How to create a comical lunar scene in Illustrator – (part 1)

Recently I’ve been checking out some of Glennz work and it really got my creative juices flowing. He’s a freelance graphic designer and illustrator based in Auckland and designs some of the coolest and most original T-shirts motifs I’ve ever seen.

Here are a couple of examples just to give you a preview of his work:

“Secret Habit”

Glennz Secret Habit


Glennz Called

“Continuous Gaming”

Glennz Continuous

I don’t get it, what’s this guy got to do with the tutorial?

It’s fairly simple really. With any idea there is always an inspirational source associated with it. Mine was Glennz creative and comical approach on everyday situations. With my design I really didn’t want to imitate his style, but rather utilize part of his comical approach on illustrations. For this tutorial to be fully beneficial to you guys I really believe I had to talk briefly on where my inspiration came from, enabling you understand how it influenced my artistic direction and emphasize the importance of a strong inspirational source.

The idea

Here we witness Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon taking one last picture before their return journey home. What they don’t realize is the lunar module leaving without them due to Armstrong’s persistence on obtaining just one last pic.

” Come on! One more picture . . . “

Lunar Illustration Final

I got the idea based on the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The fact that I chose such a popular event isn’t insignificant. The bottom line is that I had to choose something we could all relate to, and I think we’re pretty much all aware that we landed on the moon. Whether we know all the details of the event or not, it doesn’t matter. The objective is that the majority of people should, without any problems, be able to understand the idea presented.

On to the tutorial

This will be a two part tutorial because, well, this illustration requires a considerable amount of time to reproduce in my opinion and I tried to write it so that it could be understood by novice illustrator users as well as very experimented users. Then again very experienced user probably won’t need any of this advice xD! Never mind that let’s move on shall we…

As a lot of illustrations this started out with a rough sketch, two actually. Don’t ask me why but that’s kind of how I threw this idea together. First I made a really rough draft of the scene’s location I wanted to use. Note that at that point I had no precise idea on where I’d end up.

Lunar Illustration Scan 1

I knew I wanted to incorporate the astronauts in one way or another, and I started sketching really quickly on another scrap piece of paper.

Lunar Illustration Scan 2

You’ll notice that the astronaut’s sketch is a bit more detailed and much more coherent with the final illustration. This is intentional and due to the fact that I actually went ahead and used that sketch in Illustrator. Why, must you ask? Well, you’ll see that designing the background set and other elements is actually pretty easy without a prior draft. However, that’s not entirely the case for the astronauts.

Lunar Illustration Part 1 Final

The image above is what we’ll get accomplished by the end of this first part, so let’s get to it!

Step 1

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 1

Let’s open up Illustrator and create a new document that’s 1000px by 650px. Next select the rectangle tool by pressing the [M] key and draw a rectangle to fill the entire art board. Give it a simple 2-color radial gradient using the colors #1A1F2B and #000000 then give the dark blue a location of 50% using the slider. Grab the gradient tool by pressing [G] and give the gradient an oval shape while increasing the size as well. Now nudge it slightly down on the shape a couple of inches.

Step 2

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 2

Now let’s work on the lunar surface itself. Let’s grab the pen tool by pressing [P] and start drawing a shape with three subtle bumps of different intensities. Just by looking at the pic you should have a good idea of what I’m talking about. Give it a light gray tone using this hexadecimal value #CCCCCC

Step 3

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 3

You’ll notice that I chose to have the illustration’s primary light source come from the left. Even though extremely fine precision isn’t what we’re aiming for in this comical illustration, we should still have some sort of light source in our design. That said we’ll be using white and darker gray highlights to give a minimum of depth to the lunar surface. In this step all we’ve got to do is click on the object we’ve just drawn and duplicate it by pressing [Ctrl + C] and [Ctrl + F], and give the new object a white fill color. Now using the direct selection tool select the two anchor points on the top left of the shape and nudge them slightly higher using, either your mouse while holding the shift key to keep the object aligned, or a couple of taps on your Up Arrow key. Finally send the object backwards by right clicking on it and selecting Arrange->Send Backwards.

Step 4

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 4

With our nifty pen tool we’re going to draw three more shapes (you can use the image for reference). Give the bigger ones you see a fill color of #B3B3B3 and the top right shape a white fill color. For that famous top right shape make sure you follow our initial underlying shape’s curve to give that highlight effect we’re searching for.

