The Ring Tutorial to End All Ring Tutorials (Part 1)

So you know how the cinematic interpretations of JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit-based works are about eight bazillion times longer than their literary sources? Yeah, this is the opposite.

This is a longish, literary-ish (well, you know, to the best of my ability), interpretation of Deke’s ten-minute video tutorial on how to create the famous artifact at the center of Tolkien’s work. For those of you who like a bit more detail in your literary-fantasy-virtual-artifact-creation tutorials, here are the step-by-step instructions I promised from this week’s Deke’s Techniques episode.

Final 3D Ring

(Tomorrow, I’ll detail how to totally geek out on the elvish inscription, but you’ll have to wait for Part 2. After I got about halfway translating this technique into words, I pulled a Peter Jackson and decided it was better to serve up as two parts.) 

1. Create a new document in Illustrator.
Begin at the beginning. In Illustrator, choose File > New and set your dimensions to 1080 x 825 points. For good measure, set the Bleed to 18 pts all the way around. Then click OK.

Create a new Illustrator document

2. Add a suitable background by placing a fiery photo.
First you’ll need some flames. Deke used this one from Fotolia artist халлва. (By the way, you can download 25 free images by signing up for a free month’s subscription at 

Choose File > Place, then navigate to the image you want to use as a background in the Place dialog box. When you find it, click it to select it, then click Place.

(In truth, you don’t really need any background for this, but having a darker canvas to work on will definitely help with the next few steps.)

3. Name your backdrop layer.
Practice good layer maintenance by double-clicking the name of the layer and calling it something useful like "backdrop." I’ve also done the same for the specific image layer (i.e. I renamed it "fiery"). Also, click the lock icon next to the layer in order to lock it down, so that it doesn’t slide around when you least want it to.

Tip: If you want your Layers panel thumbnails to be nice and big, like Deke’s, click the icon in the upper right of the panel (1) and choose Panel Options (2) from the panel flyout menu. In the Layers Panel Options dialog box that appears (3), set the Row Size to 70 pixels and click OK.

Increasing the thumbnail size in the Illustrator Layers panel

4. Start building the cross-section shape.
The ring will eventually be forged by applying the 3D Revolve command to a cross-section-shaped form. You could, of course, draw this by hand, but Deke chose to build the shape from the intersection of other easy-to-draw ellipses.

Start by clicking the page icon to create a new layer in the Layers panel, and name it "primitives" or something equally suitable for building your cross-section shape upon.

5. Draw an ellipse.
Grab the ellipse tool and drag out an ellipse. It doesn’t have to be a perfect circle, (although you can hold down the Shift key while you drag to make one). Deke’s isn’t perfect (gasp!). It’s actually 423.166 points by 412.5 points. I share this with you not so that you meticulously copy these exact (and fairly odd) measurements, but so that you realize you don’t have to be exact here.

Create an ellipse in Illustrator

6. Make some scaled and stretched copies of your almost-circle.
Grab the Scale tool from the toolbox, and drag out a skinnier and longer copy of your original ellipse. When you see what you want on screen, hold down the Alt (Option) key and then release the mouse to copy the original (rather than just scale it). Repeat the process to make an even skinnier and longer ellipse.

Duplicate a shape in Illustrator with the Scale tool and the Alt (Option) key

7. Duplicate the "primitives" on a new layer.
Create a new layer and call it "Ring." With the black arrow tool, draw a marquee so that you’ve selected all three shapes. Then in the Layers panel, grab the little square on the far right of the Primitives layer, hold down the Alt (Option key), and drag it up to the Ring layer to copy your ellipses there. Then you can turn the original layer off by clicking its eyeball icon on the left.

Copy objects from one layer to another in Ilustrator

8. Isolate the intersection you want with the Pathfinder panel.
Basically, these three ellipses exist solely to isolate that banana-like shape along the right side that will become the cross-section of the ring. Select all three ellipses by marqueeing them with the black arrow tool. Then bring up the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder), and click the first icon on the right of the second row. This Divide command will cut our primitives shapes into individual pieces.

