Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Create a Vector Snake Using Adobe Illustrator CS5 and Mesh Tormentor

Final Image:

In this tutorial we will learn how to create a vector snake using the Mesh Tormentor - Free Gradient Mesh plugin, which will make your work with the gradient mesh simple and enjoyable. I was trying to describe the creation of a complex object in order to reveal more features of this wonderful plugin, but believe me, it can do much more than I managed to describe. The matter depends on your imagination.

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS5, Mesh Tormentor;
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: 2 Hours

Step 1

Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a broken outline as it is shown in the figure below. This outline determines the shape of the snake body and can be arbitrary.

Select the anchor points of the outline with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and convert them from corner into smooth ones. By controlling the handles of the anchor points, try to bring the outline to a perfect shape.

Step 2

For further work we need to know the length of the created outline. Select the outline, open the Document Info palette, select Objects in the palette menu and write down or memorize the length value.

Step 3

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle, so that its width was equal to the length of the outline that you created earlier.

Now begin to transform a rectangle into a shape resembling a snake, stretched horizontally. With the Pen Tool (P) put a new anchor point in the center of the right side of the rectangle and with the same tool remove its right corners. As a result we got a triangle shown in the figure below.

Step 4

Now add a new anchor point in the center of the left side of the triangle.

Direct Selection Tool (A) select left corners of the triangle and move them slightly to the right while holding down the Shift key.
Create a vertical guide and place it as shown below. Lock the guide in the Layers palette, take the Pen Tool (P) and create two new anchor points at the intersection of the figure with the guide.

Move the created points to the center of the shape, you can use the arrow keys.

Select all the points of the snake head and convert them from corner into smooth ones.

Step 5

Add two more points in the middle of the snake body, move them from the axis of the shape and convert into smooth ones.

Move the created shape into Brushes palette, choose the Art Brush and check the Stretch Between Guides option in the dialog box.

Of course, you can ask a reasonable question: why did we create the shape of the brush of a certain length, when anyway it will stretch along the path? Be patient, you will understand why I did it when it comes to the scale.

Step 6

Now the "try on" the brush to the outline created at the beginning of this tutorial. Select the path and click on the brush image in the Brushes palette.

Thus, our snake needs editing. We can adjust the shape of a snake, by changing the stroke width in the Stroke palette.

As well as moving the guides in the Art Brush dialog window. You can get the access to the parameters of the brush through the Appearance palette, or double-clicking on the image of the brush in the Brushes palette.

Watch the shape of the snake in the process of editing, when it gains an acceptable result, click on the OK button in the dialog box, Art Brush, then Apply to Stroke.

Write down all the brush settings, we will need them in step 10.

Step 7

Now, when it fits perfectly, apply the basic stroke to the outline, canceling the applied brush in the Appearance palette.


Copy this outline and paste it in front (Cmd / Ctrl + C; Cmd / Ctrl + F), locking the upper outline in the layers palette and make it invisible, it will be needed in further creation. Do not skip this step, it is very important!

Step 8

It's time to launch heavy metal. Further on we will be working with the Mesh Tormentor, it is a plugin for work with the Gradient Mesh. You can download and learn more about its features following these links.
Duplicate the created shape of the brush, drag it down holding down the Opt / Alt. Select the bottom of the shape and go to Object> Create Gradient Mesh .... Set the number of rows and columns in the dialog box and select the Appearance: To Center, to add dissimilarity to our image.

Step 9

Open the Mesh Tormentor palette, it will be available from the Windows menu after installing the plugin. Select the mesh object and click on Make BMG button. This operation transforms the mesh object into a set of simple vector objects with the same geometry as the original object.

Step 10

Now drag the created group of objects to the Brushes palette and save it as an Art Brush with the same parameters as the brush we created in step 6.

Apply a new brush to the contour of the snake, and set the same stroke width as in step 6.

Step 11

Keeping the snake selected, go to Object> Expand Appearance.

Now we have to do the opposite action - turn a set of objects into a mesh object. To do this, simply click on the Convert BMG into mesh button.

Step 12

As you can see, we got artifacts on the areas of mesh overlapping. This happens because the whole object lies in one plane. To achieve the desired result mesh object should be cut into pieces. Cut the mesh with the Split command from the Mesh Tormentor palette. It divides the mesh into two parts along the line passing through selected side node.