Step 5

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 5

What is round and scattered on the moon’s surface? You got it Sherlock, craters! and lot’s of ’em. Anyways we know we have to have a few just to make this seem credible. We’ll use the oval tool by pressing our [L] key to draw an oval, makes sense right? Give it a fill color of white and duplicate it using the same technique we used before. Reduce the newly created shape’s size by grabbing the top left corner of it’s bounding box and the [Shift] key to maintain the shape’s aspect. Give this shape the same dark gray color used on the other lunar shapes #B3B3B3. Repeat this process a couple of times to create a few more craters and the ship’s landing spot by alternating the colors and sizes. Note that we’re only using extremely simple shapes yet achieving a desirable result, and this in seconds! You gotta love Illustrator…

Step 6

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 6

Now that we’ve pretty much completed the set, let’s start designing the elements that we’ll be using. I took this shot above to give you an overview of the steps taken on this really simple interpretation of planet earth.

Step 7

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 7

Move somewhere to the side and start drawing a perfect circle using the oval tool by holding on to your [Shift] key while dragging out. Give it a fill color of #0071BC. Now using your pen tool, really quickly, draw a series of shapes resembling some of Earths continents. I chose to display, primarily, the North and Southern American continents mainly because they’re easily discernible shapes. Once done give them a fill color of #C69C6D and group the objects together by selecting all of them and pressing [Ctrl + G].

Step 8

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 8

Take the grouped objects and place them on top of our circle shape. Now select the circle and duplicate it with a simple [Ctrl + C] & [Ctrl + F] action and bring the object to the front of the stacking order by right clicking on it and selecting Arrange->Bring to Front. Select both the circle and the underlying grouped objects and using the pathfinder tool click on Crop.

Step 9

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 9

In this design I chose to keep the use of gradients to a strict minimum because I wanted to have the flexibility of choosing individual colors for all the shapes I created, even concerning shadows and highlights. I’m telling you this because the following technique used for shading can easily be replaced with the use of a simple gradient. At any rate, select the circle and duplicate it twice. With the top circle nudge it higher and to the left (magenta circle in the picture). Now select both the top circle and the circle directly underneath it and, using the pathfinder tool, click on Minus Front.

Step 10

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 10

In the picture above you can see the four tasks we’ll be completing here. First let’s duplicate the continent group with the famous [Ctrl + C] [Ctrl + F] combo, copying and pasting the object directly on top of the previous one. now select the crescent shape we created previously and the underlying continent group and use the Crop function from the pathfinder tool. You should now have all the shapes to complete our shadow, and all that’s left at this point is to give the continent shapes a darker brown fill color of #8C6239 and the crescent shapes a darker blue color of #30395C.

Step 11

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 11

Our little blue planet is nearly completed. All we need now is to give a subtle highlight on the side where the light is coming from. To do that select the circle and duplicate it. Give it a fill color of #85A5CC and increase its’ size by holding on to the [Shift] key while dragging the bounding box to the top left. To finalize this step right click on the newly created circle and send it backward in the stacking order by selecting Arrange->Send Backwards. Select all the elements and group the objects by pressing [Ctrl + G] so that we can easily move it or scale it later on.

Step 12

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 12

Let’s move on to the second element we’ll be designing, the Lunar module. An extremely simplified version of course but nevertheless identifiable, which was my goal by the way. The more experienced users have probably noticed throughout this tutorial that I kept details to a minimum. This was done to allow for a more accessible tutorial and in an effort to keep a distinctive style.

Step 13

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 13

We’ll start by drawing the main body elements of the lunar module and you’ll see that we’ll be using some simple symmetry to get the job done. Grab the pen tool and start drawing a series of shapes that represent the different compartments of the module. Make sure you keep the right side of the objects aligned with one another (Use the picture for reference).

Step 14

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 14

You should already be able to see what we’re trying to accomplish here. Select the newly created objects and duplicate them by pressing [Ctrl + C] and [Ctrl + F] on your keyboard. While they are still highlighted, right click on any of the duplicated objects and choose Transform->Reflect. On the dialog box that will come up, select Vertical and press OK.

Step 15

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 15

All that’s left to do now is align the selected objects with the ones on the left while holding the [Shift] key to make sure they are aligned precisely with the others. Having smart guides and the snap to point feature enabled really help this process tremendously.

Step 16

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 16

Using the pathfinder tool, unite all the shapes with their corresponding shapes by selecting them and clicking on Unite. Repeat this process for all the shapes except the two shapes second from the top, we’ll need those two later down the road.

Step 17

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 17

So we’ve taken care of the main body compartments, now let’s focus our attention on the lunar module’s landing gear system. Using the pen tool start drawing out the shapes that will constitute one of the side struts. There are no more than five shapes displayed here, the primary struts, the secondary struts, the pad and the lunar surface sensing probe. Quick tip: the surface pads are done by drawing an oval, duplicating it and alternating the size of the underlying circle.

