Tom Beddard Grows Fractals Into Works of Art

Tom Beddard's video is just a preview of free web software that will generate interactive 3-D fractals in real time.

You may not know what fractals are, mathematically speaking, but you know what they look like: tangled, crenelated forms bending and burbling in on themselves into infinity in a geometric, yet weirdly organic way. Generating fractal images is more like exploration than design -- and Tom Beddard explores an entire "fractal planet" in the video below.

Beddard completed a PhD in laser physics before moving into web development and design. "I'm interested in how equations and formulas can be used to create interesting, unpredictable imagery," he tells Co.Design. Fractals are the quintessential example of this kind of generative art, but exploring their contours can be difficult on a desktop computer because of all the heavy math required to render them visually. "Traditionally with fractal generation, you have to wait seconds or minutes for the image to appear," Beddard says. But the program he wrote to create the video above runs in nearly real-time -- which means that Beddard can simply plug in an equation and start playing with its visual properties as easily as fiddling with a Rubik's Cube.

Tweak one aspect of the math, and the changes are dramatic:



Beddard doesn't write the actual mathematical equations himself -- for that he goes to the geniuses on Instead, he just... explores, using his custom software. "You get an intuition about what equations lead to interesting results," he says. "Everything in 'Surface Area' comes from slowly changing just one parameter. And when it moves in and out of phase with some of the other parameters, certain structures pop out: some organic, some geometric, some classical and tree-like."


The surface of Beddard's "fractal planet" is as detailed as any moon in the real world.

The best part: Beddard is bringing his tools to the masses, putting the finishing touches on an open-source web application called ShaderLab which he plans to release within a few weeks. With ShaderLab, anyone will be able to generate 3-D fractal forms and interact with them in their web browser. Can we be beta-testers, please?

[Read more at Tom Beddard's website]

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  • Isobel Kramen

    How beautiful! Reminds me of Charles Eames' "The Power of 10", done before much of this wonderful technology was available. If only I could be Alice and shrink myself to explore a world of fractals.

    Thank you Professor Mandelbrot.