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Create an Elegant Theater Interior with Illustrator

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Read Time: 9 mins

The keys to this richly-appointed theater interior are simple Gradient Meshes and a few well-placed gradient fills. Once you've created the basic building blocks, it's easy to re-purpose them for every element in this illustration. Sit back and enjoy the show!

Step 1

We'll do the easy part first. Start with a document 10" square. Use the Rectangle tool (M), and draw a square the same size, centered on the artboard. Fill it with black (Note: if your document's color mode is RGB, use 0,0,0. If you prefer to work in CMYK, use a rich black C60 M60 Y30 K100).

Draw a rectangle that's 8" x 4" and center-align it vertically to the Artboard. Position it horizontally about 1-1/2" from the top. This will be the screen. Choose a black-and-white Radial Gradient in the pull-down menu of the Gradient panel. Use the Gradient tool (G) to drag the gradient out beyond the left and right edges of the rectangle. Enter 85° in the Aspect Ratio field on the panel. Your screen should look like the image below.

Step 2

On to the curtains. Lock or hide the Screen layer and create a new one above it. Let's start with the valance, which is the short pleated material at the top. Draw a black rectangle 5" wide by 1". Go to Object > Create Gradient Mesh. In the dialog box that appears, enter 2 rows and 40 columns.

Step 3

Using the Direct Selection tool (A), marquee-select all of the points in the bottom and middle rows. Fill these with a very deep red. Although it seems strange to "fill" a point, that's how Gradient Mesh works. Keep these points selected.

Step 4

Still with the Direct Selection tool, de-select the points in every other column (leave the top row of points un-selected). You can do this by holding down the Shift key and dragging over each set of points to de-select. It will help to zoom in on the artwork and view it in Outline Mode (Command + Y).

Fill the remaining selected points with a much brighter red. Do not de-select! Now nudge the selected points down by pressing the down-arrow key once. This will give the mesh a scalloped bottom, it should look similar to the image below:

Step 5 (optional)

The pleats in the valance are equally spaced. You may want to vary the width and color on random sections to produce a less uniform look.

Step 6

Now make a copy of the valance section and align both objects so they span the width of the document. There's no reason to make this in sections — you could have created a rectangle that was 10" wide — other than it's a lot less work. This is what you should have at this point:

Step 7

Draw a new rectangle about the same size as the first two, only flip it: it should be 1" wide by 5". As before, create a Gradient Mesh, this time with 2 rows and 10 columns. Again, select every second point on the bottom and nudge them down one or two clicks.

Starting on the left, fill the bottom two points of the second column a with a bright red, as before. On the next outer fold (the fourth column), fill the points with a slightly darker red. Do this with the sixth and eighth columns, using successively darker shades of red for each. This is to give the illusion of the light source coming from the center, then fading out on the edges.

Step 8

Randomize the Mesh if you wish, as in Step 5. Use the Reflect tool to make a copy of the curtain, reflected 90° on the vertical axis. You may want to alter this side a bit, so the two are not symmetrical.

Step 9

Align each curtain on its respective side, and send it behind the valances. Your artwork thus far should look like the image below:

Step 10

Make a copy of the right-side curtain. Drag it off the artboard so you can see it easily. Re-size it so the width is the same, but the height is about half. So in this example, it is 1" by 2.5". Go to Effect > Warp > Arc and enter the following values:

Step 11

Go to Object > Expand Appearance. As you can see, the mesh now follows the warped arc.

Step 12

Make another copy of the straight curtain object, and reduce its height by half. Choose the Free Transform tool (E). Almost simultaneously, begin to drag the upper left corner point to the left and down, while holding down the Command key (PC: Control). It may take a while to get a feel for the Free Transform tool. If you press the modifier key too soon, you'll just scale the object. The goal is to move only the upper left of the object. The result should be similar to the image below:

Step 13

Place the transformed shape under the warped shape. Try to line up the folds on each, so that it looks like a single curtain that has been gathered in the middle. It will help to view in Outline mode, and align the points. It doesn't have to be perfect, because we're going to add a cord to it later.

