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Utilizing Perspective and Depth of Field in Your Character Creations

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When it comes to simulating three dimensional depth in your illustrations, the Blend Tool is your new best friend. Watch and be amazed at the power of Illustrator CS3 as it reaches through your monitor and, with defiance, and slaps you in the face with it's subtle charm and versatility.

You can find the source files in the directory labeled "source" that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.

Step 1

Using the Ellipse Tool (L) create a perfect circle. Then apply a vibrant 4 color gradient (G) from light to dark using complimentary colors. Command + F9 will bring the Gradient Window onto your screen. Make sure you have Show Options selected. You can add multiple points to your gradient by clicking along the bar in the Gradient window. Adding more points and changing their brightness and hue slightly is a way to spice up the color of your illustration.

Step 2

Select your first circle and while holding Alt drag your mouse down to create another copy of your circle. Then, scale (S) it up a 100+% (Hold shift to keep proportions).

Step 3

Double-click the Blend Tool (W). Change the Spacing to Specified Distance and the Distance to 0.01 inches. Keep the Orientation on Align to Page. Now that you have your settings for your Blend Tool hit OK. I hope you have at least 2 gigs of ram, a decent CPU, and good graphics card because this can get hairy. Illustrator can crash suddenly when performing graphical combat maneuvers such as these. Save often from here on in. Side note: before every use of Live Color also I recommend saving. This is another Illustrator tool that crashes the program often.

Step 4

Now, with your Blend Tool on, click on your small circle then your larger circle. This will create your three dimensional perspective shape! You can change the lighting of your circles by clicking on each circle separately and applying the radial gradient at different angle depending on your scene’s light source.

Step 5

As you can see, applying the Blend Tool to two shapes will create a path between them. You can manipulate this path by adding points to it! Select the path using the Direct Selection Tool (A). Next, use the Pen Tool (P) and then press + to access the Add Anchor Point Tool. Once you have done that, click on the center of your path. It should look like the picture below - a solid vertices point.

Step 6

Use the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C), left-click and hold, then drag your mouse and this will create arms on your vertices. Pull it into a fluid shape and let go of your mouse button. You should get something like the image below. You can manipulate your points/vertices at any time. Play around with it.

Step 7

By moving, resizing, your two circle endpoints individually and adjusting the Anchor Point arms with the Convert Anchor Point Tool you can really add some life to your tentacle. Try moving your circle endpoints around. In order to select each circle individually you need to use the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Step 8

Repeat this technique until you have enough arms to make an octopus. Keep each arm in perspective. The side arms will not reach as close to the foreground as the front arms. Above is the breakdown of the different arms I have made and the end paths for each arm. You need to put the background arms behind the foreground arm layers. To do this you must select the whole arm using the Selection Tool (S), then press Command + Left Bracket Key or Right Bracket Key to move the layer in front of or behind other layers. This is called layer stacking (at least that is what I call it…).

Step 9

After you have your tentacles in order you will need to put together some suction cups. Click and Hold your left mouse button on the Rectangle Tool to bring up your additional options. Select the Rounded Rectangle Tool and make a rectangle. If you want to increase or decrease the roundness of the edges, hit the up arrow or the down arrow while you are placing your rectangle on the artboard.

For color, use the same 4 point gradient as the tentacles; only increase the lightness of each point until you get a nice hot pink. Drag your gradient (G) from point a to point b.

Step 10

Now, use the Warp Tool (Shift + R) and drag from point a to point b. Make sure your brush size is big enough to envelope most of your rectangle. To change the size of your Warp Tool Brush hold Alt + Shift and drag your mouse as you would if you were going to scale an object larger or smaller. This took me a bit to figure out and thus it is a valuable piece of information! You should get something like the second image.

Step 11

Next, let’s make a suction cup from the top-down angle, as if we were looking into the cup from above. Create a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L), then copy that circle (Command + C), and paste the copy on top of the first circle (Command + F).

Select the newly created circle and scale it down by half using Scale (Command + S). After you have done this, select both circles and use the Pathfinder (Command + Shift + F9) option Subtract from shape area.

