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Project: (Almost) Photo-Realistic Waving Lanyard

We’ll create and map textual artwork onto a near photo-realistic waving lanyard in six easy steps:

  1. Drawing the basic shape and importing swatches

  2. Scribbling the basic shape

  3. Distorting with a mesh

  4. Releasing, reusing, and editing meshes

  5. Painting with a gradient mesh

  6. Finishing the lanyard

Drawing a Near Photo-Realistic Lanyard and Mapping Text to It in 3D

Envelope distortions created with two-dimensional target shapes are actually very simple in their depth, shape, and the amount of perceived distortion they create. When you need absolute command over any aspect of depth, shape, distortion, or color transitions, turn to meshes.

Because REV Creativity Drink will debut at a trade convention, and convention-goers are typically issued badges for entry into the show floor, panel discussions, parties, and various other functions, a lanyard would make a good promo item. After the convention, a fair number of attendees will continue to use it to hold their office security badges around their necks—thus spreading the REV name far and wide like walking, talking, iPod-jamming billboards.

Consider a lanyard printed with repetitions of the tagline and website address. How would you draw it in Illustrator? Just a long rectangle with type set atop it?

Well, you could do that, I suppose. But a drawing like that certainly won’t give the client the sense of seeing the physical item. Let’s go the extra mile for our client and give them something they can almost reach out and touch. It will pay off with the satisfaction of hearing the client’s fingernails clink on the monitor.

STEP 1: Drawing the Basic Shape and Importing Swatches

  1. Begin a new 11x8.5-inch document in RGB. Name it Lanyard.

  2. From the flyout menu on the Swatches palette, select Open Swatch Library > Other Library. When the dialog comes up, navigate to, and open, the Logo.ai file. A new palette entitled Logo will appear; in it will be the REV corporate color swatches (see Figure 3.8).

  3. Figure 3.8

    FIGURE 3.8  The imported swatches palette (in List View).

  4. Draw a long, narrow rectangle approximately 10.5 inches wide by 0.375 inches tall. Fill it with DS 282-1 C. Give it a stroke of none.

  5. Set your type over the box, in approximately the same shape and size. Enter REV’s tagline and website address separated by bullets: REV Up Your Creativity . http://www.RevDrink.com. Style and color them however you like—I used Myriad Pro Bold Condensed, 18 pt, with the tagline in white, the URL in black, and the bullet in DS 294-3 C.

  6. Copy the text, and paste it repeatedly until it completely fills the text box.

STEP 2: Scribbling the Basic Shape

Because lanyards are typically knitted thread, let’s simulate a knitted texture.

  1. Select the green box (lock the text if needed).

  2. On the Appearance palette (Window > Appearance), click the flyout menu and choose New Fill. Make this DS 282-1 C as well. You should now see two identical fill attribute entries in the Appearance palette—only the upper one will be visible on the artboard, however.

  3. With the upper fill attribute selected in the Appearance palette, go to Effect > Stylize > Scribble. Make a nice tight scribble. My settings are: Angle: 90°; Path Overlap and Variation: 0; Stroke Width: 0.03 in.; Curviness: 10%, and Spacing: 0.04 in—the last two settings both got variations of 0.

  4. You should see bumpy upper and lower edges on your box, but no gaps between the Scribble strokes.

  5. For texture, let’s add a third fill via the Appearance palette, this time DS 286-2 C.

  6. Let’s scribble this new fill with the following settings: Angle: 90°; Path Overlap and Variation: 0; Stroke Width: 0.02 in.; Curviness: 10%, and Spacing: 0.07 in. Once again, all variations are set to 0.

  7. Does your rectangle look more like woven fabric now (see Figure 3.9)? Feel free to play with the Scribble options. When you’re satisfied, group the rectangle with the text—(Cmd-G) [Ctrl+G].

  8. Duplicate the layer, and hide the duplicate.

Figure 3.9

FIGURE 3.9 Though it has tremendous potential for abuse, Scribble also has practical applications—such as creating a knitted texture.

STEP 3: Distorting with a Mesh

This is where the fun really begins. A mesh under your control can actualize any kind of twisting, crunching, squishing, stretching, turning, and distorting you can imagine. So bring your twisted vision and let’s do the Monster Mesh.

  1. With the group selected, go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh.

  2. The Envelope Mesh dialog defines how the mesh is initially broken up. For such a long and narrow shape, let’s try one row and ten columns. When you click OK, your artwork will display a grid with points at all intersections. You are no longer working directly with the group of text and scribbled box; now you’re working with the distortion mesh.

  3. The points of a mesh behave like anchor points in a path. Solid points are selected, hollow unselected. Mesh points also have curve handles that affect the curvature of mesh patches on either side of the point—just like path anchor points.

  4. Using the Direct Selection tool, move the mesh points around and distort your box until it resembles one length of a loosely arranged lanyard, with bends and curves and maybe even folds (see Figure 3.10). Adjust the distance between the mesh points at the top and bottom to create depth, such as a bend pushing the lanyard toward or away from the viewer.

  5. When you’re happy with the first side of the lanyard, show the second layer and do it again to create the other length of the lanyard. A lanyard is a continuous length of fabric, so remember to match up the ends of the two pieces (see Figure 3.11).

