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This tutorial assumes you know a fair amount about illustrator. I won't be describing the minute details or showing menu shots for every little action. That's just too much damn work! Also the shortcuts mentioned are for the Macintosh, insert [ctrl] and [alt] keys where appropriate for Windows.
For this particular illustration I photographed the model with my 6 megapixel camera so the image has some good detail. The more detail there is the better. I imported the full sized image onto its own layer in illustrator. I then locked that layer so I wouldn't inadvertently affect it.
Make a rectangle with the rectangle tool. Then with your mesh tool, [cmd]+U, add a single mesh point to the middle of the rectangle. Next [Cmd] click on the layer in the layers palette to toggle the view mode to outline mode. With the mesh tool you can select the corner points of the rectangle and shape them into the general oval shape that makes up the face. Don't add too many mesh points yet, the fewer the better. Add just enough points to allow you to shape your rectangle into the general shape of the face. Optionally you can trace the object with the pen tool as shown in the screenshot to the right. I've found that this usually creates more problems and ends up being slower in the end. Almost all my meshes start out as rectangles!
If you do decide to use the pen tool, this is where you might run into one of the more frustrating features of the mesh tool. When you add a mesh point you might get some crazy ass line that squiggles it's way across the object in what seems to be a random path. Sometimes simplifying your object will help, or sometimes it won't. One sure way to get the perfect mesh is to start out with a rectangle that is as wide and tall as the shape you need to make. I did this exact same technique to make the eye/eye socket mesh objects. I've recorded a short quicktime screen video showing how I do this (I use the tool palette instead of keyboard shortcuts so you can see what's going on, although this made it look like I can't find the tools). It's just a basic object but you'll get the idea. You'll need Quicktime from Apple to view the clip. Click on the video thumbnail to view the movie.
As you start adding mesh points, fine tune your mesh lines with the bezier handles. Try to get the mesh to look like it's following the contours of the face. If you do this early on, then future mesh lines will follow right along side so you won't have to manipulate a ton of points at once.
While adding mesh points don't try and add points right on the edge of value changes. You'll need 2 mesh lines to make up an edge, one for the light side and one for the dark side. Note how I've started the bottom lip, one line for the red lip color and another line for the lighter flesh tone below the lip.
If you select the later option, then move the photograph to the left so you can see about half the face. Now start selecting colors for the mesh points you have thus far. Using the eyedropper tool you can switch between it and the direct select tool quickly by holding down the [Cmd] key. Using the [Shift] key with the [Cmd] will allow you to select multiple mesh points for adding areas of color. It's best to add the same color to large areas of mesh points initially to keep the rendering from becoming blotchy. Note how all the bottom points of the chin have the same dark color, then the next row of points have a slightly lighter value.
Now repeat, a lot! You'll continue to add mesh points and sample colors. I find myself adding more mesh points as I find more edges of values that I needed to define.
I ended up chickening out on including the eyes into the main face mesh. In retrospect I suppose it could have been done but the mesh was starting to get a little unwieldy and hard to manage. I wanted to do just the eyes themselves but it just didn't look right so I ended up including the upper and lower eyelids in with the eye meshes so I could have more natural lines with which to blend in the eye/eye socket meshes back into the face.
I ended up adding the fine details on separate layers such as the iris, eyelashes, shadows, and wrinkles. One thing I've found that eyebrows and fine hairs that go across the face look more natural if there is some transparency or a blending mode too them. This also holds true for the eyelash shadows and wrinkles.
Well that's about it, I've included a shot of the objects on each layer, see gallery at the bottom, so you can see how the illustration is built via layers. The layers palette is visible on the left of the screen shot and it shows the layer that is currently visible. Something that might also be of interest to those who haven't quit reading already is the layout of the palettes in all my screen shots are the same when I'm working so you can get a pretty good idea of what I'm looking at as I work. Also, while I haven't mentioned many of them here, try and learn all the keyboard shortcuts for the tools and their options, it makes tedious work like this a little more bearable as you can go a lot faster than mousing all over the place and using menus.
I also purchased a wireless Microsoft mouse, gasp, with the smooth scrolling scroll wheel that also scrolls sideways when you tilt the wheel left or right. This won't apply to you PC users out there but us lucky mac users can scroll around in Illustrator with the mouse scroll wheel, damn that's handy! Especially the horizontal scroll. I ended up cranking up the speed of the scroll as the default was too slow. I also programmed the 2 thumb buttons to zoom in and out, wow what a time saver that is!
Those are all the tips I can think of right now. Feel free to send me any questions you may have. I will update this tutorial if there are some glaring omissions or other helpful tips from other users or simply just to answer some frequently asked questions.
My workstation is now a Dual 2.5GHz G5 PowerMac with 2GB of ram running OSX 10.4.5 and Illustrator CS2 for those inquisitive minds who want to know.
Hopefully I've included enough detail and explanation of my methods to make this whole tutorial worth while to someone out there. Sorry for the huge screen shots, I just thought it would be best to show everything that's on the screen at a given moment. Plus I was too damn lazy to crop them down to the important parts... :-)
Thanks for reading,
Layers Screen Shot Gallery
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