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  2. Character Design

Create a Set of Shiny Character Eyes

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This tutorial will teach you how to create detailed vector eyes that can be used for all sorts of character design projects. The techniques used here are basic and the processes quick and simple, but the result looks great.

If you're a beginner, expect to learn a little more about opacity masks, gradients, effects, and handy shortcuts. If you're a more advanced Illustrator user then we encourage you to experiment a bit with the steps shown here! Enjoy!

Final Image Preview

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Tutorial Details

  • Program: Illustrator CS4
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Estimated Completion Time: 10 - 20 minutes

Step 1

Open a new 800px by 800px document, set to RGB, at 72 dpi. We are going to start by making the iris. We are using blue as our base color, but you can use whatever you like or change the color at the end. Be sure to save (Command + S) with each step. By double-clicking Fill on the color palate (F6), you can change the fill color to a blue, we used #56CAF4.

Step 2

With the Ellipse Tool selected, hold Alt + Shift and drag out a circle into the middle of your document.

Step 3

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), move the points using the Nodes and Handles to create a more irregular shape.

Step 4

To get into a good habit to begin with we are going to name our layers as we go! In your Layers palette double-click "Layer 1" and name this layer "eye." Click on the small white arrow next to the thumbnail to show the paths of this layer. Double-click the first path and name this layer "iris".

To duplicate this layer, first grab the Selection Tool (V), then use this tool to select your shape, copy it (Command + C), and paste in front (Command + F). Change this new shape to black using the color palate.

Step 5

Grab the Selection Tool, select your new black shape, and while holding Shift + Alt resize it to roughly half the size. You should see the iris shape behind it. Move your black shape a bit off center, up and to the right. Name this path "pupil."

Step 6

Select the Ellipse tool (L), hold Alt and create an ellipse. Change the fill to white. At this point it is a good idea to lock your "pupil" and "iris" layers so you don’t accidently edit them.

Step 7

Rotate your ellipse layer to around 45 degrees. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A) again, edit and move its points to create a rough, sausage looking shape. Now move it to overlap the "iris" and "pupil."

Step 8

Repeat the last two steps to create a smaller, egg like shape to finish off the top reflection. Using the Selection Tool, hold Alt and Click-drag your first white reflection to the lower-left side of the eye. Rotate this new copy 180 degrees and shrink it down slightly. Place it as shown below on the iris close to the pupil.

Step 9

Open the Transparency palate (Shift + Command + F10). Now with your new shape still selected, change its Opacity to 60. Name these three layers "highlight, 1" "highlight 2," and "highlight 3."

Step 10

Now we are going to create some texture for the iris. With the Pen Tool (P) selected and the fill set to white, place four points as shown below and close the shape by clicking back on your first point.

Step 11

Repeat this step for two smaller shapes.

Step 12

With all three of these shapes selected (V), group them by pressing Command + G and name this group ‘iris texture.’ Now we are going to create a Mask for the "iris texture" layer. Unlock the "iris" layer, select it with the Selection Tool, copy it (Command + C), and re-lock the layer.

With the "iris texture" group selected, open the Transparency palate again, and double-click in the empty space next to the white square. The texture group should disappear and a black square will appear where you clicked. This is your Opacity Mask.

Step 13

Now you are in the Opacity Mask, press Command + F to paste the iris shape in place. Change the fill color of the shape from blue to white. This will constrain the iris texture to the iris shape.

Step 14

To get out of the Opacity Mask, just click on the white square next to it. While still in the Transparency Palate, change the blending mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 40.

Step 15

To add some depth to the iris, unlock the "iris" layer and duplicate it (Command + C), then paste in place Command + F). Rename this new layer ‘iris gradient.’ Open the Gradient palate (Command + F9) and select ‘Radial’ as the Type. Double-click the first slider and set the color to white and press Enter. Select the second slider and set the color to white and set the Opacity to 0.

Step 16

With the gradient layer still selected and the transparency layer open, set the blending mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 85.

Step 17

To create some depth to the iris, select the "iris" layer and apply Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Change the color of the Inner Glow by selecting the white square next to Mode and set the color to black, and click OK. Set the Mode to Multiply, the Opacity to 10 and the Blur to 25.

At this point you can play with the color of your iris to suit your character, and also change the iris inner glow and gradient layers to modify the highlight and depth. Save this document and close.

Step 18

For the eye, remember that this shape is just a guide and you should change its shape to fit your character. Create a new document 800px by 800px, RGB, 72 dpi. Using the Ellipse Tool, with the fill set to #F7F6F0, drag out a rough circle to fill half the document.

Step 19

Repeat the same process as in Step 4 and use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to create an irregular shape.

Step 20

Select Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and change the color to # 442D00, the Mode to Multiply, Opacity to 5 and the Blur to 130.

Step 21

Place your iris and pupil file into the document by selecting File > Place and choosing your "iris" file. Resize and position it appropriately as shown below.

Step 22

With the placed file selected, go to Effect > Stylize> Drop Shadow and use the settings below - be sure to change the Drop Shadow color to # 00CFFF.


Copy and resize your eye to make a set. You are done!

Check out some examples of how to use the eyes below... Hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

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