Deke’s Techniques 210: Creating a Dramatic Cartoon Background

210 Drawing a radiant, cheerful cartoon background

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques episode, Deke shows you how he used Adobe Illustrator to create the delightful yet dramatic background for his cartoon character—that grumpy bird known as the Baconator—that he introduced to you last week.

Despite the whimsical visual intricacy of the final piece, the starting point is very simple, consisting of a few geometric shapes that will be duplicated, stretched, and spun around via Illustrator’s dynamic effects—all without having to draw a thing beyond a rectangle or elipse.

These simple shapes become a dramatic cartoon background

Here’s a look at how Deke transformed this collection of shapes into an eye-catching deceptively simple landscape, suitable for your game design, children’s book illustration, or fugues into imaginary cartoon lands: First, that green rectangle posing as the ground is duplicated three times over, made increasingly bigger, and filled with colors that range from roughly apple to lime. Note, by using the Appearance panel and Transform command, each “layer” of the ground is really created from a “ghost” of the original rectangle.

Of course, no self-respecting pork-slaying creature (or whatever creature might live in your imagination) would live in such a flat world. So Deke creates whimsical waves by using a Warp effect and rounding the corners.

To create the clouds on the horizon, Deke draws a set of ellipses with an irregular polygon behind them, all brought together in the Pathfinder panel.

The shrubbery line is created the same way:

The rays in the sky start out as a single rectangle which is then duplicated in each direction by applying a Transform effect, once with a Horizontal Move of -2 points and once in the other direction.

The rays are then groovified (yeah, that’s a word—at least in my imaginary land) by applying a Warp effect that spreads them out from the center.

Another Transform effect helps reduce the rays to a reasonable ratio:

Changing the Opacity of the rays to 5 percent with a blend mode of Overlay helps them blend into their imaginary background:

No imaginary cartoon land is complete without imaginary flowers. Deke’s start out as simple white ellipses that are then Transformed into standard chilhood-style daisies by making 5 copies with the reference point matrix set to the bottom center and an angle of 6 degrees:

Deke then skews and stretches the flowers by changing their vertical scale and rotation with another helping of the Transform effect.

The final result is a lovely, peaceful cartoon land just awaiting population of psychopathic avian creatures or whatever your twisted (yet whimsical) imagination can devise.

Next entry:The Strange Powers of Photoshop’s Sketch Filters, or How to Digitally Immerse Your Nemesis in Carbon

Previous entry:Seeking Roadtrip Advice: PePcon (Austin, TX) to Adobe MAX (Los Angeles, CA)

  • Middle greens

    Is it wrong that I can’t tell the two middle greens apart?

  • I wouldn’t say \“wrong\” so much as…

    ...maybe there’s a calibration issue? Greens are notoriously tricky. Here’s a closeup of the Swatches panel with “recipes” for each of the greens:


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