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How to Create a Golden Mechanical Owl in Illustrator

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I have been using Illustrator in it’s various incarnations for 12 years (and counting) and I'm still learning new things all the time. In this tutorial, I would like to take you through my method of working and give you a few tips and techniques that I used to create "Bubo: The Mechanical Owl."


Introduction

In this tutorial, I will take you through techniques including using the Blending Tool, Clipping Masks, Compound Paths, Blending Modes, working with gradients and some effects. I have not included any color breakdowns for gradients as there are too many to list, all can be found on the reference file supplied though. Be sure to look in the Swatches palette, as I reference them by name throughout this tutorial.

You can also see some more of my illustrations in my Flickr stream, or on my web site roctopus.net. I would be happy for you to drop by and take a look. This is my take on the mechanical owl from the 1981 film "The Clash of the Titans." The original model featured in the film was made by Ray Harryhausen. I kept the mechanical essence of the original, but added my own take on the owl's form. I love all things mechanical, clockwork and steampunkesque. I took the main form back to an egg and worked to make it as simple and elegant as possible.

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.


Step 1

I always kick off any illustration with a sketch. For the clockwork owl I wanted to start with a nice organic shape as if it had been lathed out of of metal. Because the owl is perfectly symmetrical I only drew half, then flipped the drawing in Photoshop after scanning it.

You can view the large version here.




Step 2

I imported the finished flipped sketch into Illustrator. I used a document size of 100 cm by 100 cm, as I like to work big. On "layer 1," I went to File > Place, then I scaled the sketch up to fill the workspace accordingly using the Free Transform Tool (E). Next I added a guide straight down the middle of the owl sketch. I am doing this as the flipped halves are perfectly symmetrical, so I only need to draw the paths for one half, then flip it all, and join it up later. This reduces it to almost half the work, which is flippin' great!

I started with the Pen Tool (P) and drew out the neck plate. It's good working practice to use as many layers as possible and I try to label them clearly as I go. You will see later on in this tutorial that I dive into the layers to create masks, so labeling them as I go makes it a lot easier to find specific parts.

I have given most of the details of the illustration a slight keyline, which gives the impression that the metal surface is beveled or chamfered at the edges. I achieved this by giving my initial path a stroke, which is 12pt in most cases. I did this by going to Object > Path > Outline Stroke, and then using the Pathfinder > Divide Operation on the outlined stroke and original path. Then I deleted the unwanted overlapping parts. Alternatively, I used the Object > Path > Offset Path command at -10pt or so to create a reduced copy of my shape.



Step 3

Using newly labeled layers for each piece, I carried on drawings paths around the various shapes which made up the breast part of the owl, paying particular attention to lining up the beveled edges with the gaps I had left in the neck piece. This was pure trial and error and took a fair amount of tweaking to get spot on.



Step 4

I carried on drawing paths for the feathers using the stroke 12pt technique for the bevel. I also tweaked the shape of the feathers to get the form to fit in the space as nicely as possible. I try to adapt as I work to get the best result. Coloring the feathers allows me to clearly define the shapes as I work.



Step 5

Next, I drew the wing shape, then referring to my layers palette copied (Command + C) the main outer body and pasted it in front by going to Edit > Paste in Front (Command + F) on the "wing" layer. Next, I joined the open ends of the body path by selecting the two end points with the Direct Select Tool (A) and applying Object > Path > Join (Command + J). I renamed this layer "CLIPPING MASK." Then making sure this layer was above the wing path in the layer palette, I selected both paths and applied Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Command + 7).



Step 6

I duplicated the "wing" layer, then gave the wing the same stroked edge effect used elsewhere. Next, I started filling out the detail on the head and eyes - again stroking each edge.



Step 7

The eyes on the original "Clash of the Titans" owl were fairly ornate and I wanted to expand on this. I took inspiration from ornate silver work, medals, awards, and more. I started out with a circle and pulled horizontal and vertical ruler guides to the center using preview mode to find the center of the circle (Command + Y).

I then unlocked guides (Command + Colon key) and using the Rotate Tool to create a 45º guide. This meant I only had to create an eighth of the iris. Next, I used the Reflect Tool with an angle of 45º to create a quarter of the iris. Lastly, I used the Rotate Tool to step the pieces round from the center to complete the iris form.



Step 8

Now because the eye is oval, I selected all the parts including the round shape behind, then used the Transform Tool (E) to rotate it round at 45º. Then I brought the edges in, while holding down the Alt key to create the ovoid shape.



Step 9

Finally, I drew in the last few details, giving me a base to start shading.



Step 10

Next, I unlocked all the layers except the "base sketch" layer, then I selected all (Command + A) and copied (Command + C).



Step 11

I created a new layer next, then pasted in front by going to Edit > Paste in Front (Command + F). Next I used Object > Transform > Reflect on the vertical axis to produce a mirror image.



Step 12

Next I moved the collated reflected layer over with the Selection Tool (V), while holding Shift to constrain it along the horizontal axis.



