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!


Off the Artboard #2: And They Shall Know No Fear…

2D or otherwise!

Anyone who has read my section in “About Us” knows I have of late gained a massive interest in Warhammer 40k.  Thereby giving me +100 to my “King Dork” abilities.

Honestly, I didn’t even know much about it until “Space Marine,” which was my favorite game from last year.  Purists might scoff at my console-game entry into this vast universe, but, to quote James Rolfe: “To be a fan of anything, you have to be exposed to it first.”  Since discovering the incredibly deep and detailed world of the far future, I have read several novels, collected many art books, played through the Dawn of War series, watched the fun Ultramarines movie, and even started my own army (pics of my first painting attempts coming soon!).

Though I began my knowledge with the Ultramarines and read books about both Space Wolves and Grey Knights, it’s the Librarian-Knowledge-Centric Blood Ravens from Dawn of War that appealed the most to me.

I utilized this overwhelming interest to exercise more of my recently acquired, albeit limited, Illustrator skills.  While I’m still in the “look what I can do with polygons” phase using only the limited tools that come with Illustrator (the preloaded color options, shapes, etc), and creating objects and/or figures that just stand there, I was impressed with how much could be done using just what was learned in a few Google-found tutorials.  This has been a fun exercise in making something I’m interested in to try and learn to operate Illustrator and make using all the tools and functions second nature.  It was also an exercise in mass-production as I started with the basic marine and used parts from that piece to create the others.  I also created two artboards of “stuff,” weapons, insignia, and symbology that could be used over and over in various places to prevent having to re-create anything.

How impressed I’ll be with these early efforts next year only time will tell, but for now I give you my 2D squad of cartoon-style Blood Ravens!

Tactical Marine
My first effort. Basic tactical marine all cartoon’d out.  I gave him a standard bolter and a couple of grenades.
Assault Marine
This one was a nice exercise in different equipment. Making that chainsword was a blast and the first part of the Blood Ravens’ motto can be seen on its blade.
Devastator marine
A heavy-support devastator marine with heavy bolter. This one proved tricky and needs the most correcting. I made him a veteran just to mix up the colors a bit.
Captain/Chapter Master Gabriel Angelos
Captain Angelos with the Godsplitter. Making the artificer parts of his armor were an immensely fun challenge. Also he’s the only one with a human face. He’s still a cartoon but mostly recognizable!
Davian Thule
The final piece of the squad, Davian Thule as a Venerable Dreadnought. This one was obviously the most difficult, I could borrow very little from the others. It was also the most fun to build! There’s some canonical text on his armor.  Davian Thule was my favorite character in the Dawn of War series.  I wanted to ensure his venerable dreadnought state got the respect it deserved.

These were fun creations and made for nice self-taught Illustrator tutorials.  They’re still 2D flat objects, but are pretty far from my first “magnifying glass” creation, even though they were created essentially using the same concepts.  Next I’m going to try some expressive orks and maybe more dynamic character art.  These were fun though and hopefully they’ll be enjoyed!

Off the Artboard #1: Byte Me

Since my previous post ended up being a brief novella due to the desire to express my inexhaustible love for Dragon Warrior I thought I would use this as an opportunity to be more graphical and less textual.

This concept came from my friend Ron Peaks at my day job who thought “You can megabyte me” would make a good t-shirt.  He’s a comedy assassin; the humor always comes from nowhere and slays you instantly.

I made these graphics based on the concept and thought (since I go back far enough) it would be amusing to see the history of “bytes.”  These images used several different techniques in Illustrator, two used 3D effects, two used the perspective tool; they all used various combinations of polygons, shape-builder, and gradients.  They represent a lot of what I learned in my first two months of dedicated Illustrator-ing, were fun to create, and made for nice bright graphics.

So here they are!  He was correct, they probably would make good t-shirts…

Kilo Byte Me
With 5.25 Inch Floppy Disk!
Mega Byte Me
With 3.5 Inch Floppy Disk!
Giga Byte Me
With DVD!
Tera Byte Me
With a Hard Drive!
2D Formats
These were the base graphics I created to build the logos. It was fun to revisit the all the various storage media of my past…

An Illustrator’s Foray into Adobe Illustrator – Week 6

This will be the last one of these as the rest of my Illustrator education will now be appearing in RevPub’s creative projects.  These two tutorials I did in April and related to tracing and coloring in Illustrator.  These are nice lessons, especially good at teaching how to work from images created outside of Illustrator, first using the pen tool, and second using the blob brush and a pen tablet.

Since I didn’t feel like staring at pictures of myself while I learned this and I didn’t want to license any photos I used a couple of pictures of the far more photogenic half of RevPub to try these out.  She makes for a nice cartoon!

This is the first one.  This was appealing as it had a more stylized look, used only Illustrator tools, and provided a simple (but eye catching and dramatic) style:

The highly contrasted tutorial made this picture look even more eye-catching.

This was the first time I tried this technique and it was effective and has helped immensely with my own work.  Starting with a complicated photograph you definitely don’t want to do any artistic injustice to raised the bar for the work, but it’s made the simple illustrations I do far easier in retrospect.  Honestly I haven’t used this specific technique frequently but it was very effective at teaching the tools needed to create more advanced artwork, especially from photographs or scanned drawings.

The second one was more natural for me as it used the pen tablet.  The pen tablet is still a tricky device for me.  I need to see the marks coming out of the pen to be effective but I’m slowly learning to use it.

This tutorial was actually to teach you how to zombify a person, but I thought I’d use the skills taught in the tutorial just to do the basics first (zombies to come later of course…)  This one came better than I expected and taught how to color using the Live Paint Bucket (a tool I didn’t know about that BLEW MY MIND).

