August Saint Freytag

Concept and Experience Designer, Video and Story Artist
Best in landscape.

Big Sur Theme Kit

A showcase for a paired up wallpaper series and a colour theme for Apple development environment Xcode — a decorative kit to welcome the arrival of the new major version release of macOS 11.0 Big Sur.

A new time frame for Apple's macOS has begun in November 2020 with the release of macOS 11.0 Big Sur. This version marks the end of an ever-evolving line-up of versions from the modern times of originally titled Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah, moving over Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, and Catalina. At first sight, Big Sur brings more saturated colour palettes, a rounder and softer look to UI elements and an impression of the mountainous reaches and winding lines of Big Sur, looking in from the Pacific Ocean. The colours and shapes presented in this new version of macOS were inspiration to create this Theme Kit to build on top of this new environment and bring it to wallpapers and Xcode.

Find download options for both the wallpaper series and the Xcode theme packs in separate cases below.

Dynamic Wallpapers

A series of themed wallpapers, companion backdrops for a new look, for light and dark mode.

While the earlier versions of macOS had less photographic wallpapers set as default, there always was a wider collection shipped with each version besides a primary default paper, available after some browsing in System Preferences; past images also used to pick up the respective version's cat name. With the release of macOS Mavericks and the decided switch to memorable locations around the state of California, each version also offered a cover shot of the location. With Big Sur that changed again, marking the return to a more abstract default image. Additionally, many Mac wallpapers created by Apple are also dynamic wallpapers and allow either switching with the system's appearance (light and dark modes) or transition naturally with the movement of the sun based on the system's geographical location.

The default wallpaper on Big Sur is very simply titled "Big Sur Graphic" — it is a saturated, wavy, and energetic piece, definitively digital. Starting from it as a reference, I created a project composing graphics in the same style through randomised procedural generation — allowing change in waves and colours, and automatically creating a corresponding night-time variant.

Light and dark versions of image №3
All four image variants, light mode

In this kit, there are four custom-made wallpapers, each produced with a series of shape layers, transformation effects, custom expressions and colourisation effects in Adobe After Effects, my loyal yet highly critiqueable long-term life partner. In brief summary, After Effects is a bottomless pit of visual effects and motion graphics software, though it has a particularly non-destructive workflow and a modularity in how compositions and effects are combined and fed into a new series of compositions and effects, similar to node-based processing tools.

Adobe After Effects project, layer and effect settings

Breaking it down, a fixed number of wave layers are created first and each layer's properties are wired to a series of random numbers bound to expression controls — allowing fine control to the changeable aspects of each layer in a single spot. Each of these layers then gets a base greyscale gradient, each one slightly offset in lightness to have each individual layer follow a part of a greater ramp. All parameters are changed on each frame and can be re-seeded to allow for different results in the same frames if needed. In a separate composition, a variety of visual effects are added; the laid out layers themselves are coloured with Colorama, taking the lightness channel data in and producing colour out from a palette that wraps around after 360 degrees — this allows freely defining the part of the overall palette where the image begins, i.e. what part of the palette is effectively applied to the shapes. A Find Edges effect allows highlighting the hill and horizon lines on a dedicated layer and, finally, a subtle noise pass applies texture and prevents colour banding that could otherwise become noticeable quickly with the broad use of gradients throughout the canvas.

This demo shows a few generated shots with some fine-tuned settings as an example as to the kind of wave patterns the set-up is able to generate — the colourisation in particular, as well as an appearance suitable for light and dark mode can be changed independently of the wave shapes themselves. After a lot of testing, as is the case with most pieces of design, manual adjustments are necessary to make a good-looking wallpaper, even with all the automation in place. The wallpapers available as part of this kit were picked carefully.

Xcode Themes

A duo of Xcode colour schemes, warmth and saturated touches, for light and dark mode.

The kit includes two colour themes for Xcode, the primary app development environment for macOS, iOS, and many other Apple platforms. The general colour palette, inviting new and upgrading users into macOS Big Sur, is adapted into a theme that brings some of its vibrancy into the development experience, complementing both the new default wallpaper and any of the line-up of custom dynamic wallpapers included in this kit. The themes are available in two shades, optimised for light and dark mode respectively.

"Big Sur" Xcode colour theme, light and dark mode
Initially published by August Saint Freytag.
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