Step 14

Once you have the two sections lined up, group them and reflect them as before. Send them behind the straight curtains. This is what you should have thus far:

Step 15

Once again, make a copy of the long straight curtain object. Rotate it 90° so that the bright red is on the bottom. Scale it to about .75 inches by 1.5. Go to Object > Warp > Arc Lower and enter the following:

Step 16

Expand the appearance of the curved curtain (called "Bunting") if you like. Then hold down the Shift and Option key (PC: Alt) and drag-copy the object to the right. Press Command + D (PC: Control + D) five times, so you end up with 7 pieces of bunting.

Step 17

Arrange the bunting so that the center piece is on top, the next two behind it, the next two behind them, and so on. Group them all and place below the top curtain (valance). The curtains are now done, and should look like the image below:

Step 18

For a finishing touch on the curtains, we'll add a gold rope. Rather than creating an Art Brush from scratch, you can download a set of free rope brushes from the Adobe Exchange site. If you do not have an Adobe login, it's free to create one and start exploring the Exchange community. The set of brushes we'll use for the cord are here.

Once you've downloaded the file, open the Brushes panel in your theater illustration, click the Library icon on the bottom left of the panel, and choose Other Library. Navigate to the Rope Brushes file and click Open. The library will now show up as its own panel in your document.

Step 19

Draw some simple arcs and ellipses for the rope, and apply a gold art brush. Scale the stroke so the rope is in proportion, and make any tweaks necessary to achieve a more realistic look. In this example, I cut the bottom of the two loops using the Scissors tool (C), and applied the brush so that the shadows would be consistent. A small circle where the lines intersect serves as a knot.

Step 20

To make the tassels, draw several lines and stroke them with colors from the rope. Duplicate and rearrange as many as you need to get a full tassel. Since this will be viewed as such a small size relative to the overall illustration, you don't have to get too fussy with it.

Step 21

To finish off the tassel, draw a small rounded rectangle and place it where the rope and the strings meet. Fill it with a golden gradient to give it some dimension. The assembled rope and tassel should look something like the image below.

Step 22

Group the parts of the cord and position it at the gathered spot on the curtain. You may have to adjust the path to get it to look like it is wrapped around the curtain. When it looks right, reflect and copy the cord and tassel and place them on the other side. The finished section should look like the image below:

Step 23

Right now, the curtains are just sort of hanging in space, so draw a thin rectangle for the floor. Fill it with a linear gradient that goes from black at the bottom to brown at the top. This will give the illusion that is receding, and will help give the curtains some context.

Step 24

Lock/hide the Curtain layer and create a new one for the seats. Use the Rounded Rectangle tool and draw a rectangle about twice as deep as it is wide. Tip: to modify the corner radius as you draw, press the up or down arrow keys.

Step 25

Double-click on the Shear tool (it's underneath the Scale tool), and enter 3° on the Horizontal axis. Your skewed shape should look like this:

Step 26

Using the Pen tool, draw a path that intersects the left edge of the skewed rectangle. This will be the side of the seat.

Step 27

Select both the seat rectangle and the path, and click the Divide icon on the Pathfinder panel.

Step 28

Just a few more steps and we're done. Creating a realistic-looking seat will require the careful placement of some simple gradients. This is much easier with CS4, but can be done with earlier versions. Select the back of the seat shape and fill with a three-stop gradient, as in the image below. Position the gradient so that the lighter blue color acts as the very top highlight on the seat. Remember that the light source is in front, so light will just be peeking over the top of the seat.

Step 29

Make a similar gradient for the side shape and apply it like so:

Step 30

Now that you have a completed seat, drag to make a copy of it, then reflect those two to make a row of four seats. Repeat this process a few more times, scaling and positioning the rows, and adding more seats. The completed set of seats should look something like the image below.

Step 31

Draw a rectangle the same size as the overall illustration (10" x 10"). Place it on top of the group of seats, select all (the seats and the rectangle), and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make. Now put the seats in place, and bust out the popcorn!


This image lends itself to many creative outcomes. To take this tutorial further you could try adding your own movie title, film scene or even a stage show. I hope you've enjoyed this tut.

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