Here’s my second tutorial result:

Raven Trace
She was posing in a Halloween costume but I love the expressiveness of this picture and it’s a great smile. It was perfect for tracing and coloring.

These two tutorials, mixed with the others I’ve posted, have really taken me from “What the-?” in Illustrator to creation of my own artwork using multiple layers and tools.  I’m by no means a master in the software, or even professionally proficient, but my knowledge of the software has vastly improved in just a few weeks using the infinite power of the World Wide Webs (or “Internets” if you prefer).  I should write Google a thank you card.

I hope everyone has found these tutorials useful too.  My next Illustrator posts will be things to look forward to in RevPub’s first official “pub” Lil’ Horsemen, which, barring some unforeseen hold-up, is coming Summer-Fall 2012!

An Illustrator’s Foray into Adobe Illustrator – Week 4

Shapes can show emotions too.  Really.

Seeing shapes is how illustration begins, especially in Illustrator, but using shapes to create something with personality is a different level.  I could gladly live in a world of inanimate sharpened objects and smooth, perfect polygons all day (they are rarely annoying and frequently useful) however living such a life, even in artwork, would be kind of a drag.  So I sought ways to turn shapes into characters.  In doing so I stumbled across this site, which has been a wonderful resource of Illustrator tutorials:

Not all of them are perfect and some of the instructions can be a little vague, especially if you like to go through tutorials in a “I get the gist” kind of way and skip ahead…you’ll be doing a LOT of ctrl+z…read all the steps…seriously…

This tutorial was by far my favorite on the site as it had the most to do with my kind of illustration and it allowed some real creativity to burst forth:

This is a little surprising given my penchant for the macabre but seeing all of the steps needed to create this character; all of the tools used; the various effects, gradients, and polygons combined and altered to turn simple shapes into an expressive character was truly entertaining.  It also allowed for a significant amount of learning-while-doing that sticks with me because of the fun I had making the lil sun guy.  Here’s my result of the tutorial:

I love this guy. From his dilated eyes to his gap-tooth smile. Just love him. Don’t know why.

And because I’d rather be howling at the moon that funning in the sun I created this original piece using the steps and tools in the tutorial:

I hate to be overly proud of myself (not really) but I was really fond of how this moon came out. I like him even more than the sun.

Hopefully all of these sphere tutorials have been as enlightening for other Illustrator neophytes as they were for me.  Next week will be one last shape tutorial I found that includes shapes and textures used to make a dramatic and slick-looking graphic…even if it’s not as personable as a happy sun character it’ll be something to look forward to!

An Illustrator’s Foray into Adobe Illustrator – Week 3

More spheres!  Admittedly working all of these tutorials was pretty addictive and once I started learning how to use Illustrator’s various functions it was hard to stop seeking out new applications to learn.

After designing the previous sphere, which was of course simply a circle shaded to resemble a 3D object, I became curious about the rendering capabilities of Illustrator.  While cruising the forums the rendering features are often discussed and, much like pathfinder tools, which can be a little confusing for beginners like me, the 3D rendering feature feels inaccessible.

My first attempt to create something in 3D without instructions was a sphere, what could be simpler than a circle, right?  So I created an ellipse and tried a few of the 3D options, creating a cylinder, a disc, and finally this thing:

The Great Black Oil Donut

I clearly needed some assistance with this feature and while searching for “How to Create Spheres” I found another tutorial that showed, as an element of the exercise, how to create 3D spheres.  Once you see how it’s done it feels a little less psychotic than all the random shapes you can create just trying to make a polygon a 3D polygon.  The tutorial taught how to make a “peel effect” which is similar to the AT&T logo of a shape wrapped around an invisible sphere.

The tutorial:

Not only does this teach how to make 3D spheres using the rendering tools, but how to repeat graphic shapes using transform, how to create symbols, and of course how to apply the symbols to make the peel effect.

During one of the steps it shows how to easily create a 3D rendered sphere like this:

My first sphere rendered in 3D.

It was one of my favorite basic illustrator tutorials.  It was very easy to follow and provided clear steps in the multiple tools used to create the graphic.  Also it teaches by osmosis several other useful tools and finally hammered into my analog brain how digital 3D rendering works. I used it to create the peel effect he shows:

I admit when it worked I did say aloud, “What the…that actually worked!”

One slightly more difficult one of my own:

It was just an attempt to apply the rectangles in an overlapping fashion but it came out looking a bit like a Christmas tree ornament. It let me try the process one more time though!

And then combined it with what I learned in the previous tutorials to create this original graphic inspired by the wonderful, colorful, world of James Rolfe’s AVGN:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is…an F-Bomb… And I think the Nerd would approve since it looks like a Nintendo 64 graphic.

The above graphic was created using the 3D rendering sphere technique learned in the tutorial from this week; the cylinders I created by accident using “bevel and extrude” trying to create spheres before I learned how to do it properly; radial gradient shading learned from last week’s tutorial; and the pen tool (which I accidentally left on the gradient fill and made a nice fire effect).  It goes to show, once you learn enough to operate properly, classic trial-and-error methodology still has skills it can impart…and that feels like a Mr. Miyagi-level lesson.

Next week is the last tutorial about making spheres and how they’re used to create textures and even characters.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to use the 3D rendering tool so feel free to share creative ways to use them.  To quote Bender Bending Rrrrrodriguez: Learning is fun.

The inspiration for the F-Bomb:

Support James Rolfe and the AVGN Movie at!