Next, reapply your gradient to show the roundness of your suction cup. Use your Gradient Tool (G) and apply your pink gradient from point a to point b.

Step 12

Now that you have your two different suction cups completed, apply them to the tentacles by copying them to the appropriate places. I have labeled the side view "Cup 1" and the above view "Cup 2." You will need to use Rotate (R), Scale (S), and even the Warp Tool (Shift + R) many times during this step. You will have to make sure that the suction cups that are behind a tentacle are below the foreground tentacle layer (Refer to Step 8).

Tentacle 3 and 6 are unique if you haven’t guessed already. At the tips of 3 and 6, the purple tentacle overlaps the pink suction cups slightly. To recreate this you must Direct Select (A) the end circle of a tentacle, copy (Command + C) and paste another circle above it (Command + F). This will be separate from the tentacle group and allow you to move that layer to the top thus overlapping the suction cups. This will also prove handy later on! Finally, after much tweaking I ended up with some pretty fierce tentacles for my octopus! Rarr!

Step 13

Now you’ve got to build a head worthy of "Mordor." To do this, I used the Polygon Tool located by clicking and holding the Rectangle Tool (M). Drag it out onto your artboard and make it a pentagon (5 corner shape). You can do this by pressing the up or down arrows while you are placing the shape on your artboard (See Step 9).

After you have a nice pentagon, apply your purple radial gradient that you used on your tentacles using the Eyedropper Tool (I). Click on a circle from the tentacle while you have your pentagon selected.

Step 14

Next, click Effect > Stylize > Round Corners and round off those hard edges. I have my settings set to 2.125 inch, but it will depend on what size your pentagon is. The goal is to make it like a ball.

Step 15

Give the head some character by rotating the shape and moving each point around slightly. I like it if the top of the dome is higher than normal. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select individual points then move them around. You could probably have done this much quicker using a circle… However, this is what I did and I found it gave me interesting and satisfying results.

Step 16

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw the head under the dome. This is where his eyes will sit. Remember to keep the gradient in the same direction as the light source of your scene, which in this case is the left.

Step 17

To create the eyeballs, make another circle (L) and apply a bright 5 color gradient (G) to it, like the top image above. Make the starting point on your gradient close to white and it will give his eye a nice shiny spot. Now, grab your Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the right vertices of the circle. Select the vertices arm labeled a. Now drag it to the shiny spot of your gradient. Next select arm b. hold Alt + Shift and drag it straight down. This will give you a sharp edge instead of a rounded one. Keep altering your vertices points until you get the perfect finished eyeball. Mean isn’t it?

Step 18

Place the eyeball on the left side of the octopus head. Then copy that eyeball, right-click on it, then select Transform > Reflect and set your Reflect options to Vertical at 90 degrees. Also, you will need to apply your gradient to mimic the glare angle of the left eyeball.

Step 19

Next, I drew an angry eyelid with my Pen Tool and used the Mesh Tool (U) and clicked on each point of the eyelid. You can move the mesh points around the same way you move vertices points (See Step 6 & 17). By selecting a point you can change it's individual color, this will create a gradient between multiple colors. Make the high points of the eyelid light purple and the lower overhang points dark purple.

Step 20

Now put your eyelid over the eyeball. Copy and paste another eyelid over the other eye. Next, Transform > Reflect the eyelid like we did with the eyeball in Step 18. You will also have to rotate and scale it to get it just right.

Step 21

Group the entire head together by dragging the Selection Tool (V) over the head, the face, the eyes, and eyelids then Group them all by hitting Command + G. Now place the grouped head where all the tentacles meet.

Step 22

This is an optional step. So far, I think this octopus looks pretty rad. However, if you want, you can make him wield some killer weapons or even try multiple toilet paper rolls. For me, my weapon of choice is the Wacom Stylus Pen. I quickly threw this one together. I'm going to assume you can think of something equally great for your octopus to hold and also create it just as easily without any helpful steps from me...

Step 23

Now we're going to place the object gently over the hand of the octopus. It looks stupid placed on top of the tentacle so we need to make it look as if our octopus is grasping the object. To do this, Direct Select (A) the endpoint circle of any given tentacle.

