Creating stunning images by taking vector graphics to the extreme

ABOVE: Forest by Ross Photography.

ShapeVision is an Ottawa startup whose mission is to create photo-based art and applications with their unique Extreme Vector Graphics™ (EVG) software. Its founding partners, Martin Brooks and John Spence, have extensive experience in the Ottawa tech and education communities. Previously, Spence directed the Communications Research Centre’s Virtual Classroom program, and Brooks led NRC’s artificial intelligence research group, where they pioneered pedagogy and technology for collaborative learning over the CANARIE network with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and educational, health, and cultural partners across Canada.

EVG creates a new representation of digital photographs by determining and assembling up to hundreds of thousands of highly complex coloured shapes. “It’s a fractal jigsaw puzzle,” says Brooks. ShapeVision’s EVG takes the scalable vector graphics (SVG) image format to new levels, automatically computing vector graphics shapes from photographs through advanced mathematics. Brooks told me that “while developing the concept, I worked on the math for a full year before getting down to coding.” 

Pixel photos have limited maximum enlargement. Zoom into a JPG, and even a high-quality file becomes a blurry field of squares. EVG images can be printed without distortion at any size. ShapeVision art starts with the pixels and uses powerful cloud computing resources to produce an EVG transformation that can be flawlessly printed at any size. The ShapeVision software has multiple knobs and switches to control the shape algorithms, which artists can use to generate an unlimited number of shape models from which they can select and combine into visual compositions. 

The ShapeVision art project demonstrates the analytical power of EVG by producing large-format prints 5×3 feet or more, using archival-quality printers, ink, and papers for lasting brilliance. Seen from afar, ShapeVision art looks painterly but approach the print to mere centimetres to discover more and more shape components. Brooks handed me a small flashlight and magnifying glass to examine a JPEG I provided. Rather than seeing pixels, I could easily detect myriad shapes within shapes that were remarkably natural-looking, with high complexity at the boundary between adjacent shapes. There is a lot to look at in ShapeVision art, inviting repeated engagement and continued fascination.

Hidden Shapes Of Nature™ is ShapeVision’s flagship art theme, exploring the beauty of rural Ottawa’s diversity of animals, plants, and micro-environments. 

ShapeVision supports the artistic vision of Ross Photography, “to communicate a message of the pending collapse of our Mother Earth if more of us do not take the time to better acquaint ourselves with our only home.” ShapeVision enables an up-close examination of our surroundings, revealing the profound complexity in the seemingly simplest scenes. “On my family farm in the Ottawa valley, I attempt to bring the beauty and diversity of the natural world to the attention of others and show just how much there is in even a small area like my farm,” Ross says. To see the world in a grain of sand, as it were. 

Brooks is looking at the bigger picture. “By controlling the number of shapes and their level of detail, Extreme Vector Graphics™ underlies a wide range of applications, from machine vision for automated vehicles to medical image analysis to a new type of digital paint for artists,” he says. ShapeVision’s long-term technical objective is to implement shape algorithms as hardware and provide predesigned IP for use in chip design, thereby putting extreme vector graphics into the hands of artists and designers everywhere.

ShapeVision images must be seen to be believed. Check out Hidden Shapes Of Nature™ artworks at An exhibit featuring large images is planned for 2022 at Saint-Vincent Hospital, Covid permitting.

ShapeVision creates and sells fine art in collaboration with Ross Photography, Golden Owl Photo, and social change startup Radical Connections.

Interest in ShapeVision technology, applications, and art may be directed to