Create a Vector Fighter Jet
In this tutorial you will learn how to create a fighter jet using 3D modeling. You'll create complex lighting effects on its body using the Appearance palette and simple gradients, and will learn how to create special Art Brushes, which will help turn any of your future works into professional images. Off we go!
You can find the source files in the directory labeled 'source' that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.
We'll start with the creation of a horizontal projection of a fighter. As always, I’m using simple shapes to create complex shapes. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle 30 by 420 px.
We can create a horizontal projection of the fighter with the help of the guides. Create a horizontal line so that it passes through the upper side of the rectangle, and keeping it selected, go to Object > Transform > Move..., set the vertical offset value to 105 px in the dialog box and click on the Copy button.
Lock the guides in the Layers palette so you could work freely with the outline. With the help of the Pen Tool (P) add points A, B and C to the outline of the rectangle, and with the same tool remove its upper vertexes.
Convert point C from a corner into a smooth one and move its handles. Now while holding down Alt bring the path to the view shown in the figure below.
Point C will be the tip of the fighter jet nose.
With the help of the Rectangle Tool (M) create another rectangle 80 px in width. The upper side of the rectangle must lie on the second guide, and the bottom should match the lower side of the first rectangle.
Unlock and select the second guide, and go to Object > Transform > Move..., set the vertical offset to 70 px in the dialog box, then hit the Copy button. Lock both guides in the layers palette.
With the help of the Pen Tool (P) add points A, B, C and D to the outline of the rectangle. Now remove its upper vertexes using the same tool.
Convert points A, B, C and D from corner into smooth ones, then operate their hands to bring the path to the view shown in the figure below.
Create a new guide 125 px from the third guide.
Now take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a new rectangle so that its center lies at the fourth guide. The sizes of the rectangle are shown in the figure below.
Now we'll turn those rectangles into the wings of the fighter jet. With the help of the Pen Tool (P) add points A and B to the outline of the rectangle. Now move them using the Direct Selection Tool (A) in the vertical direction (point A up and point B down).
We can now proceed to the creation of the tail shape. Create a new rectangle as shown in the picture below.
For convenience, you can create a vertical guide passing through the centers of the created shapes. Create a new point A in the center of its upper side and move it vertically with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A), while holding down the Shift key.
Create a new rectangle under the last shape.
Now create a new point in the center of its upper side and move the point vertically up as shown.
For clarity, I filled the last two shapes with different colors. Select the black and blue shape, click on the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder palette.
Often, to edit a shape, I use the arrow keys. By default, one click on this button is equal to 1 px. If you need to move the point over long distances it is convenient to set another offset value, so you do not need to count the number of clicks. To do this, go Edit > Preferences > General... and set the Keyboard Increment value in the dialog box. Now shift the points A and B 5 px up, toward the axis of the fighter.
Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create an ellipse. The height of the ellipse is equal to the distance between the third and fifth guide.
Fill all the created shapes with one color and edit the shape of the wing by moving points A and B 5px towards the axis of the fighter.
Group up all the created objects. Now we can proceed to 3D modeling. Select the horizontal projection of the fighter and go to Effect > 3D > Rotate...
If you do not like the result, you can always reconfigure the effect by clicking the effect name in the Appearance palette.
You can also edit the shapes of objects using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and the arrow buttons.
Proceed to the modeling of the vertical stabilizers of the fighter. Create the projection of the stabilizer in the plane that passes through it. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle 90 by 60 px.
Moving its upper vertexes, bring the shape to the view shown in the figure below.
Now model the surface on the sides of which the stabilizers will be located, there will be two of them. Create a new rectangle 100 by 60 px. The height of this rectangle should equal the height of the stabilizer.
We'll create a vertical line that passes through the lateral side of the rectangle. Keep the guide selected, take the Rotate Tool (R) and set the center of rotation on the lower vertex of the rectangle, turn the guide at 13 degrees clockwise.
Using this technique, create an inclined guide on the second lateral side of the rectangle. Move the upper vertexes of the rectangle to the intersection of the created guides.
Return to the stabilizer shape, select it and go to Object > Transform > Rotate... and set the angle of rotation to 90 degrees in the dialog box.
Keep this shape selected, go to Object > Transform > Reflect > Vertical and hit the Copy button.>
Now, one at a time transfer both shapes to the Symbols palette and save the new symbols.
Select a gray trapezoid created in step 9, and go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel, then set arbitrary values for the effect in the dialog box.
Click on the Map Art button in the dialog box and apply the created symbols to the third and fifth surfaces.
Now we need to install the vertical stabilizers at the correct location and angle. Move the trapezoidal surface to the back of the fighter, and open the 3D modeling options, which can also be done through the Appearance palette.