Step 18

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 18

Select the freshly created objects and align them with the left side of the module.

Step 19

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 19

Using the same technique used with the main body compartments, we’re simply going to reflect the left strut elements we’ve just created and position them to the right of the module. Remember to use the [Shift] key to keep everything tidy and aligned when displacing the objects.

Step 20

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 20

Move to the side real quickly to take care of the central strut. Just as we did before, use your pen tool to draw all the elements that will constitute the central strut and the oval tool for the pads. We’re simply recycling the same techniques we’ve implemented on the side strut, nothing too crazy.

Step 21

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 21

All right once we’re done with our strut all we’ve got to do is position it at the bottom center of the lunar module. If you like you can always group the objects you’re manipulating, using the ever so handy [Ctrl + G] shortcut, for a risk free displacement process.

Remember a few steps back when I told you not to unite the two shapes second from the top on the main body of the module? Wow, are you guys still with me? Anybody… Oh well I’ll keep going anyway, nothing or anybody will discourage my ever lasting efforts! Sorry about that, I just felt a little break was due here, since we are pretty much halfway done with this first part. Go grab something from the fridge and when you’re ready I’ll be here waiting for you on the next step.

Step 22

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 22

Ah, you’re back! Awesome let’s get back to it. So do you remember those two shapes? Yes? Ah much better… We’re going to use them to give a little detail to the top of our module. Select both shapes and duplicate them using the [Ctrl + C] and [Ctrl + F] shortcuts. Both copies still selected, Use the bounding box while maintaining the [Shift] and [Alt] keys to slightly reduce their size.

Step 23

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 23

Time to get patriotic! Well actually that’s not entirely true… I did this illustration so fast that I didn’t even take the time to accurately recreate the U.S. flag. A dreadful crime I know, but guess what? You’ll never catch me Aaaalive…. No seriously, the reason I did this is because I knew I needed a simple representation that would translate well after being scaled down quite a bit. You’re free to do as you wish for the flag. I’ve provided the picture above just to give you an idea on how I went about the process. Note that I just utilized simple rectangles for the stripes and the white background and circles for the stars that I knew beforehand would be more visible once reduced. At any rate once you’re done, make sure you group the objects using [Ctrl + G] and position the flag on the module as displayed above.

Step 24

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 24

Why don’t we add a little window in there? Why yes I think we should. Easy process here as well, you’ll notice that I love recycling shapes when I have the chance it’s just that much faster. So select the compartments third and fourth from the top of the module and copy them by pressing on [Ctrl + C]. Move to the side and press [Ctrl + V] this time, we don’t want the objects to be positioned directly on top of the others. Select both of the pasted objects and, using the pathfinder tool, click on Minus Front which will give us this nice rounded trapezoid looking shape that will serve as outlines and our window. All we’ve go to do now is keep duplicating the object and alternate their sizes to achieve a big outline, a smaller outline around the window, the window, and even the reflection. To complete the reflection all you have to do is delete the top left anchor point using the direct selection tool and using your pen tool close the object with a curved path.

Step 25

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 25

I’m not going to go on and on in this step. You’ve noticed we’re applying colors to our module and there’s nothing really exceptional or technically challenging here. In the picture above I’ve provided the hexadecimal values for each colors used, so go fill in those shapes we’ve had so much trouble creating!

Step 26

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 26

Ah yes, our module looks like it’s nearly complete, but not quite. Hang on for a few more steps. We’re going to create our shadow effect by using the pen tool to create a shape that we’ll use to crop the underlying objects. Notice that the shape I created here is cutting slightly into the right side of the module.

Step 27

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 27

When you’ve successfully created that shape, select all the intersecting underlying shapes and duplicate them by pressing on [Ctrl + C] and [Ctrl + F] to have the objects aligned with the ones underneath.

Step 28

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 28

With these objects still selected, hold the [Shift] key down and click on the cropping shape we created previously. Now you should have all these objects selected you can use the pathfinder tool to click on Crop.

Step 29

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 29

Jump into the grouped objects by double clicking on them and delete the excess shape created on the right. Now you can apply the fill colors displayed in the picture to give you the final effect we’re looking for.

Step 30

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 30

Let’s tackle on the module’s rocket nozzle. Again you’ll see we’re not going too crazy here. Grab the rectangle tool by pressing on your [M] key and draw out a long and thin rectangle. Duplicate it and using the Right Arrow keys nudge it to the right by tapping a couple of times. Now select both of them, duplicate them and nudge them to the right respecting the same spacing as before. Repeat this process until you’ve achieved a series of rectangles resembling a stripe pattern. Now group the shapes together by pressing [Ctrl + G]. Make a quick copy of the module’s rocket nozzle shape and paste it to the side. Grab the grouped rectangles and place them on top of the nozzle shape and above it in the stacking order as well, if that isn’t already done. Select both of them and click on Minus Front to create our new shape. Finally give it a fill color of black.

