Programs I Use
Sterlingware (ktaza.com:8080/fractal/index.html) Paidware. Well, you missed your chance to get it free so now you'll have to drop $25 with Paypal to get access to Stephen Ferguson's download page. Still, the wonder is that it was offered free as long as it was -- it's excellent! None of the usual Mandelbrot suspects here (rather, Newtonians, Lyapunovs, and others), but Ferguson has devised a program unexcelled at producing fractals that look as though they're photographs from some indescribable Elsewhere. No instructions included, so let me say here that you have to right-click the image to access the Zoom Out and rectangular selection features. The rest is self-explanatory even to a bear of very little brain from the last generation like myself.
Vchira No longer available, unfortunately. This program could go from sun-faded duotones to unabashed psychedelic polychromaticism at a speed approaching 3/5 of a mile in 10 seconds. In between -- and there's no end of "in-between" once you've played with it a little while -- it's another superb Ferguson effort, with lots of opportunities to use his special brand of "photorealist" dimensionality. The rectangular selection box was unique, with both size and magnification adjustable. If you can find someone offering it, do not hesitate.
Ktaza Likewise no longer available. The atriatrix part of the program is still available at Ferguson's site, however (see above).[ Another Ferguson effort. Atriatrix (Gumowski-Mira) fractals are mathematical Tamagotchi, iterating and growing until you stop the process. This program links these fractals to more conventional ones (with a very Vchira-style interface) to produce quite unusual results. Some care is needed to stop those results from falling into a few similar categories, though. Each half of the program can also be used independently.]
Fractal Explorer (www.eclectasy.com/Fractal-Explorer/) Freeware. An extremely versatile program in terms of the number of different fractal formulae available (including IFS, strange attractors, and quaternions) and the varied filters. They even have a section with Ferguson's formulae (but of course their program produces very different results...) A very clear dialogue box with preview pane (accessed from the Mandelbrot "little apple-man" on the toolbar). Their home page gives you sources for third-party instructions (if you feel you need them) as the Ukranian developers feel their English is not up to the task; and there's a User Group, with FAQ's, sample work, and spot files.
Apophysis (www.apophysis.org) Freeware. Major paradigm shift here! No "self-similarity at all scales," and even what a "classical" fractalist would consider a ridiculously minimal amount of zooming-in will bog you down in glacial render times. But oh, what you get in exchange! Endless new "flame" formulas -- a hundred new ones every time you open the program -- and almost limitless ways to handle the "transforms." Not to mention about a hundred different pallettes -- variable, at that! -- and ways to generate your own. Final results can range from "Jack the Dripper" abstracts to improbable but intricately rendered "Atlantean" objects, sumptuously displayed on digital black velvet (unless you change that color too). Edgar Leeteg meets Benoit Mandelbrot... Be sure to read some of the tutorials on their Wiki page, as this program is packed with features hidden behind right-clicks.
Ultimate Paint (www.ultimatepaint.com) Shareware, $39.95 and sometimes on sale, with 30 free tries before you have to make up your mind. This is not a fractal program, it's a Paint program with a small fractal generator (3 Mandelbrot variations and a Nova, four unmodifiable coloring variations). That said, it's what got me into fractals. The navigation box is easy to use, with precision zooming and support for both large movements and precise control. What you get, though, will not be up to today's standards--until you run it through some of the program's filters, which are as varied as any I've seen. "Eater of Souls," "Life on Titan" and the background of "Hokusai" in my Post Processing gallery were produced this way. I find their Sharpen filter superior to Photoshop's, as also their color adjust, which has both RGB and HSV together in the same dialogue box. Their Open box (unlike Adobe's!) will show thumbnails of files regardless of what format they're in.
There are too many good fractal sites out there for any list to have even a pretension of completeness. These are just ones which, for whatever reason, have made an impression on me.
Fractal Art by Sevillana (http://www.sevillana.de/fraktale-welt/index.htm) A very fine sensibility and talent at work here. There's earlier work from Fractal Explorer and Fergusoniana, but Apophysis is her current obsession and she's producing unique results with it. High-quality posters are available if you'd like to see this art on your walls. Okay, all the details are in German, but just click "Kontakt" and ask in English, you'll be understood and answered.
Cheshire Cat Fractals (www.fractalus.com/cheshirecat/gallery.htm) Alice Kelly is probably America's foremost fractalist (she's the one that does the Amber Lotus calendars) and the reputation is well-deserved. Her site is an Apollonian model of clarity and simplicity.
My Digital Rock Collection (www.ambaka.com/index.html) Though there's a lot of different stuff here, including home-brew projects complete with how-tos, this site is primarily about Sterlingware (one of my favorite programs!) and as well organized as the mathematical side of our Artform might lead one to hope. There are parameter files and even a tutorial should you feel the need of one -- also a Xaos gallery and "antworks" (you've got to see this to believe it!). Other goodies too.
Fraktalwelt (www.fraktalwelt.de) In English and German. If you're interested in IFS and Lyapunov fractals, and the science behind them, this is the place to go. In addition, designer Ulrich Schwebinghaus offers some of the programs he's used to produce his work. There's also a very good section on Escher and his techniques of "equal division of the plane." Well worth the visit!
Fractal Recursions (www.fractal-recursions.com ) In the use of color, texture, and dimensionality, some of the best "traditional" fractals I have come across.
The Plugin Site (www.thepluginsite.com) Sitemaster Harald Heim has his own plugins to sell (they're good!) but primarily this is a review site. Here's where to find that effect you're looking for (in free or paid form) and how to get it. There are tutorials on Filter Factory and various aspects of PSP and Photoshop, and also a Forum where you can post questions and receive answers. Sign up for the monthly e-newsletter and get updates on new releases, manufacturers' specials, paidware going free, etc.
Agnieszka Szuba (www.the-butterfly-within.com/) is a young Polish woman whose combination of the human body with other forms produces images that can only be described as dreamlike, even though in my dreams everything looks totally normal (what happens, however...) She's mercifully free of the sadomasochistic thanatolatry that mars so many others' work in this vein. And those coiled ammonites do show up in the most surprising places!