Step 13

Now the image is ready for some cutting, pasting and gradient fills to give the metallic effect.



Step 14

First off, I selected the eyebrow and eyebrow bevel path from the flipped layer and cut (Command + X) them. Next I selected the original "Brows" layer and applied Edit > Paste in Front (Command + F).



Step 15

Next I opened the Swatch Palette, clicked the pop out menu, and selected Open Swatch Library > Gradients > Metals, and colored the main eyebrow with the "Gold" swatch. I set the angle on the right Brow to -112.6 using the Gradient palette and the left to -67.37. For the bevel, I simply made each of the colors in the gradient darker.

TIP: Hold the Shift key, whilst adjusting the color sliders will manipulate all four values at once. Again I play around with the angles to achieve a nice realistic effect.



Step 16

Next I duplicated the brows path, copied it to a new layer, and went to Edit > Paste in Front (Command + F). I slightly reduced the height of these paths to offset them slightly from the original brows. Then I copied the outer body shape and went to Edit > Paste in Front (Command + F), making sure this layer was above the two brow paths.

Then I selected the three paths by going to Object > Clipping mask > Make (Command + 7). This was now ready for me to apply Effect > Stylize > Feather. I entered a value of 17mm, then set the blending mode to Darken and Opacity to 40% in the Transparency Palette, which produces a nice shadow effect, which gives more depth.



Step 17

For the shading on the top of the head, I started out with a circular path and filled it with an offset gradient (still centered vertically but with the horizontal center nearer the top). Next, I used the Transform Tool (E) and squashed the circle to an oval using the top-center handle, while holding the Alt key to bring in both the top and bottom edges. I also gave this a 2pt stroke to add a subtle defined edge. I applied a clipping mask to this using the main body path as previously mentioned.



Step 18

I made the neck silver to give a bit of contrast. Again, I cut and pasted in front (Command + F) the neck from the flipped layer onto the single "neck" layer.

After grabbing the Direct Selection Tool (A), I selected the main paths (excluding bevels), then went to Object > Compound Path > Make (Command + 8). I then used the Pen Tool to draw a path, which I filled with the "Silver" gradient from the swatches palette. Making sure the compound path was above the gradient filled path, I selected both and went to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Command + 7). I did the same for the beveled edge.

I then copied the outer breast path, offset it, filled, and then applied the same settings and effects as I did for the brow shadow. I applied Effect > Stylize > Feather, and entered a value of 17mm, then set the blending mode to Darken and Opacity to 40% in the Transparency Palette. Lastly, I placed the body path top in the layer hierarchy for the "neck" layer and created a clipping mask over everything.

Compound clipping paths and clipping paths within the same layer are quite complicated, but as long as you can keep track in your layers palette, it should go smoothly.



Step 19

Now onto the feathers. Again, I Cut (Command + C) and Paste In Front (Command + F) the top row of feathers from the flipped layer into the "top feather" layer. Then I combined the central feather into a single path using the Pathfinder Combine Mode. I did the same for the bevel.



Step 20

Now onto filling the feathers. I used the feather gradient for the main part of the feathers, and angled it out on the feathers further from the center. I used an angle of -10º for the right side and 10º for the left. For the Bevel I used the same gradient as the bevel on the "Brows."

I gave the feathers a nice shadow by duplicating the feathers and sending them to the back by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Command + Shift + Left Bracket). I filled them with the swatch "feather shadow." Then applied Effect > Stylize > Feather, entering a value of 4mm, then set the blending mode to Darken and Opacity at 50% in the Transparency Palette.



Step 21

I continued shading all the feathers in the same way. I adjusted the angle of the gradient more for the feathers furthest from the center and added a feathered drop shadow for each layer of feathers.



Step 22

For the body shading, I used the same technique I used for the head. I started out with a circular path, and filled it with an offset gradient ("Bodt grad 1" in the swatches palette), while still centered vertically but with the horizontal center nearer the top).

Next I used the Transform Tool (E), and squashed the circle to an oval using the left-center handle, while holding the Alt key to bring in both the top and bottom edges. I then pasted in the body path making sure it was at the top in the "body" layer. Then I selected both paths and applied Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Command + 7).



Step 23

To give the body a little more definition and dimensional realism, I created a new layer named "body definition" in the layers. I then copied and pasted in front the main body path, colored it from the swatches with "body def outer." I then copied "body def inner," Pasted in Front (Command + F) and scaled the path with the Transform Tool, while holding down Alt + Shift to constrain from the center and proportionally.

I then blended from one colored shape to the other by clicking on a point on the inner path with the Blend Tool (W) then Alt-clicking on the same point on the outer path. In the Blend option box which appears, I used the Specified Steps option and set it to 48 steps.



Step 24

I then moved this layer down in the layers palette to just above the body shading done in the previous step and set the blending mode to Overlay in the transparency palette.



