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Create A Rockabilly Zombie Girl with Illustrator CS5

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In this tutorial you'll see the step by step procedure of the creation of a rockabilly inspired zombie prepping for her date(s). I use the term "date" loosely seeing that there are multiple disembodied suitors coming over the hill top. A ghoul needs to look her best, so we'll be creating her and accessorizing her outfit in an attempt to make her drop dead gorgeous enough to "knock them dead" all over again.

Step 1

The initial concept was sketched with a typical 0.7 leaded pencil and scanned into the computer using a dpi of 300. Before using the sketch, it was taken into Adobe Photoshop and the levels were changed in order to darken the lines and define the final shapes for easier vectoring. The idea is loosely developed which means that there was no need for reference materials. We’ve all seen a cat and we’ve all seen animal skeletons, but since this is a more fancy free sketch, so I think we can see past a few misshapen bones for whimsy’s sake.


Once the lines are to our liking, we can save the sketch as a JPEG or PNG and bring it into Adobe Illustrator. This particular file was prepared at 8.5 x 11 for printing convenience. If need be, you can check your preferences by heading to the top of the bar and clicking on Document Setup > Edit Artboards or using the hotkeys Alt+Ctrl+P, where you can either manually pull the dashed lines around your Artboard to the size you require, or input the size at the top of the bar.

Step 2

In this step, I’ve started working on the base skin tones using only my Pen tool (P) and Curves are accomplished by holding down the (Alt) key as points are created to form each path. I’ve used only two gradients in this case to keep things less complicated. This is a linear gradient with a solid opacity throughout. I’ve also begun to label my layers. If this was a more complex project, it would become even more necessary to label my layers, not only for myself, but also in the event that I may have to share it down the road with printers or the like. My advice would be to make this a continual practice until it becomes second nature.

Step 3

At this point, our base skin tone has been mapped out with our Pen tool (P). I’ve labeled my layer “Zombie Girl”, knowing that I’ll have many other layers that I’ll want to keep separate. This makes resizing easier in the future. I’m not worried about the body having various tones to it. As you can see there are varying shades on each limb. This is a great way to simplify your work load. Depth is already being created by the gradient alone, and added shading will only enhance from here on out.

Step 4

While working with my simple gradients, I’m choosing colors that will read well. Try to play attention to signals within your color palette. These are warnings that many people ignore, but they’re there for a reason. By pressing on this yellow caution triangle, it will automatically adjust the color choice which will enable it to be more printer friendly. This is of course up to you.

Step 5

In this step, I’ve grouped my Zombie Girl’s clothes by pressing Ctrl+G or Command+G for Mac users. I’ve made a new layer and I’ve dragged her clothes into the new layer. I’ve labeled it as “Zombie Dress” and proceed to lock the layer and turn off the eye next to the layer to make it invisible.

Step 6

The body is now ready for details at this point, and I’ve gone with a two point linear gradient again. This particular gradient has a dark green: R=33 G=45 B=21 and Lighter green: R=112 G=107 B=44 with the opacity turned down to zero on the dark green side. This is all done to convey a perception of depth to our 2D character. Every little bit helps.

Step 7

After laying my shadows, I’ve started laying my highlights down. I’ve found that for a playfully voluptuous look, either use my Pen tool (P) or use the Eclipse Tool (L) to make my rounded shapes. By dropping in a radial gradient with both sides colored White, I can take the farthest side on my gradient and turn down the Opacity to zero. The transparency has been turned down slightly to 78% on this layer to help blend the body color and highlight color. This gives her skin a satin like finish.

Step 8

We’re nearing a point where those empty areas on her body need to be filled with bones and other fleshy parts. The gradient for her flesh is a dark pink that appears to have two separate colors on top, surrounding the bones sticking out. These are actually the same gradients. The coloring has just been moved to the darkest settings on the scale. The bottom layer has no Transparency, but the three layers ranging from larger to smaller have a 58% transparency to them.