If the existing lines of the mesh are not in those areas, create new ones using the Gradient Mesh Tool (U) and divide the mesh along these lines.

Step 13

Now that mesh objects have achieved the right shape of a snake, we can proceed to light and shadow on the snake. Let's start with the head, coloring the nodes of the mesh with the shades of gray, as shown below.

Nodes coloring at the junctions of the mesh should not be unlike, otherwise the seams will be visible. Lock all the mesh objects in the layers palette except for the object being edited. Now select one node at a time at the junction with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A) and with the Eyedropper Tool (I) color the nodes in the colors of the neighboring areas.

Step 14

In my case, the light source is located to left of the snake. Therefore, the inner parts of the snake which are closer to the light source must be painted in lighter shades than the remote objects. To create a more realistic light and shadow, you can create new grid lines, using the Gradient Mesh Tool (U) in this work.

Step 15

Get to the creation of the scale. Take the Polygon Tool and create a hexagon of any size and color. With the Selection Tool (V) and holding down Opt / Alt slightly increase its width.

Keep the scale selected, go to Effect> Stylize> Round Corners ... and set the radius of the rounding.

Now go to Object> Expand Appearance.

Step 16

With the Selection Tool (V) reduce the scale to the desired size, balancing its size with the size of the snake's head.

Select the cell and go to Effect> Transform & Distort> Transform, now setting the parameters of the scale displacement in the dialog window (I have not done any calculations, but simply moved the sliders of the horizontal and vertical displacement, watching the result).

Click OK in the dialog box, now apply the effect again (Effect> Transform & Distort> Transform), but with new parameters.

And the last time Effect> Transform & Distort> Transform, select the number of copies in the dialog box so that the length of the scale was approximately equal to the length of the brush shape (length of the snake outline).

Keeping the scale selected, go to Object> Expand Appearance.

Step 17

Keeping the scale selected, go to Object> Transform> Rotate ... and set the rotation angle of 90 degrees in the dialog box.

Fill the cells with red color, now create a set of horizontal rails, conventionally dividing the scale into equal parts, you do not need to be very accurate here.

Lock the guides in the Layers palette.
Using the same tool select areas above and below the yellow scales and fill them with black.

Using this technique, recolor the pieces of the scale along its entire length.

Step 19

Select the shape of the brush and go to Object> Transform> Rotate ... and set the rotation angle of 90 degrees in the dialog box. Make sure to include this shape in the underlayer above the scale.

Select scale and shape of the brush and go to Object> Envelope Distort> Make with Top Object. As a result the scale got the shape of the brush.

Step 20

Keeping the shape selected, go to Object> Transform> Rotate ... and rotate it at -90 degrees in order to return it to horizontal view. Now drag the scale to the Brushes palette and save it as an Art Brush with the same parameters as in step 6.

Now unlock and make visible the contour of the snake that we saved in step 7. Select this path and apply the brush of scales.

If we applied the Art Brush, excluding the length of the path, we would have got stretched or compressed scales, which would not resemble the scales of snakes.

Step 21

Keeping the upper outline selected set the Multiply Blending Mode for it in the Transparency palette.

Step 22

In area of the snake body intersection we can see the scales overlapping each other. This defect must be fixed. Select the upper outline with scale and go to Object> Expand Appearance, now with the help of the Direction Tool (A) select the scales, which should not be visible, and delete them by pressing the Delete button.

Scales, which lie at the boundaries in the intersection of the snake body do not have to be removed. Select and group them up for convenience. Move the group of these scales in the layers palette so that it was located under the mesh object, which is supposed to lie above them.

After moving these scales set the Multiply Blending Mode for them again in the Transparency palette, as they were moved from the group that has these properties.

Step 23

Create glare on some scales. Select scales and fill them with linear gradient from the basic color to white one.

Step 24

Create snake eye. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle. Fill the circle with radial gradient from black to black with 0% opacity. It will be a deepening of the eye in head of the snake.

Now create another circle – it will be the eye of the snake. Fill this circle with radial gradient from light brown to dark brown. Locate the center of the gradient according to the location of the light source will help of the Gradient Tool (G).

Create another circle filled with a solid light brown color - it's the glare of light in the eye of the snake.

Step 25

Create shadows under the snake, using the same technique when creating snake body, described in 9-12 steps with the help of Mesh Tormentor.


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. I think I still write a few more tutorials revealing other functions of the Mesh Tormentor.


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