Jakub Steiner on using Blender for icon design in GNOME
If you follow GNOME's designer Jakub Steiner, you couldn't possibly miss his recent posts featuring Blender as icon design tool. Is GNOME team moving away from Inkscape? We asked Jakub for comments.
Jakub, your icon design workflow used to be GIMP-centered, then Inkscape centered. Now you started using Blender for making high-resolution icons. What are the benefits of Blender here?
We currently follow two icon styles in GNOME. Our toolbars have buttons that use flat simple symbols. And then we have application launchers. Those are more realistic, highly defined. They are representations of actual devices or application identities.
The biggest drive for using Blender as an icon creation process was performance. I am quite frustrated by Inkscape's preview speed (or the lack of preview/final render separation).The reason we stopped making bitmap icons with GIMP was asset reuse.
Many Adobe shop icon designers work with bitmaps, but they make use of the vector and live effect tools Photoshop provides. They can get fast shading/texture tools, while keeping resolution independent shapes using paths and layer effects.
Icon for the upcoming GNOME Music app, designed in Blender
Tweaking bitmap icons was insane chore in the old days. You really created a separate icon for each size. Going Inkscape helped a lot with the workflow despite sometimes needing to do dirty tricks for the low res and having bad time when texturing details.
Material setup for the clothes in the loudspeaker above
The reason why Blender (*)and the Cycles renderer in particular) is so appealing for highres icons is that providing natural lighting and real world material feel is so much easier to pull off in a 3D package than "manually" mimicking/describing those properties using brushes or vectors. Some may say it's taking away the fun from it, but there is fun to be had tweaking properties too :)
Scene setup for the loudspeaker
Apart from that, Blender gives way more room to iterate. It flies. You build complex objects using modifier stacks, apply really complex materials, get realtime preview of everything and yet still be able to tweak curves or meshes without a hiccup.
Blender project files are already making their way to gnome-icons repository. Are we likely to see them becoming natural part of the artwork packages? Is there a lot of interest to Blender among other design team members?
While nobody else seems to have picked up on the hip new workflow, it's our culture to share the "source" of everything that is necessary to "build" the artwork. There is actually a potential to reuse external CCBYSA assets as the 3D community seems to be considerably larger than the icon design community.
Do you think Inkscape will eventually be used for just lower resolution design elements in GNOME?
I hope I don't come out as someone badmouthing the Inkscape project. Nobody is abandoning Inkscape here. Inkscape remains a key tool for creating wireframes and high definition mockups. I don't think I'll be able to convince Lapo to jump aboard the 3D hip ship.
The GNOME Boxes high-resolution icon was prototyped with Blender
I'm really hoping performance will become a key focus though. We can live without mesh gradients and multipage documents. If the performance is lacking, none of the tools/features matter.
What is the measurable impact of your motion design series of video tutorials? How many team members switched to prototyping GNOME's user interface with (animation in) Blender?
The measurable effect right now is that even I've stopped doing it :) We are at the beginning of a new cycle now though, so expect some good news on this front.
In the past you used Apple Motion for making titles in your videos. Has Bassam's typewriter script removed the need for it? What do you think Blender needs to close that gap, if anything at all? Or is it a job for a different app?
I did use Apple Motion for the title sequence for the gnome3design channel, because at that time I was playing with the app for my personal project. All the animated mockups for GNOME were done in Blender and even that personal project is now redone with Blender :)
I'm way more versed with Blender than I am with Motion, but the realtime aspect was appealing. GLSL view in Blender was almost 'there', but not quite. Alpha blending was behaving weird and multi texture material animation had to be avoided. You didn't get accurate preview. And if I'm given room to make a mistake I sure take the opportunity :)
With Cycles now, Blender can actually give an accurate representation of the final render so the iterative workflow is just as viable with Blender as it is with Apple Motion. You even get some things for free (like proper motion blur without the need for compositing and without considerable speed hit). I do sound like a guy with a hammer looking for nails, but so far Blender hasn't let me down in a major way.