Step 9

Our zombie is very aware of how she looks, so when there’s a rip or a tear, she’s quick to mend it. Using our Stroke line without a fill, we can create the illusion of a mended flesh being kept together by stitches. Using a dark pink color, change your Stroke line weight to 0.25pts and make your first marks. Group these marks together by pressing Ctrl+G or Command+G and duplicate the group. Keep this new group highlighted and change the Stroke line weight to 0.5pts. Select both groups and change the Opacity between 9-10%. To make your stitches, use a lighter colored Stroke line and under the Stroke options change the weight to 0.25pts again, and in the Cap window, click the Round cap option. Make one line segment, Copy by pressing Ctrl+C, and Paste by pressing Ctrl+P to make the rest of your stitches. Group all of your stitches and select these as well as your scars again. Go up to your bar and click Objects>Expand. You’ll reach the window shown in the middle of this Step’s image. Unclick the Fill box and press OK. This allows your stroke lines to now become full-fledged filled paths. If you ever need to rescale your entire piece, you won’t have to worry about resizing your Stroke line.

Step 10

After finishing up the stitches, we can now start on the face. Using the Pen tool (P), we can give her eyelashes, and define her eye sockets. The eyelashes are a solid color, but the eye shadow color is the same color we applied to define her body details.

Step 11

The lips are Linear gradients done in a dark red: R=92 G=0 B=2 and pink blush: R=195 G=32 B=38color. The upper lip has no Transparency, but the bottom lip has the dark red color’s Opacity turned all the way down to zero. Shine is later added to finish up and define the lips.

Step 12

The eyes have been made with solid colors but the iris are made with three color Radial gradients. I added a similar colored Stroke line to make the eye pop on the right. It gives the effect of her having a dead eye.

Step 13

In this step, apply her blush by using the same application as the highlights. Using a Radial gradient and the same color on either side of the Gradient scale, lower the outer edge of your Gradient to an Opacity of zero. Apply the blush and turn the overall Transparency on them to 19%.

Step 14

After looking at her shirt, I found it lacked flare. I decided to use a solid black and make leopard spots to accent the outfit. Once those were finished, I grouped them and made a duplicate copy to make them easier to manage. Behind them, I made solid colored shapes to mimic cat fur a little more. Taking all of these elements, I grouped them again and made a duplicate layer of the original shirt shape. Bring this to the front to lay over your leopard spots and highlight both the spots and the stop layer shirt you’ve just made. Go to Object>Clipping Mask>Make or click Ctrl+7 to make a fitted mask.

Step 15

With the spots added to the shirt, it was more appropriate to pick a new color for the original blouse. I ended up with a two tone Linear gradient in a golden brown shade.

Step 16

The zombie’s hair starts in only two tones as well. After locking the “Zombie Girl Body” layer, I’ve made a new layer and title it “Zombie Hair”. This is another Linear gradient, but done in solid black and solid white.

Step 17

As I move to the highlights of her hair, I’m still using the same gradient as the original base color. I will lower or raise the degree of the color used, but for the most part, this is only black and white coloring. To give her a little more shine, I took a two toned gradient of all white and lowered the Opacity to zero on one side as shown in the lower shot in this Step. The arrow shows where this technique was used.

Step 18

Once I have a good amount of hair on her head, I can allow time for streaks. Again, I am still using only black and white, but I’m working on the higher part of the gradient line so I have a white haired look without the trouble of making a new Gradient.

Step 19

After finishing the hair in the front, I need to apply hair to the back. I’ve made a new layer titled “Zombie Back Hair.” I used the same black and white gradient to do this hair also.

Step 20

To finish up the hair, I added a flower, which is a signature ornament of the 50s and Rockabilly style era. Since I’m a sucker for a rose, I went with a black to lipstick red: R=217 G=39 B=38 Linear gradient. It gives off a romantic and bold color that compliments her black and white hair well. Starting from a small shape with very little appeal except for the color, we gradually work our way to the full and open petals that roses are known for. Please take note that there is not one even shape among these particular shapes. Organic roses are all shaped differently and the beauty is in this difference.

Step 21

The Zombie shoes are made with a black and white base color and the red gradient is taken from our rose.

