11 February 2011

Create quirky 3D imagery in Illustrator

Vector graphics need not be one-dimensional. In this tutorial, Thomas Burden – aka ‘…and there will be unicorns’ – shows how Adobe Illustrator’s 3D extrusions and Map Art function can be used to create an imaginary room full of weird, wonderful and definitely retro computer kit.

Although pretty basic, these faux 3D functions in Illustrator can generate an infinite number of cool shapes and elements that can add a whole new dimension – literally – to working with vector graphics.

You can add further depth by shading these elements, either in Illustrator or, with a great deal more control, by importing them into Photoshop.

Step 1 As you’ll see when you open Digital Future.eps from the Download Zone, I have created a few basic elements to save you time – not that drawing two circles takes much time, though it’s a little more involved to make the patterned strip shown from a red rectangle and a repeated stroke.

As all the components in the final image are created essentially using one process, we will demonstrate by making just one of the objects – the ‘bellows-in-a-bell-jar’ thing, seen sitting atop the ‘reel-to-reel-machine’ thing.

Step 2 To start, click the Symbols panel and drag the patterned strip into it. In the dialog box that pops up, name the new symbol ‘Pattern Strip’ and indicate its type by clicking the ‘Graphic’ button. Now hit OK to add it to the Symbols library.

Step 3 The large orange circle will form the object’s base. Click on it, go to the menu bar and select Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel.


Step 4 In the 3D Extrude & Bevel options, select Isometric Top in the Position drop-down menu. Set the Extrude Depth to 38 pt and select No Shading from the Surface drop-down. To see 3D magic take place on the artboard before you’ve even dismissed the dialog box, make sure that the Preview box on the right is ticked.

Step 5 Now click the Map Art button on the right-hand side of the dialog box. Click through the surfaces at the top until the side of the extruded circle is highlighted in red.

Step 6 Select the Pattern Strip from the Symbol drop-down menu at the top of the dialog box.


Step 7 Click on Scale to Fit. Drag the symbol in at the sides so it only covers the visible area of the extruded circle, and then hit OK to return to the Extrude & Bevel dialog box. Click OK again.

Step 8 Now select the blue circle and once more use Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Select Isometric Top again, this time with an Extrude Depth of 208pt. Select Jaggy from the Bevel drop-down menu and set the height to 16pt. Lo and behold, the bellows of our ‘bellows-in-a-bell-jar’ have popped into existence.

Step 9 Now we need to add some shadow to the bellows. To do this, select Plastic Shading from the Surface drop-down menu and then click the More Options button. Set Light Intensity to 100%, Ambient Light to 11%, Highlight Intensity to 3%, Highlight Size to 90% and Blend Steps to 25%.

Select Custom from the Shading Color drop-down and select a mid to dark grey (or enter these values: C41 M33 Y33 K0). Then click OK.


Step 10 Now we’ll start to make the bell jar. Select the Rounded Rectangle tool from the Tools palette. Click on the artboard to bring up the Options dialog box and put in the values shown. Click OK.

Step 11 With the new shape selected, choose the Pen tool (P) and hover over the bottom anchor points until a minus sign is displayed next to the cursor. Click twice to delete the anchor points. This leaves a gentle curve, so use the Convert Anchor Point tool (Shift + C) and click on the bottom two points to convert them into corners.

Step 12 With the Direct Selection tool (A), select the bottom two points of the new shape by clicking and dragging a box over just them. Now click on one of them and drag them downwards to make the bell jar shape a little taller, holding down Shift to keep them in a straight line.


Step 13 Select the Ellipse tool (L). Click and drag an ellipse to form the bottom of the belljar. Using the ellipse of the extruded isometric circle as a guide, resize it to fit at the bottom of the bell jar shape.

Step 14 With the Selection tool (V), select this new ellipse and the rest of the bell jar shape. Fill them both with the New Gradient Swatch 1 swatch in the Swatch palette.

Step 15 Using the Gradient tool (G), click and drag downwards from the centre of the semicircle at the top of the bell jar to create the correct shading for a 3D object.


Step 16 Now select just the ellipse at the bottom of the bell jar. Copy it and paste it on top (Cmd/Ctrl + F). Use the Eyedropper tool (I) to change its colour to that of the first extruded circle. Then shrink it slightly, holding down Alt + Shift to resize it from the centre. Set the opacity to 45% and group it with the rest of the bell jar. Set the opacity of this group to 65%.

Now place the bell jar above the base, with the bellows uppermost. Our work is done.

Thomas Burden


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