Stabilizers are located on the sides of the prism, which is perpendicular to the horizontal projection of the fighter. That is why the angles of rotation of this surface differ from the angles of rotation of the horizontal projection of the fighter (see the image in Step 7) in a single value. This value is obtained mathematically: 135 - (- 90) = - 45 degrees.
I think that it is not straight enough. Verify this by building two parallel rails, as shown in the figure below.
It's absolutely right, I didn't expect this from 3D modeling in Adobe Illustrator!
We have achieved a satisfactory result, and on that note the 3D simulations can be considered finished. It's important you master not the technique itself, but also learn how to reset the created shapes to achieve a better visual impression.
I have decided to increase the height of the vertical stabilizers. To do this, cancel the 3D effect, removing it from the Appearance palette. Now increase the height of the trapezoid by moving its upper vertex, while keeping the angle of inclination at its sides. Now again, apply the Extrude & Bevel effect with the same angles of rotation as the surface, but you need to increase the parameter depth proportionally with the increase in the height of the stabilizers.
You can also change the shape of the stabilizers. To do this, Double-click on the icon of the stabilizer in the Symbols palette and start editing the shape of the symbol.
In order for the symbol to be located in its place, you need to open the 3D effect dialogue box and not change anything, just click on the OK button.
I admit that after editing the shape of a stabilizer, you cannot repeat the same steps with the second one (exactly the same happened in my case). This is not a problem. You can create a new symbol based on the edited one, as we did in step 10 and apply it to the third surface of the prism instead of the old one.
To achieve a better visual effect, I committed a "terrible crime" and dislocated the trapezoid shape with the Direct Selection Tool (A). Ultimately, the final result of artwork is more important than the ways it was made.
Now the 3D modeling is completed for now. These elements will be used as a template for further construction, so lock the layer with it and create a new one higher than the first layer in the Layers palette.
Using the Pen Tool (P), create a fuselage shape in the new layer. It is convenient to fill the newly created shapes with a semi-transparent fill, so you don't have to blunder through your work. The transparency value is set in the Transparency palette.
With the help of Pen Tool (P), add two new points to the shape of the fuselage. Bring the shape of the fuselage to the view shown in the figure below, by moving one of the created points.
Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create an ellipse that will serve as is the basis for the fighter cabin.
Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), bring the shape of the cabin into the view in the figure below.
With the help of the Pen Tool (P) outline all other parts of the fighter. Now fill them with different colors to distinguish the shapes and their positions one from another in the layers palette.
With the help of the Pen Tool (P) create the shape of the cut on the back of the fuselage.
Select the shape of the fuselage and the shape of the cut, then press the Minus Front button in the Pathfinder palette.
The basic shapes of the fighter are now complete.
Now we'll proceed to painting. As in real painting, we need some preparation. Fill all the shapes of the fighter with different shades of gray. A fighter consists of metallic elements and gray is the closest to the color of metal. In addition, it is hard to pick the right color when our work is checkered with different colors.
Since we are not going to use the template anymore, you can increase all the aircraft elements to make yourself comfortable working with them.
Before painting the elements I always create the background, it will allow you to pick up the correct color right away. With the help of the Rectangle Tool (M) create a rectangle the size of the background. Now fill it with a linear gradient containing different shades of blue, and put it in the underlayer or in a layer below all the elements of the fighter.
There should not be anything random in your work, I was trying to convey the sky and the edge of the ocean with gradient colors and their location. Gradient direction emphasizes the direction of fighter movement and adds vibrancy to image. Open the Appearance palette and duplicate the gradient fill, change the gradient of the new fill to a radial gradient that goes from blue to light blue with a 0% opacity. This will allow us to darken the background corners.
Now we'll cover the fundamentals of painting on the example of a fighter cabin. In the final fine-tuning of the image we often have to create the elements cut according to the shape of one of the objects. Let's see how it's done. With the help of Pen Tool (P) create the shape shown in the figure below.
This shape should be cut in the shape of the cabin. Copy and paste in front the shape of the cabin (Command + C, Command + F), now select the shape of the cabin and the upper shape and click on the Intersect button from the Pathfinder palette.
If you work in Adobe Illustrator CS5, it will be easier to perform this operation. You don't need to copy and paste anything. Just select the two intersecting shapes, take the Shape Builder Tool, and while holding down the Alt key click on the protruding part of the upper shapes, thereby removing it.
Whichever method you use, you should get the result shown in the figure below.
Fill the shape of cabin with a radial gradient, which consisting of black and very close to it in dark gray.
Create a new shape, and cut it in the shape of the cabin, using the technique described in the previous step.
Fill the shape with a radial gradient, consisting of black and gray colors.
And again, a new shape filled with a linear gradient.
Often highlighting of the selection of the object interferes with choosing the right color, so disable it in the process of color selection (Command + H (show / hide edges)).
