Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Create a 3D creature in Illustrator

Discover how to model and texture a 3D character entirely within Illustrator, using the Map Art tool.

Illustrator’s superb tools for building 3D objects out of 2D shapes aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. Here Derek Lea shows you how to create an offbeat creature using Illustrator’s 3D Revolve effect, complete with a mouth, an eye and scaly skin that are simple to draw and wrap to the body and head.

It’s all very easy – in fact, a bit too easy. The problem with working with vectors in this way is that the results can look inherently digital and too perfect. One way to remedy this is with masking methods that let you combine pixel-based textures with vector imagery. Derek does this here by using an image as an opacity mask in Illustrator, giving the creature a worn-looking ‘skin’.

If you don’t have time to create the two symbols wrapped to the creature, grab Derek’s file from the download. Then go to the Symbols panel menu, choose Open Symbol Library > Other Library and navigate to the file.

This is an adapted version of a tutorial in Derek Lea’s book, Beyond Photoshop. Published by Focal Press, Beyond Photoshop shows you how can transfer your Photoshop skills into applications such as Illustrator, Painter, Cinema 4D, Poser and ZBrush – developing your style in new directions.

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.


In a new Illustrator document, draw a large rectangle with a lime green fill and no stroke. Next, use the Ellipse tool (L) to create a vertical ellipse of the same colour, but with a light blue stroke, near the bottom of the rectangle. Holding down Alt + Shift, drag the ellipse with the Selection tool to fill the rectangle’s base with a row of neatly aligned duplicates. Leave a bit of space at the end.


Select the row of ellipses and Alt-drag it upward, offsetting the duplicate a little. Repeat until the rectangle is filled with a pattern resembling scales. Now, using the existing stroke, start creating the eye, made up of a circle with a white fill and another, smaller circle with a light purple fill. Select both circles and align their horizontal and vertical centres, then drag them to the middle of the rectangle. Finally, draw a small, yellow circle with no stroke inside the purple circle, to serve as a highlight.

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Select all of what you’ve drawn and drag it into the Symbols panel (I cleared mine earlier by choosing Select All Unused from the panel menu and clicking the Trash icon at the bottom). Name it Symbol 1 and check the Graphic tickbox, then hit OK. Having done that, delete the contents of the artboard.


Create around seven rows of green ellipses looking like scales, as you did previously. Select every other row and darken the fill colour a little. Now create a long, horizontal, orange ellipse, with no stroke, in the centre of the pattern, and duplicate it in the Layers panel.

With the Pen tool (P), create a polygonal shape that resembles a few teeth and extends beyond the top edge of the orange ellipse. Select the new shape and the duplicate ellipse, then click on the Intersect button in the Pathfinder panel. Change the fill of the resulting shape to yellow.


Select all and drag your artwork into the Symbols panel, again making it a Graphic, and name it Symbol 2. Clear the artboard’s contents again, and draw a circle with the lime green fill you used before, and no stroke. Now we’ll rotate the circle into a sort of doughnut. Choose Effect > 3D > Revolve and enable the Preview option with the other settings as shown above (for most of you, these will be the default values).

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Click on the Map Art button and select Symbol 2 in the resulting dialogue box. Ensure that the Preview option is enabled – and you’ll notice is that the way the symbol wraps isn’t really what we are after.


You can change the mapping by adjusting Symbol 2’s bounding box as you would any other, and clicking and dragging to reposition the art. Clicking and dragging just outside the box rotates it. Play with the positioning and size until you’re satisfied. Ensure the Shade Artwork option is enabled and hit OK; hit OK in the 3D Revolve options dialogue too.


Now draw a shape that resembles the left half of the outer edge of a bell; don’t worry about closing the shape. With the open path selected, go to Effect > 3D > Revolve, enable the Preview option and then set the Offset to occur from the right edge.

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Click the Map Art button, choose Symbol 1 from the list and enable the Preview option. With the Shade Artwork option turned on, reposition, resize and rotate the artwork until it wraps in a similar manner to what is shown here. Click OK, and then Click OK in the 3D Revolve options as well. Tweak the relative positions of the two objects if needed. When you’re happy, select all and group everything.


The creature is a piece of geometrical wizardry – and it looks it too. To give it a more naturalistic feel, place the mask2.jpg file from the download, select all and choose the Make Opacity Mask option from the Transparency panel menu. Once it’s applied, click the mask thumbnail (the square on the right in the Transparency panel). Now you can adjust the positioning by clicking and dragging on the mask, and resize it as necessary using the handles on its bounding box.


If you want, you can bring the creature into a bigger composition I’ve created. Click on the artwork thumbnail in the Transparency panel, select all and copy. Now open workingfile.psd in Photoshop and paste in the creature as a Smart object at the top of the layer stack. Increase its size if needed and place it in the upper left so that it covers the green and yellow circles in that region. Duplicate the Smart Object and then change the blending mode of the duplicate to Color Burn. Reduce the opacity to 48%.

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