Off the Artboard #3 – Vault-Boy-Like Character Creation Part 1


This is a tutorial requested by my good friend and fellow Illustrator neophyte, Ron Peaks.  Looking to use a simple cartoon character for a manual similar to the cartoon Vault-Boy character from the Fallout series, yet still usable in a non-Bethesda-Obsidian publication.  It sounded like a good challenge so I took him up on it.

I have two warnings about this!  First, it’s a LOT longer than intended, because it has a lot of screenshots.  Second, this is just the way I figured out how to do it with my limited Illustrator knowledge.  I’m sure there are other, better ways, but if you want to learn how to make this kind of character with just basic tools this was the way that was most intuitive to me.  It uses just a few basic tools and is easy to color and personalize.

I’ve tried hard to not sound like Strong Bad trying to teach everyone to draw a dragon… (draw and “s”…then a more different “s”…)

This post will appear in two parts, this on shows how to make the character’s head.  One in a few weeks will show how to make his body.

An Illustrator Simpleton’s Guide to Making a Character that Resembles, Yet is Legally Distinct, from Fallout’s Vault-Boy:

 Step 1:

Create a perfect circle by selecting the ellipse tool, holding alt+shift and left click dragging it onto the page.


Step 2:

Add two anchor points using the add anchor point tool (it is in the same family as the pen tool left click and hold the pen tool and select it from the list that appears)  in between the left bottom and right top existing anchor points on the circle.  Click the “direct selection” tool, click each of the new anchor points you’ve just created (you may have to click them then click them again to ensure you’ve selected them).  Click and hold and drag them to a new location to warp the circle and make it appear a bit more square.


Step 3:

Create an oblong ellipse for the left eye.  Select it, ctrl+c to copy, ctrl+b to paste it behind the original eye.  (DO NOT click off of an object you’ve copied behind another object.  It will be extra steps and finagling to get it selectable again.  Any time you ctrl+c, ctrl+b in this tutorial DO NOT click anywhere else on the artboard, as it will deselect the new object and you’ll have to navigate to find it again.)   Then using the arrow keys nudge it to create the right eye.  While the right eye is selected shift+alt and resize and make it slightly smaller than the left (for perspective)


Step 4:

Select the star tool from the polygons.  Change it from 5 points to 3.  Click on the art board to create a triangle.


Step 5:

Rotate the triangle so the top point faces left.


Step 6:

Using the direct selection tool again, move the various specific anchor points to create the desired shape of the nose.


Step 7:

Using direct selection tool, select the central anchor point on the back of the nose.  Once it’s specifically selected hit delete to remove the line segment.


Step 8:

Using the ellipse tool create a wide oblong ellipse.  ctrl+c to copy it, ctrl+f to paste it forward and nudge it up.  This will be to create the smile, so feel free to move it to the desired position to make a bigger or different mouth.  You can also change the shape of the circle to make a bigger smile, a frown, or using different shapes and warps to make various expressions.


Step 9:

Select both circles.  Using the shape builder tool in CS5, hold alt and click and hold the top circle as shown.  Drag the curser through the top of the circles and release.  This will remove the unwanted shapes.


Step 10:

You’ll be left with just the desired “smile” shape.


Step 11:

Position the new “smile” in the desired place on the head.


Step 12:

With the smile selected, ctrl+c to copy, ctrl+f to paste it in front of the smile.  Then, with the new shape selected, go to the menu, click Object–>Transform–>Rotate and type 90 into the box.  Then resize the item using shift+alt again to get it the appropriate size and move it to the corner of the mouth as shown.


Step 13:

Select the new mouth corner, ctrl+c to copy, ctrl+b to paste it behind.  Nudge it to the other side of the mouth.  Go to Object–>Transform–>Reflect and select vertical.  The select the main mouth shape again.  ctrl+c to copy, ctrl+b to paste behind.  Nudge it below the original mouth.  shift+alt resize it to make it smaller to create the line under the smile as shown.