With the help of Pen Tool (P) create the shape as a highlight in the upper part of the cabin top and fill it with a light gray color.
Now create a reflection of the sun on the plastic of the cabin. With the help of the Ellipse Tool (L) create three concentric circles. The bottom big one has a black fill and 0% Opacity. The middle one has a green fill and 60% Opacity. Finally, the upper smaller one is filled with white with 100% Opacity. Select all the circles and go Object > Blend > Make. Set a large number of transition steps to achieve smooth distribution of colors.
Take the Star Tool and create a white star with 10 rays. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), drag its rays and set Overlay Blending mode in the Transparency palette.
Fill the bottom of the cabin with a linear gradient consisting of various shades of gray, the direction of the gradient is trying to convey the volume of this surface.
Let's proceed to work on the fuselage of the fighter, starting with the nose. The nose is a conical surface, therefore the light on it will be distributed accordingly. First, fill your nose with a simple linear gradient consisting of two colors. The gradient direction should be perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the nose part of the fighter, special precision here is not necessary.
Now, keep the object selected, go to Object > Expand and set the Gradient Mesh option in the dialog box.
Now our object is a gradient mesh of rectangular shape, the visibility is limited by the Clipping Mask the same in shape as the shape of the nose part.
Now you can add new lines to the grid (Mesh Tool), edit their shape and move the nodes (Direct Selection Tool), and paint the grid nodes in different colors.
Now let's take a look at another way of creating a complex play of light on the surface of the fuselage. Select the part of the fuselage, located behind the cabin, and fill it with a linear gradient consisting of shades of gray.
Keep the object selected, add a new fill to the Appearance palette with the elliptical gradient that goes from dark gray to gray color with 0% Opacity.
And finally, one more fill and this time a new linear gradient with shades of gray. One color should be transparent, so you can see the fills created earlier.
Using this technique, create a fill on the rear of the fighter wing.
The far-wing is filled with a simple linear gradient.
Fill the stabilizers also with a simple linear gradient, transmitting light distribution on their surfaces.
We now turn to the creation of light reflections on the fuselage and wings of the fighter. We'll be doing it in two ways. The first way is the creation of the blend of objects based on simple geometric shapes, most often it is an ellipse, or derivatives from these figures.
Create a light glare at the top of the fuselage. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create two ellipses of light gray color. The lower, bigger one has 0% Opacity, Select both ellipses and go to Object > Blend > Make.
In this way, it's convenient to receive glare of a simple shape on the flat surface areas.
Now let's look at the second way, which involves the creation of glare with special Art Brushes. Let's create one such brush. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle of a light gray color. With the help of the Direct Selection (A), pull out its right points horizontally to the right and convert it from smooth into a corner one.
Let's create another circle of the same color as the first shape.
Set 0% Opacity for the drop-like shape in the Transparency palette.
Now select both shapes and go to Object > Blend > Make.
Save the created blend-object as an Art Brush.
The brush is created, let's use it to create a smooth transition between the plane of the wing and fuselage. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a curve that repeats the place of connection of two surfaces and apply the created brush to it.
If the brush stroke looks too bright, simply reduce its opacity.
This way, you can also create glares on the edges of the wings.
Use the Clipping Mask to hide the extended part of the stroke for the outline of the wing. To do this, copy and paste in front the wing (Command + C, Command + F) and place it in the layers palette so that it is aligned above the brush strokes. Then select a brush stroke and the upper wing shape and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make or Command + 7.
The figure below shows the places where the described techniques were used.
With the help of the Pen Tool (P) create the shadow shapes on the wing and stabilizer. Now remove the protruding part of these shapes with the help of the Pathfinder palette or Shape Builder Tool, as it is described in step 21.
For more smooth shadows create a Mesh object, which is obtained by transforming the rectangle. Also, change the Opacity of its extreme points to 0% in the Transparency palette.
Hide the part of the Mesh object that goes beyond the outline of the wing with the Clipping Mask, as is the case with glares on the edges of the wings.
Add a few small items and stars to the wings, and work is now complete.
When working with the gradient mesh, I've always wondered how to achieve a completely smooth transition of colors, as in the works of the recognized masters of the Mesh Tool. Even in compliance with all the rules of creating mesh objects I was still getting artifacts, which are present in this work (106-107).
What kind of rules am I talking about?
- Gradient grid lines should not overlap;
- Node handles should not overlap with the grid lines and between each other.
Recently I asked one of these masters about this problem, and I was advised to open the vector work which contains artifacts in Photoshop, and already there apply the Blur in areas with artifacts. I exported the work to Photoshop (File > Export...) and found out that there is nothing to do, as there were no artifacts at all in this case!
Therefore, before creating the bitmap preview of your final vector work, you may need to export it first to Photoshop, and from there save it in the desired quality and size.
The final image is below.