Step 31

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 31

See nothing too fancy for the nozzle. Just take this new object and place it on top of the original nozzle shape. Again smart guides come in handy here allowing you to align the object directly with the center. Note: you may need to play a little with the stacking order here. A quick tip is to group the entire lunar module along with the new object and then play with the stacking order. This way you don’t have to cycle with all other elements on the art board.

Step 32

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 32

3…, 2…, 1… Blast Off! Oh yeah here comes the flames. I kind of over-dramatized the situation here, but the fact of the matter is that the creation of the flames we’ll use is extremely simple. Grab your oval tool by pressing on [L] and draw out a perfect circle, a perfect circle that we achieve by dragging and holding on to the [Shift] and [Alt] key if we’d like it to start out from the center. Just a quick reminder, I figure it can’t really hurt anybody. Anyways now grab the pen tool and start drawing half of flame. Yeah you heard me correctly, half of a flame! You guessed it we’ll use symmetry again.

Step 33

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 33

Once you’ve correctly aligned your half flame, duplicate it and reflect it by right clicking on it and choosing Transform->Reflect. In the dialog box choose vertical and press OK. Just as we did before with the other elements of the lunar module, align the right side of the flame with the one on the left.

Step 34

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 34

Cool so all that’s left is to select the three shapes and unite them using the pathfinder tool.

Step 35

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 35

Now that we’ve completed our main shape we’ll finalize our flame by giving it a radial gradient using the following colors: white for the inner color and #4A6491 for the outer color. Using the gradient tool, shortcut key [G], slightly increase the gradient’s size. Once done just duplicate the shape, reduce it’s size and reverse the gradient.

Step 36

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 36

Place the flame shape at the bottom of the stacking order by right clicking on both shapes and choosing Arrange->Send Backwards. Now align it with the lunar module and scale it as needed. Don’t forget to group the object making up the lunar module for easier handling later on.

Step 37

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 37

This is where recycling is at it’s best. We’re simply going to use the flag we created earlier on and alter its’ appearance to our needs. Again you can see the various steps we’ll be taking displayed in the picture above.

Step 38

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 38

Draw two shapes with the pen tool, a thin triangular shape for the flag pole and a curved bump to illustrate its’ insertion into the lunar surface. Give them both a fill color of #808080.

Step 39

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 39

Give the pole a subtle highlight by duplicating the shape and deleting the the top left anchor point. using the pen tool close up the shape with a curved path. Give it a fill color of white.

Step 40

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 40

Make a quick copy of the flag we created no too long ago and select it. With the object selected click on Object->Envelope Distort->Make with Mesh. In the dialog box that opens up choose 4 rows, 4 columns and click OK.

Step 41

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 41

Edit the anchor points and/or handles as needed to create the appearance of a waving flag.

Step 42

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 42

Place the shapes we’ve created in way to illustrate a waiving flag displaced by the lunar module’s blast as it’s taking off. Now select them all and group them using the [Ctrl + G] keyboard shortcut.

Step 43

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 43

My, my, my, have we come a long way… We’re almost done and I’m pretty sure you guys are as tired as I am at this point. I bet now you realize why I broke this up into a two part tutorial. Anyways we’ve successfully created all of our elements and are now ready to incorporate them into the scene. Grouping each element individually definitely comes in handy here, as it allows us to scale, rotate, skew or whatever else you’d like to do to these objects, seamlessly and effortlessly. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this step by the way. Just place as I’ve done in the picture above and scale or rotate them as needed.

Step 44

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 44

Jump into the grouped flag object and with your pen tool draw a simple shadow effect. Don’t forget we chose to have the light come in from the left hand side of the art board. Give it a fill color of #B3B3B3

Step 45

Lunar Illustration Part 1 - step 45

Again with our beloved pen tool, draw a series of thin, elongated round shapes to illustrate the rocket blast coming from the lunar module. Give the ones emanating from the rocket nozzle a fill color of #30395C and the ones emanating from the surface a fill color of #B3B3B3.

Well that was rather lengthy but we’re not done yet… Yep, you heard me correctly. Next time We’ll take on the challenge of finalizing our illustration by designing the astronauts and the lunar camera that takes their picture. It will be a very beneficial 2nd part tutorial as we’ll see how to scan our initial sketch and use it as a base, along with other inspirational sources, to develop our final Illustrator shapes.

Click here to view part two


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