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Fractal Explorer Pixel Bender Plugin

Published on 14 July 2009

A new Pixel Bender plugin for generating a wide variety of fractals in real-time. A key feature enables images to be mapped into fractal space creating some amazing results.

Head over to the Fractal Explorer project page to download the plugin and find out more.

Original image:
The above image is licensed under the Creative Commons Share Alike-Attribution-Non-Commercial license as per the original thanks to Audringje.

  Last updated: 14 July 2009


  • Joc commented at 14 July 2009 at 23:36

    That's a pretty incredible piece of work but I couldn't get it to output as a .pbj file from Pixel Bender. How did you get it to work in Flash?

  • Tom commented at 14 July 2009 at 23:46

    Thanks Joc. Unfortunately at the moment Flash doesn't support loops in Pixel Bender filters, which is a fundamental requirement for fractal generation, so you can only use them in the PB Toolkit, Photoshop or AfterEffects CS4.

  • Satya Meka commented at 15 July 2009 at 00:29

    Amazing Tom!

  • frank commented at 15 July 2009 at 07:31

    Fantastic work. It´s so easy spending a lot of time exploring fractals...

  • Piergiorgio Niero commented at 15 July 2009 at 08:14

    absolutely sweet!
    thank you SO much for sharing :)

  • Joc commented at 15 July 2009 at 09:24

    No problem Tom,
    wouldn't want to take away from the fact that it's a really nice filter and a generous gift to the community. In the Fractal Explorer pdf it mentions Flash CS4, does this mean you use it as a compile time filter? (I haven't moved to CS4 yet)

  • nicoptere commented at 15 July 2009 at 16:15

    great piece of code !

    the fractalExplorer keeps telling me that "the kernel is too complex for my graphics card" :/ fortunately the OrbitTraps work fine :)
    it's very interesting to play around with the settings
    thanks a lot for sharing :)

  • Tom commented at 15 July 2009 at 17:20

    Nicoptere, you should check the Pixel Bender forums on to see what the support for the different graphics cards there is. I certainly haven't seen that issue on my iMac.

  • rich commented at 16 July 2009 at 08:44

    How did you do the balls on:

    Thanks for the filters. Of course I want more -- how about The Guilloché Pattern Generator as a Pixel Bender filter?!

  • Tom commented at 16 July 2009 at 08:58

    Rich, the Guilloche patterns wouldn't work in Pixel Bender as they are generated via vector curves. The nature of a Pixel Bender kernel is an operation that is applied to a single pixel independently of any of the other pixels. Many pixels are calculated in parallel, which is why they can be so fast. Something like a Guilloche pattern generation traces a path over many pixels in a linear manner so each pixel can't be calculated independently in parallel.

    The balls image was created with Structure Synth: and rendered with Sunflow:

  • Johar commented at 17 July 2009 at 19:32

    Its Great i will try it..... Thanks. :)

  • Manny Lorenzo commented at 20 July 2009 at 23:02

    Thank you for highlighting this wonderful tool as well as creating the project page for all to use.



  • vade commented at 22 July 2009 at 07:48

    Many thanks, this is wonderful! I am attempting a port to Quartz Composer. Ill let you know if I get anything working :)

  • Tom commented at 22 July 2009 at 08:53

    Thanks Vade. I've been following your stuff for a while and intended to see what Quartz Composer could do with something like this so I'll be interested to find out how you get on.

  • vade commented at 22 July 2009 at 16:32

    Thanks! I really have been enjoying seeing your explorations of this. I Really like what this can do, and think it is totally worth porting to QC. I took some short cuts and found the auto-generated GLSL that pixel-bender creates to run on the GPU, so ive been trying to use that as a basis for the plugin. Unfortunately the code is mangled from your pixel bender original source due to code automation tools general poor legibility.

    I was pondering making it a custom plugin, but am having some issues as QC assumes rectangular texture coordinates vs what appears to be assumptions of 2D (0/1 normalized coords) in pixel bender. I have the shader running and outputting an image, but its clearly not what it should be. I dont understand the algorithm (my math sucks), so If you want to help out with the port or see what I have, ping me at vade [at] vade [dot] info.

    Again awesome work!

  • Mikael Christensen (Syntopia) commented at 23 July 2009 at 14:20

    Congratulations on getting your plugin released - very impressive - and the PDF guide and example pictures are very good (I love the Haeckel ones).

    Unfortunately it only runs on the CPU for me - so no real-time explorations here :-(
    How fast does it run on the GPU - several frames per seconds?

    Btw, I bought the Pickover book a couple of weeks ago (it's cheap used on Amazon), and have been playing around with some of his systems myself. I even considered writing a small app for visualizing orbits for generic mathematical expressions, but I'm not sure that I can find the time.

  • Tom commented at 23 July 2009 at 14:27

    Thanks Mikael.
    On my GPU in Photoshop the plugin runs fast enough on a 2k square image for pretty smooth realtime tweaking in my 2008 iMac (I don't have the gfx card specs at hand just now). Cranking the antialiasing up to 3 (so 9 samples per pixel) it takes about a second to render the final output.

  • Mikael Christensen (Syntopia) commented at 23 July 2009 at 21:43

    Ah. Sometimes the Pixel Blender Toolkit is not able to detect my GPU, but other times it is. E.g. if an instance of Pixel Blender Toolkit is already running, any new instances will fail to detect the GPU and fallback to the CPU.

    So I managed to get the plugin running on my laptop with a Nvidia 8400M GS GPU (which is unsupported according to Adobe). VGA output runs smoothly at 100+ FPS.

    Incredible so much faster the GPU acceleration makes it.

  • Carly commented at 24 October 2009 at 21:32

    Hi, the program is so fun! Just wondering if it is possible to add multiple images at once into the PBT??

  • Tom commented at 24 October 2009 at 21:49

    Carly: at the moment it isn't possible to use two source images (I'm not sure how that would work with Photoshop either). I have been thinking about possibly adding a feature to enable the source image to be split into quarters, stay tuned for that :)

  • Alex Andersson commented at 27 October 2009 at 12:34

    Simply Fantastic! :D

    This reminds me of the WMPhoto program which uses a similar method to take images and warp them into fractal designs very similar to Fractal Explorer... although not with as much detail and rendering quality.

    Can this program render fractal-warped images over image backgrounds? In other words, can I import an image so that I can render a fractal over it... like a layer or object?

  • Pratish commented at 20 March 2010 at 19:56

    Superb plugin Tom. Your User guide was very useful to explore options of it.

  • hd-fractals commented at 24 July 2010 at 21:45

    Thanks for the plug in tom! I love all the plug-ins you come up with - don't ever stop - I did wonder actually, have you finished the mandelbox plug in yet?