Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Create X-ray vector art

Evert Martin explains how to animate a piece of line art

Intro


Belgian artist Evert Martin, recently held an exhibition of his work at the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent. Under the banner of ‘Conceptual art is dead. Long live New Aesthetics’, he showed a series of artworks, including a number that sit somewhere between X-rays and 3D holographic projections.

While you might think these have been painstakingly created using a 3D suite such as Cinema 4D or Maya, they’re actually relatively simple to produce using Illustrator’s Blend tool and some practice at drawing the underlying structure freehand.

Evert reveals how to create the deer artwork.

If you do have access to a 3D suite, he will also explain how to animate the deer’s head, so it appears to crumble into dust. 

Time to complete

1 hour, 6 hours with animation

Tools

Illustrator CS or later, Cinema 4D (optional)

Step 1

STEP 1

Before you start any project, you’ll need to do some research. Google is your best friend, so use it. Because we’re creating a front-on artwork, look up photos of a deer looking towards us. 

Whenever I’m creating artworks with animal heads in them, I always search for a good picture of its skull, so I can use the bone structure as the basis of the structure of my drawing. 


Step 2

STEP 2

It’s now time to start drawing. Open Illustrator and sketch some simple basic outlines of the contours of the face without the horns (I use a Wacom tablet for this). You’re not trying to create a recognisable drawing of a deer, but map out the peaks and troughs of its geography.

As the artwork is going to be horizontally symmetrical, just draw one half of it – we’ll mirror it later.

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 3

STEP 3

Next, draw the horns of the deer. I’ve found it best to try this a couple of times on different layers. We’ll pick the best one in a bit.


Step 4

STEP 4

Select all the lines of your deer’s face (without the horns). Go to Object > Blend to produce the intermediate contours that give the drawing its depth. 

The best way to choose the number of lines you want is through trial and error. I used 20 for the head, ensuring the Spacing was set to Specified Steps.

Do the same thing for your first set of horns. I used 30 steps, as there are less lines in my drawing here, so I ended up with approximately the same density of lines created by the Blend as in the face. Repeat this with your other sets of horns. Save this as deer-complete.ai. Pick the horns you like best and delete the others. Save this as deer-horns1.ai.

Now our artwork is taking shape.


Step 5

STEP 5

This step is the easiest one. Select your face and horns, duplicate them and then reflect the copy horizontally to create the other half of the face.

To create the artwork that you see opposite, I copied and pasted everything into Photoshop as a Smart Object, added a grey background with a vignette and tweaked the colours to get the finished result.

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 6

STEP 6

While our artwork is simple and beautiful, you can create something more dynamic if you prefer (and you have Cinema 4D). Save deer-horns1.ai as an Illustrator 8 file, so it can be opened in Cinema 4D.

When you open it in Cinema 4D, you will see a null object with all your lines as splines. Select all of them and then right-click > Connect Objects + Delete. This will create a single object from all of the splines. Name it ‘deer’.

Create an Extrude NURBS object (Create > NURBS > Extrude NURBS) and place the ‘deer’ object inside it. Put a texture of your own choice on it – applying reflection to enhance its appearance when you render – and some lights. 

Play around with the position of the lights until you find the angle that gives a real feeling of depth without the reflections overwhelming the geometric feel of the mesh.


Step 7

STEP 7

Make the Extrude NURBs object editable (right-click > Make Editable). Adding a PolyFX object (Mograph > PolyFX) as a child of this object will allow us to create the effect of the skull crumbing to dust as if aged a thousand years in a few seconds. 

However, we’ll need to a random effector (Mograph > Effector > Random) in the scene to actually make it work. In your random effector, choose the Deformer tab and set Deformation to Sphere. In the Effector tab, change the Random Mode to Turbulence.

If you want your PolyFX and random effector to create more particles, subdivide your extrude NURBS a bit before you make it an editable object.

Here, I wasn’t happy with the results, so I went back to my original artwork – deer-complete.ai – in Illustrator, selected a different set of horns, deleted the others, saved this as deer-horns2.ai and repeated Step 6 to get more pleasing effect as the crumbling happens.

To get the image, I rendered a single frame, then added a background and colour treatment in Photoshop as in Step 5. Following this, I used Cinema 4D to created a motion graphic that you can see at vimeo.com/35105563.