Creating Icons For Oblivion Using GIMP
By Dwip August 11, 2010, 2:33 am Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

Today’s Oblivion how-to is how to do icons in GIMP, both basic item icons as well as quest icons.

There are two good icon tutorials that I’m aware of. One for Photoshop is here, and one for GIMP is here. Both cover inventory items, but not quests.

Inventory Icons:

Before you do anything else, fire up GIMP or Windows Texture Viewer, and have a look at a few of the icons for whatever item you’re making. You can find them in Textures/Menus/Icons/. Most items are positioned a certain way, and it’s best to mimic that when creating your icon.

Having done that, let’s make an icon.

1. Open up GIMP if it’s not already open, then open up the .nif file for whatever you’re making the icon for in Nifskope.

2. In Nifskope, zoom out until you can comfortably fit the entire item in the view window. Rotate it around until you have it in the proper pose. Make sure that your background color is something that contrasts with the item, but not too strongly. Grey is usually good. High contrast colors are bad, because it’s hard to get all traces of, say, magenta out of the picture you’re going to take, leaving a halo or noise around the item. If you have the axes, havoc, or anything else showing, turn it off under the Render menu.

3. Hit Printscreen to take a picture of your item. Switch over to your empty GIMP window and hit Ctrl+V to paste. You now have a snapshot of your desktop.

4. Using the box select tool (top left corner of your toolbox), select a perfectly square area around the item. This should be exactly how you want your icon to look – don’t leave extraneous space, make rectangles, or cut the item off. It doesn’t particularly matter how big the selection is, since we’ll be resizing it later anyway. You should end up with something like this:

The green box is my selection, the red arrow is the precise size in pixels of said selection. Don’t worry about framing the selection perfectly, as you can click and drag to move it around once you get the size right.

Once you have a selection that you want, Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+Shift+V to paste as a new image. You’re done with the other image, and you can close it now.

Note that if you’re making icons for multiple items, there’s a handy trick you can use. Open several Nifskope windows, scale them and pose them the same (middle mouse button makes this easy), then line them all up in a row. After you screenshot the entire screen, go through this step, but don’t close the window after pasting the new image – go back to the screenshot, and simply move your selection box over to the next item and repeat the process, then stash the windows you want to work on later out of the way until you want them.

5. Now, in the new image, click the magic wand tool (second from the right in the top row of the toolbox), then click the grey area of the image. Hit Delete, and everything that was grey should be replaced by the checkered pattern GIMP uses for transparency. You should have this:

So far so good. Now, go to Image/Scale Image. Change the height and width to 64×64 pixels (just change one, the other should change automatically). Hit the Scale button. Your image just got really small.

6. Next, over in the Layers, Channels, Paths toolbar, right click under your current layer (probably called Pasted Layer), and click New Layer. Make sure it’s 64×64 pixels and transparent. Hit ok. If it appears above the layer with your image on it in the list, drag it below. Then switch back to the image layer by clicking it.

7. Now, go click your foreground color in the toolbox to bring up the color picker dialogue. Where it says HTML notation, change whatever’s there to EFE7AD, and hit ok. Now select the magic wand tool, and click the transparent area to select it. MAKE SURE YOUR IMAGE LAYER IS SELECTED, or you’ll get unhappy results. If a dotted line appears around the image, things are going well.

8. Now go to Select/Invert to invert the selection – now you have the item and just the item selected. Then, go to Select/Grow, make sure it’s set to 1 pixel, and hit ok. Now, and this is important, go over to the Layers toolbar and select your new layer, which is probably called New Layer.

9. Select the Pencil tool (looks like a pencil), and change the brush to something really big. Now color in the entire area under the item. You should see an outline appear around the item.

10. Now go back to the Layers toolbar, right click it, and select Merge Visible Layers with the default settings. Hit Merge. What you have should look like this (mine is zoomed in):

11. Now save the image. Icons MUST go somewhere in Textures/Menus/Icons/. Accepted practice is to make a folder with the name of your mod (or one with your name, then another folder with the name of your mod), and then organize your icons however you like in there. Call it some descriptive name and make sure you’re saving as a DDS file.

When you hit Save, a menu will pop up with options. Icons should be saved as DXT3, WITHOUT mipmaps – if your icon has mipmaps, the CS will complain loudly. Hit ok, and you’re almost done. We just need to create the Menus80 and Menus50 versions.

12. To create a Menus50 icon (32×32 pixels), go to Image/Scale Image, and change width and height to 32. Hit scale. Now, save it in the precise same spot you saved your icon before, only instead of under Textures/Menus/Icons/, you’re going to put it in Textures/Menus50/Icons/. Make sure you get the right directory, or this won’t work. Also make sure to not save over your 64×64 icon. If you DO save over your 64×64 icon, just keep hitting Ctrl+Z until you get back to it, then save again.

13. Now hit Ctrl+Z to undo the scale change. It’s time to make the Menus80 icon. Same deal as the Menus50 icon, except a different location and a bit more annoying.

14. Use Image/Scale Image to change the size of the icon to 51×51 pixels. Then, go to Image/Canvas Size, and change things back to 64×64 pixels. Your image should now occupy the top left corner. This is good. Hit Resize. Now go to Layer/Layer to image size. If you don’t do this, you’ll get an error when saving. Now save the image. Same deal as before, but it needs to go under Textures/Menus80/Icons/.

Now you’re done. It should be noted that it’s not entirely certain if you really need to go through the motions of creating the Menus80 and Menus50 icons, but it doesn’t take long, and won’t hurt anything.

Quest Icons:

Rather unlike the inventory icon process, creating quest icons is a lot more of an art form. What this means is that while I’m going to tell you some things here, you should treat them as guidelines or helpful suggestions, rather than laws of the land.

