04 Mar How to create cartoon characters in Illustrator
Time to write a tutorial about vector mascot design in Illustrator. In this post I’ll explain you the design process I followed at the time to design Twisted Monkey cartoon character in vector format.
First off I pass the Briefing, a series of key questions that helps you to understand the company goals and its requirements, to the client. It can be done in a more or less formal way.
Since the client is a company that produces horror movies, they didn’t request the typical cute monkey, we went with an edgy monkey mascot logo instead. We came up with the idea of including a straight jacket and and a bloody knife… lots of blood! It had to look fun, yet intriguing at the same time.
Traditional Drawing and Photoshop Retouches
Sketching with a Wacom Cintiq and Photoshop is fun and faster but it’s expensive, if you can’t afford it, you may start drawing the traditional way, with a paper and pencil then scan it and trace it with vector tools.
Traditional drawing on the left, photoshop retouches on the right.
I start sketching with a red pencil, when I’m satisfied with the results I redraw it with a normal pencil. As you may notice, it is a very loose sketch.
Unfortunately my line quality isn’t as good as some comic artists, no worries, we can scan it and make some improvements with Photoshop!
Once I get something potentially good I scan it into Photoshop and play around, I change the facial expressions, the pose and various other elements of the design… until I get something I like.
Take a look at how the character evolves during the creation process. It’s normal not starting with a very clear idea of what you are going to do, just have fun and spend some time for research.
Evolution of the personality of our character 😛
Cleaning and Inking in Photoshop
No matter if you work on bitmaps or vectors it’s critical working on high resolution (around 8.000 x 8.000 pixels) as you will work more more comfortably. If you work on bitmaps at the end of the process you can reescale the lineart down and all small imperfections will be gone, this will make the automatic vectorisation more accurate.
Clean sketch on the left, final inking on the right
Once we have a final sketch for the mascot character, I clean it in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet and assigning different line weights, then I proceed with the final inking.
Final inking, it’s very important to modulate the lines correctly.
Notice we have 3 types of lines: contours are the thicker lines, internal lines are thinner and transition lines starting as contour and getting inner.
Our digital inking must be as light and clean as possible.
– Don’t create shadows.
– Don’t use extremely thick lines without any variation in thickness.
– Don’t overload the inking with internal lines: just mark volume in a subtle way so they work as guide for the color.
– Don’t use completely straight lines.
– Don’t make really small details: your volumes must be as big as possible, otherwise you wont have sufficient space for the color.
Vectorizing in Illustrator
If you created your lineart with Photoshop vector tools you can open the PSD file directly in Illustrator and it will be completely editable.
If you opted for the Photoshop Brush Tool, we can open the file in Illustrator and vectorise our bitmap lineart by using Image Trace, it’s quite straight forward. Here is a video where I explain how to do it.
After the vectorisation you probably will need to clean your layers, the goal is having a black shape with lot of white shapes on top. In this tutorial you have more info about vectorisation in Illustrator.
Assigning flat colors
Now we only have to fill each white area with the color we want, I use medium tones, not too dark or too light so, later on, we have room for the lights and shadows.
We will use gradients of at least two different colors, but not extremely contrasting because we’ll add lights and shades later on. For now don’t pay too much attention to the gradient direction, we’re just choosing the color tones, later on we’ll orientate them to give coherence to the illumination.
We cut areas into smaller volumes
Cutting the areas
The gradient areas are too big to get good illumination effects. So we have to cut these big areas in to smaller volumes with the knife tool. Donwload this video to learn how to do it.
Now we fine tune the gradient colors so we get a coherent illumination. There’s a basic thumb rule: next to a dark color there’s always a light color.
We’ll create a layer, in the transparency palette we change the blend mode to Multiply.
For the shadows we simply pick a flat or gradient color similar the one in the background and create the shadows. As it’s in multiply mode, it will interact with the background resulting a darker color.
Animation so you appreciate the shadows.
IMPORTANT : if you use shadows in Normal mode you’ll need a lot of adjustments to not to cover the black lines. Multiply mode makes the layer transparent on top of a black color so there is no adjustment needed.
In this case it’s not essential to use different layer modes, although you can always use the Screen blend mode to get lighter tones.
First off I make a soft illumination and later on I add some strong light areas in order to reinforce the contours.
Now we only need to add some blood courtesy of free Gomedia vectors . The blood stains are in a Multiply layer on top just below the right eye.
Illustration is a complex issue and I didn’t cover all details in full, if you want to dig even more I suggest you take a look to the following tutorial. If you have any question you can also comment and I’ll try to answer it as soon as possible.