Wacom Cintiq 21UX

There are times in the computer and technology industry when a product is worthy of being dubbed a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way people think about and use their tools. Although Wacom wasn’t the first to come out with pressure sensitive drawing tablets (Calcomp and SummaGraphics were the first), the Vancouver, Wash.-based company was the first to, for example, create a cordless and battery free pen with much higher levels of pressure sensitivity than before.

Fast forward almost 20 years, and we can witness the forementioned paradigm shift with the Cintiq 21UX. It’s an LCD screen that is pressure sensitive, and comes with a pen using 1,024 levels of sensitivity, which you draw or paint directly on the screen with. Although Wacom has had other displays like this, their size, resolution and price were, in my opinion, not worth it.The Cintiq 21UX changes all that.

Hooked up to my G5 and running at 1600X1200 resolution, this is one fantastic artistic tool. At $2,999 it’s not as cheap as a regular display, but what it offers in fl exibility for CG artists more than makes up for the price. Working with the Cintiq gives you a kind of a rush you’ll never get otherwise, and it makes drawing and painting in programs like Photoshop or Painter so much better. You’ll wonder how you lived without it after you bought it.

The Cintiq offers 21 inches of screen real estate and comes with a nice stand to sit it on a desk. The calibration software built into the driver allows you to set the display for the best pen-to-screen accuracy, and the pressure sensitivity of the pen, along with a program like Corel Painter, lets you use the natural media brushes in ways that truly approach their analog counterparts.

I also found it very handy to use in programs like Maya or LightWave. Selecting polygons, drawing splines or painting textures, it just seemed so much more real to me. Of course I know we’re talking CG here, but it’s the difference of using an application versus feeling as if you’re inside of it.

I have the Cintiq set up on my PowerMac G5 as a second display, and although I don’t always use the pen/display combo, I can easily use my mouse across both displays just as if it were a regular monitor. When I do want to do some artwork though, I simply pick up the pen and create as if I were putting pen directly to paper. It’s a very liberating experience.

If what I have written so far hasn’t convinced you, you may want to know about some of the crew over at Pixar (now Disney/Pixar of course) who use them on a daily basis. Mark Andrews, story supervisor for The Incredibles, for example, now draws his storyboards pretty much exclusively on a Cintiq, whereas before he did it all with pencil, pen and paper. Brad Bird also utilized a Cintiq to critique dailies. (The footage viewed in the mornings after the previous nights’ rendering.) When the footage was viewed, if Bird didn’t like a pose or position of a character or element, he could use the Cintiq to draw over the frame, which would be superimposed on the image projected to the big screen. Then all the animators could instantly see what his vision was, the data could be saved off and the animators could go back to their work spaces and have a visual cue about what to change.

Going back to the paradigm shift, I predict that not too long from now every screen will be touch and pressure sensitive. It’s a natural evolution, and one that’s not hard to imagine at all. It’s more natural and intuitive, and Wacom has truly led the way in this space. Even my four-year-old daughter, who never stops drawing or painting, fi ghts me for access to the Cintiq, which is why I went ahead and actually purchased my loaner unit, because she’d throttle me if I sent it back. Once you have used one you’ll understand the appeal, and you might just have to max out a credit card or two. I know I did!

Website: www.wacom.com

Price: $2,999