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How to Create a Rocketing, Vector Aircraft Shuttle

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In this tutorial, we'll be creating a illustration of a speeding aircraft shuttle. It's going to be all vector, but along the way we'll use blends, and other techniques that give this rocketing aircraft an interesting look. Let's get to it!

Final Image Preview

Below is the final image we will be working towards. Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.


Step 1

Start sketching the image you want to draw in a new layer. In this tutorial, I choose to draw futuristic aircraft fighter. I used the Brush Tool in Illustrator to do that. I named the layer "SKETCH," then locked the layer.

Step 2

Since I will trace the sketch using a black stroke so I change the outline color to orange.

Tips: never use an outline color the same as the sketch, as you will have difficulty in differentiate them when tracing.

Step 3

Start tracing the body with the Pen Tool in a new layer above the "SKETCH" layer. I named this new layer "main body."

Step 4

Do the same thing for other parts of the aircraft. As you can see, I divided the object into five different parts, each on a different layer.

OK, this is what the finished outline looks like.

Step 5

Next thing to do is rendering the aircraft. I choose to start from the most dominant part, which is the body. Apply the gradient to it simply by clicking the Period key in your keyboard. Using the Gradient Tool (G), drag the cursor from upper-left to bottom-right. Set the stroke color to none.

Step 6

Go to Gradient panel and change the orientation type to "Radial," also you might want to change the color combination. I used the colors shown below. Don't forget to save the colors in your Swatch panel.

Step 7

I want the gradient to have a much deeper color so I added a new slider somewhere in the middle between the two sliders closer to the dark than the bright one. Next, I switched the place of the new slider and dark blue slider. Now add this gradient color to the swatch panel.

Step 8

After I have the basic gradient color, now it's time to add some lighting effects. I'm planning to set the light source coming from the right side of the aircraft. Create two shapes as shown below. Fill the small one with white and the bigger one with dark blue. Then blend the shapes (select them both and go to menu Object > Blend > Make). Place it above the body below the canopy.

Step 9

Now we have this look where the blended shapes don't blend smoothly enough to the background, it's too obvious that they are two separate objects. To have it perfectly blend, there's a simple trick technique to use.

Select the bigger shape using Direct Selection tool (white arrow), then set its Opacity to 0%. The reason why I fill the bigger shape with the same dark blue is so the yellow blends perfectly to dark blue background. This is the key technique that we will use to create the similar highlight or shadow effect.

I'm planning to have the aircraft flying in the afternoon when the sky becomes yellow-orange, so the overall highlights on the aircraft should be more yellowish. I changed the white to yellow at 24%.

Step 10

Use the Pen Tool to draw the highlighted areas of the aircraft shown below. Now fill them with a yellow to dark blue gradient, and don't forget to add the gradient to your swatches palette.

Step 11

As for the highlighted area on the wing, use the same technique as in Steps 8 and 9.

Step 12

Add some shadow area on the left of the main body. this will make the body have more dimension. Use the Pen Tool to draw the shadow area, then fill it with a yellow to dark blue gradient, and set the Transparency to Multiply.

Play with the gradient if you are not satisfied with the result.

This is the look I have so far.

Step 13

Add a shadow area on the wing.

Step 14

Now it's time to work on the under body of the aircraft. I used the same treatment as I did with the main body; the gradient, highlights, and shadows. And add some necessary parts on it, as shown.

Step 15

Next is the canopy. Fill the canopy with a three colors linear gradient that goes from yellow to blue to white, as shown below. Use the Gradient Tool (G) and drag it from upper-left to bottom-right.

Step 16

Create simple lighting effects on the top-corner of the canopy by using the Pen Tool and fill the shape with white.

Step 17

Create a basic glossy effect. Copy the canopy and paste it in front, then fill it with white. Intersect the white canopy with an ellipse shape, then fill the new object with a warm yellow. Copy another canopy in front of the new object, and fill it with a black to white gradient. We're going to use it as transparency mask.

Step 18

Select both the new shapes and make it an opacity mask by go to transparency panel, click the drop down menu and select Make Opacity Mask. Since they are stacked, it is difficult to select them both using the Selection Tool (black arrow). So, click the circle icon on the right side of the sub-layer, it will automatically select the object.

Step 19

This is what we have so far. I think the canopy looks like its made from metal. That's not the look I want so I change its gradient color to a blue to green gradient to have it looks like its made of glass.

Step 20

Add some necessary parts to the aircraft.

Step 21

Now move to layer "Fin 1" and color the fin.

Step 22

Add some necessary details as shown below.

Step 23

Now I'm going to add a shadow of the fin dropped on the wing area. Create two similar shapes with different sizes, as shown below. Fill the small one with black and the big one with white. Blend the shapes and set the Transparency to Multiply. If you're not happy with the result, just adjust the anchor path using the Direct Selection Tool until you're satisfied with the result. Then send it to back.

Step 24

Now I add more lighting effects to the body. I also tweak the gradient of the body a little bit; I turn the direction from upper-left to bottom-right into from center spreading wide.

Step 25

Add a rocket launcher at the side of the body. Create two ellipses as shown below. Adjust the angle so it can fit to the body, fill the small one with black, and set dark blue as the stroke. For the bigger one, fill it with a dark blue to black gradient and set the stroke to blue.

Step 26

Color the other fin.

Step 27

Perform any necessary lighting adjustments.

Step 28

This is the final rendering of the aircraft, after adding a stylized highlight across the glass.

Step 29

Next I'm going to make a rocket burst at the tail of the aircraft. First make an orange background in a new layer, and put it below the others.

Step 30

Create three shapes with different sizes and colors (yellow, orange, and white) as shown below, then blend them. Turn the Opacity of white object into 0% (use Direct Selection tool to grab it). Make sure you create this rocket burst in the "Main Body" layer.

Step 31

Now place the burst where it should be, adjust its size and angle. Seems that the burst doesn't blend smoothly enough to the background; we can still see a little bit of white color in it. So I decide to change the color to yellow at 100, by keep the Transparency at 0%. There are other ways to have it blend to the background; adjusting background color, playing with transparency blending, playing opacity, etc. Experimenting is the best way to get the result you want.

Look at the cool reflection effect it has on the rear side of the aircraft!

Step 32

Now the last step is adding graphical elements to background. In this tutorial I add speed lines in a Kirby's brush style. Also, I adjust the aircraft's size and angle.

Final Image

Save your file. The final image is below. Have fun applying these techniques in your own work!


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