Next, hold Alt and then drag the circle to copy it. Then you must press Shift + Command + Right Bracket Key to bring that circle to the front layer. Now place that circle back on top of where you copied it from. Make sure you Scale (S) this circle up in order to cover and overhang from the original circle. It will look stupid if you don't. Repeat this step for ever tentacle that is grasping on object.

Step 24

Finally, you've got yourself a really cool, three dimension, stylish, killer octopus! But beware! The following steps are more fearsome than any so far, partially because I will not provide any screenshots for the next 3 Steps! Also, the steps take a lot of processing power...

Step 25

I wanted to give this octopus some depth of field, but I knew that doing this in Illustrator would blow up my computer. If I applied a blur to one of these monster blended tentacles, it would take up so much CPU and memory that it would crash Illustrator. The solution? Photoshop!

To get your vectors into Photoshop is relatively simple. First, you will have to group each tentacle. Use the Selection Tool (V) and hold shift then select every piece of an entire tentacle. This includes each suction cup, the pen, the blend mode tentacle, and the copied circle that is grasping the pen. Once you have them all selected, group them together (Command + G). Do this to each tentacle separately and also to the head so they are all in their own groups.

Step 26

Now open Photoshop and create a new document (Command + N). I wanted to make my octopus into a cool desktop background so I set the doc to 1680 pixels by 1050 pixels at 300 resolution. Once you've got your new document opened in Photoshop, switch back over to Illustrator. Once in Illustrator, select a tentacle group and then drag and drop it into your new document in Photoshop. This takes a lot of CPU and RAM so be prepared to wait a while. Repeat this until you have your whole illustration in Photoshop. Each time you drop a group into Photoshop it will create a new Vector Smart Object Layer.

Step 27

Make sure you place each layer appropriately above or below the other layers so that the foreground tentacles are on the top layers and the head is the bottom layer. You can drag the layers around by Click and hold while dragging the mouse above or below each other in the Layers window.

Step 28

I want to make the focal point the head of the octopus and also his left arm which he is raising in violent defiance. I have highlighted them in the top picture featured below. To do this, select the largest tentacle layer and click Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and give it a good 6 or so.

Step 29

As shown below, we'll follow three sub-steps here:

  1. Click on the Smart Filter that has the Gaussian Blur applied to it.
  2. Press B to select your Paint Brush Tool, then change the brush to a large feathered brush and make your foreground color black.
  3. Paint from point a along the tentacle until you reach point b. This will give you a cool depth of field effect. Repeat this step on the other large tentacle and you will cause the viewer's eyes to be drawn to the head first every time. You can also apply this same step to the tentacles that are in the middle except only use a brush opacity of 50% and it will look more in focus but still blurred.

Step 30

To finish my Illustration off I created some shadowing against the white background. To do this create a new layer and pull it to the bottom of the layer stack, just above the white background layer. Turn that new layer's opacity to 50% and use the black feathered paintbrush to paint in the areas where the tentacles would cast a shadow.

I painted a primary shadow and a secondary shadow, both are separate layers set to 50% opacity. I also added some shading to various tentacles as they needed. The top screenshot shows the primary shading layer applied and the bottom screenshot features: 1. Primary Shading layer; 2. Secondary, more detailed, shading layer; 3. additional shading to the appropriate tentacles. It's not perfect, but I like it!

Step 31

For your final step, select all the layers (Click on the top layer, hold Shift, then click on the bottom layer) except your background layer and Group (Command + G) them into a folder. Click on your folder layer and then use the Move Tool (V) to move your final render into an interesting position on your artboard to make for a eye-catching desktop wallpaper.


So you see, Illustrator's power is comparable to that of the 1950s Soviet Union. It competes against even the most versatile 3D rendering programs out there. I hope you have all enjoyed this tutorial, even though the last thing the design world needs now is another octopus. I look forward to seeing these techniques put to use in the Vectortuts+ Flickr pool. The final image is below. You can view the large versions here and here.

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