Create An Awesome Space Rocket Avatar in Illustrator

What? You still don’t have your own avatar? Remedy this situation immediately with this tutorial. We’ll draw a shiny, awesome-looking space rocket in Adobe Illustrator using advanced techniques such as gradient meshes, pattern brushes and opacity masks. We will then add a flare, smoke, clouds and sky to complete a fun illustration. Ready to launch?

Final result:

Here’s what we’re aiming at:
space-rocket

Soundtrack: Psyché Rock

I’ve chosen “Psyché Rock” by Pierre Henry to accompany this tutorial. Not only is it perfect for a space-themed avatar, it’s also the inspiration for the opening theme of Futurama.

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Step 1: Drawing the hull

Create a blank document, standard maximum icon size is 512 by 512 pixels (for Leopard). Create a vertical guide down the middle and draw the right half of the hull’s profile with the Pen Tool (P):
01-draw-profile

Copy (Ctrl+C) and paste in front (Ctrl+F) the path. Flip it horizontally then move it over to the left of the guide, snapping to it:
02-copy-flip

Now window-select the top points, hit Ctrl+J on your keyboard to activate the Join function. A dialog will appear, choose Corner. This way the rocket’s tip will be sharp. No respectable space rocket has a rounded tip!
03-join-points

Now join the bottom middle points using the same method but this time choose the Smooth option. No respectable space rocket has a pointed base!
04-join-points

The hull’s profile is complete. Select it then open the Object menu and choose Create Gradient Mesh. From the dialog set up the mesh as in the next picture. The idea here is to have as little points as possible but enough to start shading:
05-create-gradient-mesh

Step 2: Shading the hull

Pick the Direct Selection Tool (A), the white arrow from the toolbar. Select all points in the mesh and choose a medium gray color. Let’s decide that the light comes from the upper left corner. This means we have to make the right and bottom parts darker. The left and top points have to be lighter. Snce the hull is curved, though, the leftmost points have to be slightly darker than the inside to give a rounded 3D effect:
06-base-shading

Now let’s refine the shading. Use the following image as reference. First add two vertical mesh lines using the Mesh Tool from the toolbar (U). We want to add two vertical, soft highlights down the sides of the hull. So we need to select the center points on each side and make them lighter than the points surrounding them. See the image:
07-complete-shading

Step 3: Coloring the bow

Let’s add some color. Specifically let’s make the tip red.
Select the mesh then go to Object > Path > Offset Path and choose 0 as Offset. We have effectively created a path replica of the mesh:
08-offset-mesh

Make the path red then draw a circle at its tip:
09-draw-circle

With both objects selected hit Ctrl+7 to make a clipping mask. You’ll end up with a group. Set its mode to Darken in the Transparency palette. Now only the tip of the rocket is red:
10-clipping-mask

Step 4: Adding rivets

The hull is comprised of a few metal plates held together by rivets. Let’s draw them with a hassle-free method.
Remember the circle we’re using as clipping masking for the red tip? Make a copy of it and drag it out of the mask. Now offset it twice by 3px, once inside and once outside the tip. See the next image:
11-offset-circle-2-times

Keep the two circles you created, deleting the center one.
Draw a small black dot then drag it into the Brushes palette. A dialog will pop up asking you to choose a brush type. Select New Pattern Brush:
12-create-pattern-brush

The next dialog will let you set up the scale and spacing:
13-brush-options

Apply this brush to the two circles, changing their color to a darker shade of the hull beneath, so the top circle will be dark red and the bottom circle dark gray:
14-apply-brush

Select both circles, go to Object > Expand Appearance. Then hit Shift+Ctrl+G to ungroup them. Now you can erase all the dots outside the hull:
15-expand-ungroup-delete-unnecessary-dots

Using the same method add another seam and two rows of rivets about one third from the rocket’s bottom:
16-add-rivets

Step 5: Making the rocket shiny

The rocket just launched so it’s still shiny. Let’s add reflections.
On a new layer draw a white curved wedge with the Pen Tool. Set the mode to Screen and the Opacity to 60%. Go to Effect > Stylize > Feather and choose 3 pixels as value:
17-draw-reflection-wedge-add-feather

