Deke’s Techniques: Creating a vivid aura around an entire character

Published by | Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Welcome back to Deke’s Techniques. This week Deke McClelland takes the 2D character from last week’s tutorial (inspired by the art of video game designer Dan Paladin) and adds a radiant cartoon aura in Adobe Illustrator.

1. Delete the template layer and select the back layer. Option-click or Alt-click the Create New Layer icon to open the Layer Options dialog box. Name the new layer aura and click OK to add the layer to your document.

2. Unlock the body layer. Click in the upper corner of that layer’s row in the Layers panel to select all its paths.

Figure 1
3. Make sure the Selection tool is your active tool and Shift-click the outline around the signature to deselect it.

4. Return to the Layers panel. Press the Option or Alt key and drag the Selected Art indicator (the small purple box) for the body layer to the aura layer. This copies the body paths to the new layer.

5. Now click in the upper-right corner of the head layer to select its paths and Option- or Alt-drag the Selected Art indicator to the aura layer as well.

6. Turn off the visibility of the body and head layers. Click in the upper-right corner of aura to select its path outlines.

Now to combine the outlines, you might use the Unite Pathfinder operation. But if you do that, the clipping mask for the character will extend beyond its boundaries. Here’s the better way to join these paths.

7. Choose Select > Object > Clipping Masks to select just the clipping mask outlines in the aura layer.


Figure 2


8. Now go to the Control panel and click the Edit Contents icon. Delete the clipping mask contents by simply pressing Backspace or Delete.

9. Click again in the upper-right corner of the aura layer to select its paths. Open the Pathfinder panel and click Unite to fuse the paths.

10. Go to the Control panel and change the Fill to RGB Red and the Stroke to None.

11. Turn the visibility of the body and head layers back on. The aura will be hidden behind them at this stage.

12. Open the Appearance panel and select the Fill. Choose Effect > Path > Offset Path and change the Offset value to 4 and click OK. This expands the aura around the character.

13. Choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. Change the Size options to Absolute and 3 points, set Detail to 12, and select Smooth for Points.

This step gives the aura a nice irregular edge.


Figure 3
14. Return to the Appearance panel. The Fill should still be selected. Click Duplicate Selected Item. You’ll make three changes to this new fill.

  • Open the fill properties and change its Opacity to 33%.
  • Click Offset Path to open that dialog box and change the Offset to 8.
  • Finally, click Roughen and change Size to 6 and Detail to 10. (Roughen is a randomized effect, so your results for this step may differ from Deke’s.)


Figure 5
15. To finish the illustration simply deselect everything by pressing Cmd+Shift+A or Ctrl+Shift+A and turning on the text layer.

And that’s how to add an aura of power to any character. Check out the follow-up video in the library, where Deke shows you how to convert the simple strokes in this illustration into variable width strokes. It’s a subtle but transformative improvement.

There’s another free video coming next week that will show you how to take a photograph of a bird in flight to new heights with the Puppet Warp tool in Photoshop. Check back each week for more Deke’s Techniques.

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