Jakub Steiner on using Blender for icon design in GNOME

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.

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13 Comments

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  1. Thanks for the great interview. Very interessting to see blender in yet another usecase.

  2. Agreed on Inkscape’s rendering performance being a major drawback for complex illustrations. “Drawback” might be putting it lightly. “Frustrating, insurmountable barrier even on great hardware” might be more appropriate.

    And it’s also interesting to hear about Jakub’s move to and application of Blender. I am a 2-D designer but am also attempting to learn to use Blender. Unfortunately the UI is so idiosyncratic that learning is slow.

    Thanks for th great interview!

  3. Alexandre Prokoudine 14 April 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Jason, in my experience it simply takes some time to understand Blender. I only started using it 1.5 years ago when all NLEs for Linux failed me, and Blender’s video sequencer just worked. All this time I used it just for video editing.

    Since few weeks I’ve been learning materials/lighting setup and basics of animation. My experience is that Blender is highly addictive. I was actually reviewing a new 3D app for Linux this weekend and found certain things difficult to do as in “Blender does it oh so much better”, even tghough, technicaly speaking, they are not exactly in the same weight category :)

  4. Good to hear. I think once I get past the quirky way the mouse works I will finally be able to start learning the application.

  5. seriously with compositor and modelling tools of Blender..it would replace most of the 2D works…
    I am total noob in blender..i get confused with Node editor and My PC freezes after sometime..but still its worth every pain.

  6. Long before I discovered Adobe Illustrator, I was attempting to learn Inkscape for logo design.

    In the end, it was far easier to use Blender to create actual 3D objects, versus faking it with a 2D application.

    To this day, I routinely use Blender to make more complex objects and simply tweak the renders in Photoshop or add text and such in Illustrator.

    Still haven’t managed to learn Inkscape, but that’s because I’ve got other options now.

    Nice article.

  7. Lawrence D’Oliveiro 19 April 2013 at 4:37 am

    Blender + Inkscape + Gimp = powerhouse team. Inkscape and Gimp are both very handy (in different ways) for making texture designs for use in Blender materials. Search for my name on Vimeo to see a couple of little animations I did.

  8. The drawbacks Inkscape presents were just too evident in my case. Blender became my go-to for 3D objects as well. There is always room for improvement, though, so Inkscape can’t be counted out

  9. Secondo Minecraft: Pocket Edition sviluppatore Tommaso Checchi, la porta funziona lentamente e richiede molto più lavoro prima di Mojang sarà  pronto a mettere una data di uscita definitiva. Sia Bergensten Checchi e si sono affrettati a precisare che la porta era ...

  10. I think for simple logo purposes or for quick production, Blender and in some way Inkscape is great. But for more unique and extreme designs would it be preferable for me to use either maya or max.

  11. Thanks for the great interview. Agreed on Inkscape’s rendering performance being a major drawback for complex illustrations.

  12. Agreed on Inkscape’s rendering performance being a major drawback for complex.

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