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Chat With Adobe Fresco’s Will Eisley & Renee di Cherri: What’s Different, What’s Next?

Adobe Fresco is now live on iPad, and we got to chat with the folks from Adobe’s Drawing & Painting division. Will Eisley, principal product manager for Fresco and drawing & painting, and Renee di Cherri, marketing manager for drawing & painting. 

Adobe’s Will Eisley (L), and Renee di Cherri (R) for Fresco. Image: Ian Ling

Ian: Why now? Why hasn’t there been a Fresco earlier? 

Will Eisley: You know, the foundation of Adobe is founded basically around desktop publishing, like this idea that the Mac came together with Postscript and Pagemaker. This hardware and software came together to disrupt the publishing industry. 

If you look at illustration, that didn’t happen. Illustration remained analogue on paper for many, many years afterwards. 

Even when it started to be come digitised, you had these sort of “disconnected” experiences like Wacom, where you’re drawing here and you’re looking there.

Ian: Like disembodied?

Will: Like disembodied, exactly. It was when the iPad came out in 2010 when people where some were like – okay, this might be something. 

And what’s interesting is that Adobe actually shipped our first iPad app day one of the iPad launch, called Adobe Ideas, which okay, believe it or not is kind of the grandfather in some ways to Fresco.

So iPad comes out and David Hockney, a very famous painter who painted the cover of the New Yorker in 2011, was painting with his finger. Not everyone likes to paint with their fingers – so at that moment people knew right, but there’s this problem.

And so, when the Pencil came out in 2015, all of the sudden illustrators who had tried the iPad blossomed again and really, the market just opened up.

That led us to build Fresco. We actually have two other drawing apps, Sketch and Illustrator Draw, and Fresco is the merging of those two and kind of the next step. 

Fresco is our next-generation drawing and painting app. We’ve built it for professional illustrators, but it’s also simple enough for anyone to use. You know, what we found is that the notion that creative professionals like complexity is not true. They like simplicity, things that let them get their job done but are easy to use.

Another thing about Fresco is its seamless interop with Photoshop. This means that Renee as an illustrator can work on a layered file in Fresco, and all kinds of blend modes go with Photoshop. That file, because it’s cloud docked can be edited, round-trip, all-day, back-and-forth. 

Ian: What about Fresco’s interoperability with the rest of Creative Cloud?

Will: So one of the things that’s great about using Photoshop cloud documents is that so many of our existing apps use Photoshops inter-operably. So, the Character Animator is a great example. People who are able to create a layer template in Fresco can draw everything they want for their character and load it straight into Character Animator and animate it.

Photoshop files provide a ton of compatibility, but we will also be investing more in 2020 and better integration with Illustrator.

Renee: Fresco-to-Fresco is actually also a great workflow. Nearly everything you see here (on the Wacom Mobile Studio) was drawn on my iPad but auto-populates so that I can now edit it on my Wacom device. That’s another way that cloud documents and round-tripping work together.

Ian: Will Fresco also be available on desktop?

Renee: What’s a desktop? (laughing) We’re now in a weird world we have the surface book – that’s both a desktop and a mobile, right.

Will: We joke about this internally at Adobe all the time, because people ask “is Fresco a mobile app or a desktop app?” Those lines are blurring all the time.

Fresco shipped five weeks ago on November 24th and today we shipped it for all the surface devices. The Surface Studio is a desktop device. Anywhere you have a great touch and stylus experience, we’re going to be there. We’re clearly going to extend out to devices like Cintiques and other PCs.

Ian: So the focus is to conquer stylus-to-screen, but support for the “disembodied” experience we spoke about earlier will come along?

Will: Will come along, yes.

Ian: What will become of the Adobe Sketch and Illustrate Draw grandfather apps?

Will: Sketch and Draw were both free apps, and Fresco is also free. We wanted it to make it easy for people to migrate their work from Sketch and Draw.

Since we’ve shipped Fresco, we’ve had over three and a half million Sketch and Draw documents that have been automatically converted to Fresco. Draw was the successor to Ideas, and when Ideas went away, we had an importer to transfer files too. So some of these files [in Fresco] are actually 10 years old from Ideas. 

Ian: Let’s talk about Sensei.

Will: Where you see Sensei right now in Fresco is in the Live Brushes – oil and watercolour. That’s years of studying how fluids simulate and bleed and blend.

Renee: How colours and real paintmix.

Ian: How would it be continually improved?

Will: We’re finishing [bringing over] some of the Sketch and Draw features that users have asked for so we can finish up migration. We’re also adding [additional] features that users have been asking for, like smudge brushes and clipping paths.

But where you’re going to see us invest in is watercolours and oil. We’re going to make them much more expressive, certainly more brushes and customisability. 

Ian: I’ve heard a lot about Sensei used to provide realistic media interactions. How about the substrate? Would it also be taken into account?

Will: That’s something I can’t say too much about, but it’s definitely something we think about a lot – the idea of being able to simulate substrates in a meaningful way.

Ian: So right now it’s just paper?

Will: It’s paper.

Ian: It’d be really cool to have canvas and other substrates.

Will: Yeah, it’d be really cool!

Ian: The last question would be about challenges. Why first iPad before Windows and Wacom?

Will: It’s hard to get software out, and we had to focus to get one out before the other. We’re really happy to have Windows out and now we’re going to move them forward together now that we have them both out on market.

Renee then goes on to provide a live demo of Fresco, starting by demonstrating the interoperability of Fresco to Fresco – from iPad to her Wacom Mobile Studio. Zooming and moving the canvas takes two fingers, and there is a shortcut tool to one side to access alternate functions without a keyboard.

Fresco’s layout is familiar, with tools on the left, and layers on the right. Adobe’s powerful layers functionality allows “cheating” by colouring underneath the lines.

There are three types of brushes. Pixel brushes – what most digital artists know and love – have been ported over from Photoshop, Live Brushes, with oils and watercolours with realistic interactions powered by Sensei, and Vector Brushes that enable infinite scaling of elements.

Fresco is one of the first apps to bring Raster and Vector brushes together in a meaningful way. Previously, both brushes had to be kept separate.

Drawing pressure affects the way Live Brushes interact with the canvas beyond thickness. Oils rub off more thickly and with greater depth.

Usability is a key focus on Fresco. Renee demonstrated how easy it is to access recent colours, a panel that auto populates so artists don’t have to remember which colours they have used.

Pixel brushes can simulate live media like graphite pencils, but also create effects like leaves. Renee showcases a star field brush in her illustration of a rocket in space. Another benefit to Fresco’s layers is the ability to create masks, which is a non-destructive way of editing that hides parts of the image without actually removing them. They also allow for different opacity levels to be used.

Vector brushes are so-called because they can scale infinitely without losing resolution.

Renee shows off other techniques like gradient blending, brushes that mimic the fiery exhaust of the rocket and other nifty tools to speed up the drawing process. Her painting of the rocket in space took about 10 minutes to complete from scratch.

Renee di Cherri demonstrates drawing on Fresco with the Wacom Mobile Studio. Image: Ian Ling

Ian Ling
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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