Step 25

For the wings I used a similar technique as the "Neck" layer. I copied and Pasted in Front (Command + F) on the "wing" layer, then flipped the wing. Next, I made a Compound Path of the two wings by going to Object > Compound Path > Make.

Then I drew a circle as described in Step 22. I filled it with a circular gradient from the swatches named "Wing Fill," made the Opacity 30% and gave it a 2pt stroke with the swatch "wing stroke." I did the same for the bevel, but with the "wing bevel" swatch and set the Opacity to 50%. Finally, I added a clipping mask using the Main Body over the whole layer.



Step 26

Next, I copied and Pasted in Front (Command + F) the breast outer pieces and colored them with gradients from the swatch palette ("breast outer left," "breast outer right," "breast inner left," and "breast inner right").



Step 27

For the beak, I copied the beak from the flipped layer, and Pasted In Front (Command + F). I used the pathfinder to combine the two paths. Next, I copied and pasted in front, scaled with the Transform Tool (E), while holding Alt to scale from center. Then I repeated scaling down a third copy of the beak, but this time made it thin, which will give the beak a nice defined edge in the center.

I then colored the three parts making up the beak from the swatches "beak dark," "beak mid," and "beak light." Lastly, I blending from one colored shape to the next by clicking on a point on the inner path with the Blend Tool (W), then Alt-clicking on the same point on the mid path. In the Blend option box, which appears I used the Specified Steps option and set it to 25 steps. Then I repeated the process for the mid to outer paths.



Step 28

Next I added a couple of shines to the beak using the "beak shine" swatch and setting the Blend mode to Lighten with an Opacity of 55%. Lastly, I added a soft shadow on the beak, by copying the outer beak shape and going to Edit > Paste in Front (Command + F), then offsetting downwards slightly coloring the path with the swatch "feather shadow." Next, I applied Effect > Feather with 7mm and set the Blend mode to Darken and Opacity 65%.



Step 29

For the eye surround/iris I used a combination of "eye fan" and "gold" gradient swatches. I then copied this layer to a new layer below, scaled it up slightly, offset it to the center and down. Next, I made it into a shadow using the technique described earlier by going to Effect > Feather, applying 7mm, and set the Blend mode to Darken with an Opacity of 65%.



Step 30

I then colored the iris rings with the swatch "brow bevel grad."



Step 31

I colored the eye socket using a combination of the swatches "gold" and "brow bevel grad."



Step 32

For the rivets around the eye, I used a radial gradient called "eye rivet." Then to give a glossy appearance, I used a circular path with a linear gradient fill from the swatch "eye rivet shine." I used the blending mode Screen with the Opacity set to 100%.



Step 33

For the pupil, I used the radial gradient "pupil." I used the Gradient Tool to make the gradient off center, then added the same shine as on the eye rivets.



Step 34

For the beard I used the swatches: "gold" and "brow bevel."



Step 35

For the head shine, I started out with an ellipse then pulled the bottom anchor point down using the Direct Selection Tool (A). I filled this with the swatch "head shine," then duplicated it and pasted in front (Command + F). I filled the duplicated path, which is on top, with a white to black gradient.



Step 36

Then I selected both paths and went to the transparency palette. From the pop out menu I selected Make Opacity Mask. I then duplicated this and scaled it for the smaller shine.



Step 37

After copying and pasting in front of the tail from the flipped layer, I filled the feather shapes with slightly darker gradients. I then duplicated the tail, combined the paths using the Pathfinder Combine mode, then created a shadow using the main body shape. I then used the combined tail shape as a clipping mask.



Step 38

For the ankle, I made the ankle shape a clipping path, drew a curved path filled with a linear gradient, and set the Blending Mode to Darken with an Opacity of 40%. Next, I duplicated this using the Direct Select Tool, while holding the Alt + Shift keys.



Step 39

To make the claw on the foot, I made an elongated triangle, duplicated it using the Rotate Tool (R), and clicking on the single bottom point, while holding Alt as I rotated to produce a copy. I colored each of the three paths using the swatches: "Claw Dark," "Claw Light," and "Claw mid." I then used the Blend Tool to blend between the three as described in Step 27. I then made the final claw shape a clipping mask over my blended claw gradient.



Step 40

I then duplicated and rotated the claw to make up the foot. Lastly, I added a darker ring at the top of the center claw using the same technique I used for the ankle in Step 38.



Step 41

Finally, I added a green gradient background. For added realism, I placed a feathered elliptical shadow using Effect > Feather set to 27mm, with a Blend mode of Darken and an Opacity of 25%. To give the impression that the feet are standing on the ground, I drew a rectangular path between the outer two claws, then added two points in the center.

Next using the Direct Select Tool (A), I selected the two center points, and shifted them up a little. Lastly, I applied the same shadow effect by going to Effect > Feather, and set it to 5mm with a Blend mode of Darken and Opacity set at 30%.



Final Image

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and learned some new techniques, which you can apply in your work. The final image is below. You can view the large version here.



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