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How to Create a Poltergeist TV Silhouette Scene in Adobe Illustrator

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Read Time: 6 min
This post is part of a series called Horror Movie Week.
How to Create a 'Hellraiser' Inspired Text Effect in Adobe Photoshop
How to Digitally Paint a Haunted Doll in Adobe Photoshop
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Poltergeist has to be one of the most iconic horror movies of the 80s. It's that story of a family who are visited by a ghost and think it's all fun and games until it decides to take their young child. 

In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a silhouette scene inspired by the movie, of the little girl talking to spirits through the TV. I'll be using Adobe Illustrator and several stock images available on PhotoDune.

What You'll Need

In order to complete this project, you'll need the following (or similar) stock images to work from:

1. How to Create the Silhouette of a Child

Step 1

Let's start out simple by drawing a Rectangle (M). This will have a white fill (showing black for it to stand out), and make sure it has a 4:3 ratio—the dimensions of TVs from the 80s.

Draw a rectangleDraw a rectangleDraw a rectangle

Step 2

Now that I have my TV shape, I'll use this as a guide to organise the child standing in front of it. I'll do this by using a stock image and Image Trace. I'll be using the Silhouette and Black and White settings to create a detailed silhouette to work from. Don't worry if the hairstyle isn't like Carol Anne Freeling, as this is going to be added later.

Once you've Image Traced your stock image, Expand it so it's an editable vector shape.

Image Trace the little girlImage Trace the little girlImage Trace the little girl

Step 3

You may have noticed that our little girl has no hands, pressed against the TV. Well, I'm going to solve that by using some stock images of hands and Image Trace.

If you're working with two sets of stock images, one for the child and one for the hands, try to aim for a similar age. You don't want to be rendering a young child with adult hands!

Adding her handsAdding her handsAdding her hands

Step 4

Using the Pen Tool (P), connect the hands to the body. 

You may notice that one hand is higher up than the other. I've done this because it appears the stock image's shoulder is raised slightly. A hand raised higher than the other will compensate for this.

Connect the hands to the bodyConnect the hands to the bodyConnect the hands to the body

Step 5

I'll now give the whole scene a black background, and you'll get a much better idea of the composition.

The compositionThe compositionThe composition

2. How to Create the Hair

Step 1

In order to create the iconic hairstyle, I'm going to have to remove what's currently there and then add new hair. So firstly, let's use the Eraser Tool to remove some of the hair from either side of her head.

Removing some hairRemoving some hairRemoving some hair

Step 2

The next step is to add hair. To do this, I'm going to be creating a tapered Art Brush. The shape starts with a squashed Ellipse (L) which then has the side points converted to points.

Create a tapered brushCreate a tapered brushCreate a tapered brush

Step 3

I then Create a New Brush > Art Brush with the tapered brush shape. 

Tapered brushTapered brushTapered brush

Step 4

Then with the Paintbrush Tool (B), draw in strokes to fill out her hair (blue) and then create some fly-aways so the hair doesn't look too flat (magenta).

Adding the hairAdding the hairAdding the hair

3. How to Create the TV Static

Step 1

The TV static is going to be created with pattern via the Appearance panel. Let's first go into our Swatches panel, go into the drill-down menu, and go to Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. You'll find all the patterns I'll be using from this library.

The first I'll be using is the Mezzotint Dot pattern. So create a New Fill above your white Fill and add your Mezzotint Dot. I'll be setting this to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50%.

Adding the first fillAdding the first fillAdding the first fill

Step 2

The next fill is USGS 20 Scrub using Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50%.

Adding the next fillAdding the next fillAdding the next fill

Step 3

To add lines to the static to create a linear effect, I'll be using Lines for the next fill with the same Transparency settings.


Step 4

Duplicate the fill with the Lines pattern. I'm going to increase the scale of the Lines pattern by selecting the fill and then going to Object > Transform > Scale. Make sure all boxes are unticked apart from Transform Patterns; this will alter the scale of just the pattern.

Modifying the scale of a patternModifying the scale of a patternModifying the scale of a pattern

4. How to Create a Rounded Rectangle Gradient

Step 1

TV screens back in the 80s didn't have sharp corners. You'd always see them slightly rounded. For those who remember, they had this massive, rounded, glass screen... or at least in our household! So let's create this effect using gradients.

First let's round off the corners using Live Corners. Select the TV shape and change the corners to create a slight rounding.

Adding rounded cornersAdding rounded cornersAdding rounded corners

Step 2

I'm going to use an Inner Glow. So in the Appearance panel, create a new white fill and give it a black Inner Glow.

This gradient is raster based, although it is still editable as it's a live effect. 

Using Inner GlowUsing Inner GlowUsing Inner Glow

5. How to Create a Back Light Effect

Step 1

As there'll be light coming from the TV in an otherwise dark room, I'm going to need to create a back light effect. This is relatively easy to do with brushes.

The first would be using our tapered brush to add fly-aways around the outside of our child's hair. Give it a white stroke and set it to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 80%.

Adding fly-awaysAdding fly-awaysAdding fly-aways

Step 2

I'm going to add additional hairs towards the back of the head, as a reflection of light. These will have a much lower opacity.

Step 3

I'm going to create a Blend Art Brush using two Ellipses (L), one smaller than the other, with the larger one set to Opacity 0%.

I then set the Blending Options to Specified Steps and create a New Art Brush.

Create a blend brushCreate a blend brushCreate a blend brush

Step 4

I then apply this around open shapes for the arms and body of the child (without the hair). This will be set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 80% and have a white stroke.

Creating a back light effectCreating a back light effectCreating a back light effect

Step 5

To increase the contrast on the light source, I'm going to add a black to white radial gradient set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 80% at the top of the TV Appearance panel settings.

I then use the Gradient Tool (G) to shape and position the gradient.

Add more contrastAdd more contrastAdd more contrast

6. Add the Finishing Touches

Step 1

Let's add some finishing touches. The first is adding some hands on the other side of the screen. I'm going to do this by using Image Trace on some stock images of hands.

Adding handsAdding handsAdding hands

Step 2

I then reduce their overall Opacity to 90% and set it to Blending Mode Multiply. I add a white inner glow to create a blurred edge.

Create a blurred edgeCreate a blurred edgeCreate a blurred edge

Step 3

To fade the hands in further, I'm going to fill the shapes with a black to white linear gradient.

Fade in the handsFade in the handsFade in the hands

Step 4

Finally, to enhance the TV static effect, I'm going to add gradients to the screen to create further interference. 

Further interferenceFurther interferenceFurther interference

Awesome Work, Spooky End Result!

I hope you've enjoyed this silhouette and picked up some tricks for future vector work. If you're like me and love a good silhouette illustration, we have plenty more vector tutorials focusing on them in our learning guide, Simple Silhouette Exercises.

Finished resultFinished resultFinished result
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