That having been said, to start with, open up GIMP, and load up a good 3-4 quest icons, which live in Textures/Menus/Icons/Quest/. The Settlement Quest icon is particularly good for this because it has a nice border we can steal.

1. With Icon_Settlements_Quest_Icon selected, go to View/Zoom and pick something nice and big like 4:1. Now, using the box select tool, select the area inside the border, roughly like this:

Note that the dark area around the border is NOT included in my selected area.

2. Now, use Select/Invert to invert the selection, Ctrl+C to copy, and Ctrl+Shift+V to paste to a new image. This will one day be the border to our icon.

3. Still in Icon_Settlements_Quest_Icon, select the eyedropper tool (second from the right on the second row), and click somewhere in the sort of medium blue area near the top to change our foreground color, which we’ll need in a second.

4. In your new untitled image with just the border, create a new transparent layer, and make sure it’s under the Pasted Layer. Select the bucket fill tool (looks like a bucket), and with the new layer selected, click to fill it. Everything will go blue, and you should have something like this:

This is going to be our base image. We’ll come back here later. For now, we need something to put in the center. There are a couple of rules of thumb here:

– You want a balance between blue and tan in the image. Too much empty blue space looks bad, but so does too much tan. Pick something that will be able to balance these out.

– At the same time, don’t get too intricate. This is a 64×64 icon, and you simply can’t get a lot of detail at this resolution.

5. That having been said, go find some stuff you want to make up your image. There’s no particular need to draw anything here – symbols from in-game, clip art, and the like can be combined to make a good icon image. For our purposes, we’re going to use .nif models – ARStatue01 and ARArch02.

Just like you did for the inventory icons, open up your model in Nifskope, get it to a zoom distance and angle that you want, and Printscreen and Ctrl+Shift+V to get an image. Then copy out the bits you want and magic wand + delete to get rid of the background. Unlike inventory icons, it’s not overly important to make things precisely 64×64 – if you need something smaller, bigger, rectangular, whatever, do it so long as the image you wind up with will fit in a roughly 55×55 interior area.

As you create and resize new images, go back to your base image and use Edit/Paste as new layer to paste things in. Reorder the layers in the order you want them to appear in. You may have to do this a few times in order to get something that looks ok.

What I wound up with was this:

Make sure to keep all your old image windows open all during this process, because there’s a good chance you’ll need them again.

6. Now you’re going to create a whole bunch of new transparent layers. For each actual image you paste in as a layer, you’re going to need 3 transparent layers, organized like so:

– Transparent Layer #1: this will eventually be for blue detailing.
– Transparent Layer #2: this will be for making a tan version of your image.
– Your pasted image.
– Transparent Layer #3: this will be for dark blue shadowing later.

If it helps, you can rename layers by double clicking their names in the Layers bar. You can also hide layers by clicking the eye icon next to a layer. This will become important later.

When you get done, you should have something like this:

This looks like a lot, but taken in steps it’s not bad.

7. Now, hide everything except one of your image layers and its tan layer. In the statue layer, use the magic wand to select the transparent area, then Select/Invert to invert the selection. Now switch to the tan layer. Remember this bit from the inventory icons? Yeah. Now, change your foreground color to some sort of tan – e9d6b0 works well enough, or click somewhere in the brighter tan area of one of the icons you opened for reference with the eyedropper tool, and give yourself a nice large paintbrush with the paintbrush tool. Color in the entire selected area over your image. If you get any color outside the area you want, use the eraser tool to fix it.

8. Now, use Select/Grow to grow the selection by 1 or 2 pixels. Use the eyedropper tool to select a pretty dark blue from one of the shadowed areas of another icon (but not the darkest blue), then change to the paintbrush tool. Change the opacity to 50 or 60. You want a small brush for this, Circle 05 or so.

Now switch to the shading layer under the image (make sure to unhide it), and outline the image with blue. It’s ok to have some fading and blotches in spots, but try to keep things reasonably uniform.

Now repeat the process for the other images. When you get done, you should have something like this:

So far so good, but that’s way too much tan. We can fix that by adding in detailing.

9. Pick an image, either image. Hide the tan and shadow layers, make sure the image is visible, and unhide and switch to the details layer. Switch to the paintbrush tool at a very small brush size (usually 1) and 80 opacity or so. Find dark, regular areas of the image. Joints between bricks, wooden posts, anywhere you can break up the tan. In my case, I’m going to be using the arch joints and the wing feathers of the statue.

Run the brush a pass or two over the areas. Try not to make entirely straight lines – click a couple of times along the sides to make things uneven if you need to. Every so often unhide the tan layer to see how you’re doing.

And here’s our mostly complete image. Still a bit too much tan in the arch though. We can be a bit more subtle in fixing this.

10. Create a new layer, and position it between the tan and details layer. In this case, I’ll put it between the arch tan and details layers. Hide the tan layer and switch to your new layer. Go to the color picker tool and get a slightly darker tan shade. Then, get a mid-sized paintbrush (Circle 05 or 07 work well) and change to 50 or so opacity. Then find areas in the original image you might create a few blotches, and do so. In my case, the mossy areas of the arch are perfect. You may want to use the magic wand to select the transparent parts of your tan layer, then invert the selection to use as a guide.

Sometimes you just have too big of a tan area and need to rethink what you’re doing, but for the moment we’ll believe otherwise.

Ultimately, your final icon might look like this:

From here, make sure all layers are visible, merge visible layers, and save as .dds in Menus, Menu80, and Menus50. Remember to do the Layer/Layer to image size command, or you’ll encounter problems. You might also wish to save a copy with layers unmerged as an .xcf file somewhere OTHER than Menus so that you have a backup you can work on if need be.


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