Copy and paste in front this wedge. Clear the Feather effect and apply a white-to-black gradient:
18-draw-opacity-mask

Select both wedges then click in the upper right corner of the Transparency palette and choose Make Opacity Mask:
19-make-opacity-mask

Make a copy of the reflection wedge, flip it to the right side and lower its opacity to 20%:
20-copy-reflection-and-lower-opacity

Step 6: Drawing the porthole

Draw a blue ellipse right in the middle:
21-draw-porthole

Create a ring of rivets around it, using the method explained before:
22-create-ring-of-rivets

Now fill the porthole with a horizontal gradient with the darker shade on the left. Also add a light gray stroke to fake rim highlights. Just make sure the stroke is lighter than the hull around it:
23-gradient-fill-light-gray-stroke

Let’s give the porthole some ambient lighting. Select Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow and refer to the next image for the settings:
24-inner-glow

Last thing to add is a reflection highlight to the glass.
Make a smaller copy of the porthole. Clear the stroke and all the effects:
25-smaller-copy

Create another copy, stretch it so it resembles a cricle and move it over to the right:
26-copy-and-stretch

Select both ellipses then select the Minus Front icon in the Transform palette. What results is a moon-like blade. Fill it with white:
27-minus-front

Go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur:
28-gaussian-blur

Finally set blending mode to Screen and reduce the opacity to 85%:
29-screen

Step 7: Ambient highlights

We need to add some ambient highlights now.
Draw a pale yellow ellipse by the lower part of the hollow. Apply a Gaussian Blur effect, set mode to Soft Light and reduce the opacity to 90%:
30-draw-ambient-highlight

Just copy the highlight to the sides, rotating the copies to match the hull’s profile and making them more transparent:
31-highlights

Step 8: The engine

To make the engine just create a copy of the hull (see Step 3), scale it down, move it below the hull and fill it with a copper-tinted gradient:
32-create-engine

Just add an Inner Glow to simulate light coming from the exhaust:
33-inner-glow

Step 9: Drawing the sails

Draw the sail with a simple path then convert it to a Gradient Mesh:
34-draw-sail-convert-to-mesh

Adjust the lines then refer to the next image for the shading:
35-sail-shading

Create the right sail with a symmetrical copy of the left one. Adjust its shading so the left part is bright and the right part is in the shadow. Then add wedge-shaped highlights (see Step 5):
36-create-right-sail-add-reflections

Add a shadow to the left sail. Draw a shape, set its opacity to 35% and the mode to Multiply. Fill it with a black-to-transparent gradient if you have Illustrator CS4 otherwise use the opacity mask method explained in Step 5. Apply a Gaussian Blur to the shadow:
37-draw-shadow

This is what we have so far. It looks great and it’s ready to be personalized and turned into an avatar:
38-result

Step 10: Completing the avatar

Fill the background with a light blue gradient to create the sky. Add your personalized insignia in a layer placed right beneath the hull’s highlights. I inserted my own logo and the bogus commission code “CLF-2009″. “NCC-1701″ is good too!
On a new layer beneath the rocket draw concentric smoke shapes, making them progressively darker towards the center. I used the Pencil Tool (N) with my Intuos tablet but you can also use your mouse. Just make the shapes a bit irregular (click to enlarge):
39-draw-sky-insignia-and-smoke

Now select all the shapes that make up the smoke and apply a 5px Gaussian Blur. Doesn’t it look great?
40-blur-the-smoke

Just like tou did the smoke draw a couple of flares at the engine’s mouth (use yellow and orange) and some clouds in the sky (use white):
41-draw-fire-and-clouds

Finally draw some wakes flying off the sails, applying Gaussian Blur. And we’re done!
42-wakes

Conclusion

I hope this tutorial taught you interesting techniques and I hope you had fun. When you’re finished drawing your space rocket download my finished artwork to take a closer look. If you have any questions or doubts leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. A lot more material is on the way so check back soon!

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69 Very Welcome Comments:

  • What a great tutorial it is! Excellent finishing. Thanks to share with us.

  • Mia says:

    Thank you for your great tutorials. They give me a lot of inspiration for teaching apprentices in Adobe Illustrator – far away from the “boring” practices of tracing simple artworks. And I also learn more and more about the many functions of Illu. :)

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