Fractals have been encaptulating the magic of limitless dimensions/depth within a defined space since more than a century ago.
There are many pieces of software one can use to generate fractals based on mathematical equations, but Mandelbulber is one of the best, being completely free and open source and offering the ability to generate and explore fractals in three dimensions. With Mandelbulber, you can really create more than you can imagine!
Mandelbulb is a three dimensional analog of the Mandlebrot set that is maybe the most popular two-dimensional fractal. Bringing Mandlebrot in three dimensions can be done in many ways that deliver different results and that is how Mandlebulb acquired a plethora of fractal formulas.
So you choose a formula and then render the fractal on a resizable window that can be used for navigation (zoom in/out, go left/right/up/down etc).Every time you zoom in the fractal is recalculated and that means you will have to wait a few seconds (depending on your machine) to redraw. Here are some examples of shapes that I rendered using the default settings:
Except for the mouse, you can also use the View tab that will help you navigate the 3D fractal shape with precision.
The engine can be set to calculate and draw greater detail depths, and to use images/textures from an output source that can be an image file in your hard drive. Minimum and maximum render distance can also be set to the desired amount so that you may render fractals that use just a few levels of depth being clearly non-infinite.
Mandelbulber utilizes ray marching to render 3D fractals. But what exactly is ray marching?
Instead of ray tracing the whole distance between the camera and the nearest surface, the ray “marches” the distance in small steps. At each step a scattering is simulated. The final result is a synthesis of the various scatterings along the length of the ray.
Shaders, lights and post effects tabs allow users to bring their creations more to their liking expanding the optical abilities greatly with water, glow and volumetric lighting! You can choose lights color and position, set various fog factors like visibility etc.
What can you use all these settings for? To create amazing fractals like these:
See more astonishing fractals by visiting this gallery
The ability of Mandelbulber to render animations and record paths is something truly amazing. You can set the flight speed, frames to render, save and load settings to use in different fractals etc. Note that this is something that will take long unless you own a super powerful machine.
Whatever the case, and whatever the waiting time, the result will probably worth it if it is something like this:
What can I say about applications like Mandelbulber? This is another great example of what a small team of people can do from their heart and what open-source can offer to the world. Mandelbulber can be used for educational purposes, research or just personal itch.
I didn’t include any how-to in this article because firstly I don’t have that kind of experience with the application and secondly it wouldn’t help anyone. There are some examples available by default after all. This is one of those applications that you have to discover yourself by trying various things and see what the outcome is. It is like a drawing tool. A 3D mathematical drawing tool, for fractal artists with great imagination and “logical” inspiration.
You will find Mandelbulder in Ubuntu Software Center (v. 1.11), but you can also install the latest version (v. 1.12). Just download it, unzip it, and follow the instructions in README file. Building it from sources is less than a minute process. Mandelbulder doesn’t require many dependencies.