Step 14:

Click the main smile shape again.  Ctrl+c and ctrl+f and move it above the eye.


Step 15:

From the menu select Object–>Transform–>Reflect and select horizontal to flip it.  Then shift+alt resize to get it the desired shape.  You can also select the object and free transform rotate it to get it the desired angle (you can make angry eyes, arched eye brows, etc.)


Step 16:

Select your new eyebrow.  Ctrl+c, ctrl+b and nudge it with the arrow keys over the right eye.  Go to Object–>Transform–>Reflect and select vertical to flip it and get it the correct angle.  Shift+alt resize it to make it a bit smaller for perspective.


Step 17:

Click the left eye (his left!)  Ctrl+c, ctrl+b, to paste the copy behind the original.  Nudge the new one up so it’s visible peeking out over the original eye and repeat the process for the other eye.


Step 18:

Using the ellipse tool, shift+alt to create a perfect circle on the side of the head.


Step 19:

Select the head shape and the new circle.  Using the shape builder tool, click inside the head shape, hold, and drag to the new circle to join the shapes as shown.



Step 20:

Using the ellipse tool create a series of circles on top of the head.  This will be for the hair so feel free to make an arrangement you like.  Just remember we’ll be joining these using shape builder, so it may take a few tries at this to ensure you get the desired final shape.


Step 21:

If you want the little swooshes as show, create two overlapping circles as shown, and select only those two.


Step 22:

Using shape builder, select the top circle, click hold+alt to delete the unwanted shape elements.



Step 23:

Drag the new crescent to the other circles, select ONLY the ellipses you created for the HAIR (Don’t select ANY of the other elements, especially the head shape.  This will mess up your art…) And join them using click+hold+drag over all the selected shapes.  You may have to do that several times inside the new “hair” shapes to join any extra shapes that might have been missed with the original join actions.


Step 24:

To add any extra “Swooshes” repeat process Step 21 as many times as you like and shape-builder them into the hair shape.  You can resize them and overlap them to make different shapes.  You can also resize the entire hair section.






Step 25:

Create a square using the rectangle tool in the location shown.


Step 26:

Using direct selection (again you may have to click each anchor point twice to make sure only the anchor is selected not the entire polygon) drag the points to the locations shown.


Step 27:

Select the “hair” shape and the newly-shaped polygon and join them using shape builder.  Feel free to resize or shape to create the look you’d like.


Step 28:

Create an ellipse in the location as shown and ctrl+left bracket ( [ ) key to send it to the back.


Step 29:

Selecting the new ellipse, Ctrl+c, ctrl+b to paste it and nudge it to the other side of the head.  You may wish to reposition it to give it the right angle.


Step 30:

Create a rounded rectangle and free-transform resize it as shown.


Step 31:

Free transform rotate it so the angle matches the angle of the square you create for the hair.


Step 32:

Ctrl+c, ctrl+f to copy and paste it as many times as desired.  Shift+alt resize them to get them the correct size and move them into position as shown.  It may help to move them down and left or right with the arrow keys to keep them in line rather than moving them with the mouse.


Step 33:

Color your shapes as desired.  Select each shape and select a color from the swatches to give them the desired color!


Step 34:

Create two overlapping white ellipses in the left (his left!) eye.


Step 35:

Selecting your new ellipses, ctrl+c, ctrl+b them then nudge them to the right (his right!) eye. Shift+alt resize them for perspective again.


There it is, you’ve created a legally-distinct Vault Boy-type character head!

As a bonus!

Want to give him a gruffer look?


Overlap the face with another ellipse.


Step 2:

Select the head shape and new ellipse shape and use the shape builder tool and click+alt to erase the outside ellipse shape.



Step 3:

Recolor the ellipse any shade of gray, brown, etc.


Step 4:

Change the opacity to the desired shade to give him a 5 o’clock shadow look!


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