Using the Divide command in the Pathfinder panel

9. Delete all the bits you don’t want.
Now that the primitive shapes have been divided into individual sections, you can select and delete those you don’t need. First, choose Object > Ungroup, since Illustrator grouped them for you in the Pathfinder process. Then use the black arrow tool to select various shapes you don’t need any more, and press Backspace (Delete) to remove them. Continue the process until only the banana/ring cross-section shape remains.

Select and delete unwanted bits

10. Round off the corners.
OK, if I were a total Tolkien nerd, I’d make some clever comment here about how the Dark Lord Sauron gave up his powers to forge the ring, but you can use the benevolent power of the Round Corners feature in Illustrator CC. But I never read the thing (and it wasn’t exactly explained in the movies, or at least not in the part I was awake for).

Here in regular Earth, grab the white arrow tool and marquee your remaining shape. In CC, you’ll see four corner widgets appear within the shape. Click on the top-most point of the banana, and Shift-click on the bottom-most point. Then double-click on the tiny bulls-eye-like Corner widget next to either one.

In the Corners dialog box, set the Radius value to 4 points and click on the first icon in the Rounding section (called Relative) then click OK. (This is one dialog box where you’ll see the Preview automatically without having to turn on a checkbox.) This should pull those pointy banana-ends into a nicely rounded ring bevel.

Use the new Corners control in Illustrator

11. Round off the right side edges, too.
Click on one of the anchor points where the shape juts out along the right-hand side, then Shift-click on the other. Again, double-click on one of the corner widgets. This time enter 20 points for the Radius and ignore the Rounding setting. Click OK.

Rounding corners in Illustrator

12. Change the Stroke and Fill of the shape.
Select your shape with the black arrow tool, then set the Stroke to none (the white box with the red strikethru) in the Control Panel. Shift-click on the Fill swatch next door, and set the following color: R 255, G 200, B 50. (If your color dialog box is not set to RGB, you can change that by clicking the flyout menu in the upper right-hand corner.)

Changing a Fill color in Illsutrator

13. Apply the 3D Revolve effect.
At last our cross-section is complete and we can get to the magical stuff. From the Effects menu, choose 3D > Revolve. Turn on the Preview checkbox so you can watch the magic happen. Then set the Offset to 320 points to watch the ring appear. Adjust the X, Y, and Z values to -28, -10, and -7 respectively (as shown below).

Apply the 3D Revolve effect

14. Adjust the lights.
Click on the More Options button at the bottom of the 3D Revolve dialog box. This reveals the Surface controls where you can set the lighting to add glow to the gold effect. In the little globe-shaped proxy, you’ll see a white dot that indicates the current light position. Drag it up to the edge of the globe as shown below to move the light effect on the ring.

The 3D Revolve Effect dialog box

15. Add more lights.
To add another light, click the page icon below the globe proxy. Then drag the new white dot in the center of the globe to the lower-left outer edge. You can now adjust this light’s intensity to a different setting independently. Add more lights if you wish. The graphic below shows the position and setting for all four of Deke’s lights.

Adjusting the lights in the 3D Revolve effect dialog box

16. Increase the Blend Steps to reduce banding.
If you’re seeing a lot of banding, you can smooth out the lighting effect by increasing the number of Blend Steps. Deke’s setting of 250 goes a long way to reduce the banding, but it also makes the file much more computer intensive. Click OK to finally close the 3D Revolve options dialog box.

Setting the Blend Steps in Illustrator

17. Burnish the gold by changing the Fill color.
Since this is a dynamic effect, you can still go back and change the fill color of the original cross section. Shift-click on the Fill color swatch the Control Panel and change the Green value to 150 and the Blue value down to 25. The result is this 3-dimensional golden ring, suitable for causing hordes of fantasy folk to journey across multiple movies.

The final 3D ring effect

Tomorrow, I’ll show you the steps for engraving the ring with the "authentic" elvish that Deke demonstrated in the exclusive movie this week. If you’re not a member of and would like to watch this epic sequel, you can sign up for a free week’s trial at

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 346: Creating Uniform Hand Drawn Letters in Illustrator

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 344: Creating the 3D Ring (to End All Rings, or Something Like That)

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