Step 22

In this step we add the thread to her needle and between her teeth. By using a white Stroke line with a weight of 0.25pt, we can give off the impression of a thread being pulled through her teeth and needle. Please refer to step 9 on how to expand this Stroke line.

Step 23

After locking and hiding all of the layers, I created a new layer and entitled it “Background.” I chose a solid color and made my oval using the Eclipse tool (L). I lay my Radial gradients down to form the rolling hill from which her zombie suitors will ascend. The background has been darkened and the gradient on the lower left has been switched to a lilac to black gradient, which is seen on the left.

Step 24

The Moon has been added and a duplicate layer was made and resized larger. Change the Transparency to 15%. To give the moon a bit more definition, add a few marks in the center with the same Transparency settings as the new layer, and add a few more enlarged duplicate layers to the circular moon. This gives the impression of a glowing moon without the need for any Gaussian blurs.

Step 25

In this step, we’re making clouds for the night sky. Clouds are airy and light, so I’ve taken two steps to give them that effect. I clicked Effect>Stylize>Feather, and using a radius of 25pts, I tried to achieve the look I wanted. I chose to go with a less uniform effect instead, so I went to my bar again and pressed Effect>Blur>Gaussian blur and used a Radius of 7.4 pixels.

Step 26

The zombies at the top of the hill are solid colored paths. Since they are so close to the light source in our field, any real details that would have been seen such as the face and clothes is drowned out and replaced by only silhouetted figures.

Step 27

Once the zombies are finished, adding a Radial gradient of white with the outer edge set to zero Opacity to a circle made from the Eclipse tool (L), makes the moon seem brighter than it really is.

Step 28

The Grass is made from multiple brush lines. In order to make your own brush for your grass strokes, use the Rounded Rectangle tool in your Tool bar. There will be two points at either end, to pull these use your Direct Selection tool (A) to make your ends pointier. From here, go into your brush panel and click the New Brush button in the bottom right corner. A new window will appear, and you should choose the Art Brush option. Another new window will appear and in the Colorization box, scroll down in the Method dropbox until you have the Tints and Shades option highlighted. From here, you can click okay, and your new brush is ready for application.

Step 29

Using a Stroke weight of 0.05, make your strokes in an upward motion. Once you get enough of these grass blades, you can start making batch copies to quicken your work pace. I did this with enough to cover the top of the hill and grouped then to make multiple hill piles. After everything is layed out, you can now expand the blades to make coloring easier. Please refer to step nine again for this process. The color is now applied from the base hill color and the color is then evenly spread across all the grass.

Step 30

The pumpkins are made from a three colored Radial gradient. The halves are placed on top of each other until we have a gourde like shape. Lines are added to give it more definition and a green stem is placed behind it. I’ve made multiple pumpkins to line the hill and added shading and more grass to give depth to the space.

Step 31

In this step, the fog that creeps down the hill is made from a two toned radial gradient of white and blue. Going up to my bar, I went to Effects>Blur>Guassian Blur and used a Radius of 4.5pixels. I added a few smaller lines to define the fog and give it a few highlights.

Step 32

Once all of the background elements are completed, duplicate the back Eclipse layer and bring the copy to the front. Select all of the background elements and lastly select the new copied layer. Go to Object>Clipping Mask>Make or Ctrl+7 to bring all of your elements into a nice, neat oval shape.

Step 33

Remember to lock your layers once you’re finished with them. Create a new layer on top of the “Background” layer and title this one “Cat Skeleton.” As mentioned earlier, this is not a realistic cat, but more of an interpretation of one. The bones may not be precise, but the overall shape still reads well. Using a three toned Radial gradient, follow the guidelines of the sketch and create your cat.

Step 34

The final step is to add her white sparkles. Try to be reserved about using these. Too many can over emphasis, and instead of a classic look it can come off gaudy.


I hope you’ve enjoyed preparing this Rockabilly Zombie for her date. She might have taken a while to get ready, but I’m sure her zombie partners will find her worth the wait.

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