stages the source images were merged and then fed into Rangoli to get the old print type shown in right.)

The one more good thing happened – in my book I was able to provide dramatic scenes from past combining some modern day photographs and processing them through Rangoli.

(FIG: Blurring the realism – Left images are the original ones processed, where are the right one are the finally processed outputs from Rangoli.)

Finally I was able to complete the book that was referred as “Mini India’ Rourkela coming alive through flickers of images”. Though technology helped me in a greater way by empowering me to meet my goal which otherwise would have been impossible for me, I learned a new trick — sometimes, we need to spend time in building components that will help us in long run . In such cases even if the immediate or direct benefit may not be in sight, still they may act as the foundation stone to the bigger thing we desire to achieve.

You can get the book from here: http://amzn.in/9pobnWq 

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