Figure 3.10

FIGURE 3.10 My lanyard, with the mesh showing.

Figure 3.11

FIGURE 3.11 Align the ends of the two lengths to give the illusion of a continuous ribbon.

STEP 4: Releasing, Reusing, and Editing Meshes

So you’ve done all of this neat twisting and distorting with your mesh. What if you want to make a second object with the same distortion effects (which we do)? Must you try to re-create each and every push and pull? Nope.

  1. Duplicate one of your current layers (either the front or back strips of the lanyard), locking the original and the other original.

  2. With the Selection tool, click on your new object, copy, and choose Object > Envelope Distort > Release. You should have your original, uninteresting scribbled box and text group, as well as the mesh, now a distinctly separate object.

  3. To mirror the distortion of the lanyard ribbon with another object, you would select the target object and the now independent mesh, and use the Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object method we learned with the jar and travel mug—which we are not going to do now.

  4. Instead, delete the undistorted scribble group, leaving the mesh itself.

  5. Zoom in on the left edge of the mesh and grab the Mesh tool. Until your mouse is over the mesh (or an object that can be converted to a mesh) it will display a no-mesh cursor. Position the cursor roughly at the midpoint of the left edge of the mesh, however, and you will see the Add Mesh Point tool. Click here. Notice that you have now split the entire length of the mesh into two rows where previously it was one.

  6. If you clicked on a different area of a vertical mesh patch border. you would add additional rows; click on a horizontal border to add columns, and click somewhere inside a mesh patch to add both a column and row simultaneously.

  7. The more mesh patches (columns and rows) you create, the greater your command over distortion or (as you will see in the next step) color. The drawback, of course, is that you have more mesh patches and mesh points to wrangle when you want to make large changes—so don’t go nuts with the Mesh tool.

STEP 5: Painting with a Gradient Mesh

Having fun? Well, try to contain yourself—it gets better. Way better.

The lanyard is distorted beautifully now (I have faith in you). But it still doesn’t look real, does it? What’s missing? C’mon. You know what it is. Take your time; I need to go to the little boys’ room anyway.

Okay. I’m back. Did you figure out what’s missing? Right! It’s missing highlights and shadows to give it depth.

  1. If you did go nuts with the mesh tool, undo with (Cmd-Z) [Ctrl+Z] until you get back to two rows and ten columns. We’ll probably add more as we go along, but for now, let’s keep things simple.

  2. Position your mesh object directly over the distorted lanyard it matches. Be sure it lines up on all points (adjust mesh points if necessary). Open and arrange the Color, Swatches, Transparency, Layers, and Toolbox palettes on screen together. We won’t need any others for this section.

  3. Duplicate the current layer; then hide the duplicate.

  4. Select the mesh with the Selection tool, and, on the Transparency palette, set the blending mode to Luminosity—which should make the distorted lanyard beneath visible.

  5. Now look at your distorted lanyard. Make two decisions: First, where is the light source in relation to your lanyard? And, with that in mind, where should the lanyard be shaded? Got that?

  6. Drag the black swatch from the Swatches palette and drop it into any mesh patch to be shaded. It’s okay to gasp. Do it with another mesh patch—try an area that should be highlighted.

  7. Now click on a point that touches one of the mesh patches you just filled. With the point selected, choose a contrasting color swatch on the Swatches palette (or mix a color on the Colors palette). See how smoothly they blend? This is called a gradient mesh. Each colored path or point will blend smoothly in all directions into the next colored path or point.

  8. Set all your highlight and shadow areas by either method. Use different shades of gray for more realism than simple black and white. Add or remove mesh points as needed. And don’t forget to leave some points and patches unshaded; we want the REV colors to show through.

  9. Adjust the opacity of the entire mesh object with the Transparency palette if needed—I used Luminosity at 40%. In the end, your "light mesh" should look similar to mine (see Figure 3.12).

Figure 3.12

FIGURE 3.12 With a gradient mesh, colors flow smoothly in whatever direction needed—in this case, creating smooth lighting and shadow transitions.

STEP 6: Finishing the Lanyard

By now, half your lanyard should be looking close to real. There’s just one more mesh to create before repeating the light and shadow work on the other half.

  1. Lock your light and shadow layer but keep it visible.

  2. Turn on the duplicate you made earlier in the project, and move that layer beneath the actual lanyard in the Layers palette. This will be our cast shadow layer—feel free to rename the layer to Cast Shadow.

  3. Its shape should loosely follow but not mirror the shape of the lanyard—that would be unrealistic. So distort and color it (with shades of gray) to create credible shadows cast by turns, twists, and puckers of the lanyard relative to the light source direction you chose.

  4. Set the blending mode for this mesh to Multiply—so only darker colors will appear, thus making the shadows believable atop any color, object, or image. Keep the opacity at 100% to enable deep shadow.

  5. Either after distortion and color or during, soften the edges of your cast shadow with Gaussian Blur (Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur). I used 7.4 px as my Gaussian blur setting, but select what looks best to you, with your object. The lower the Gaussian Blur setting, the sharper your shadows, which implies that the object is closer to its shadow as well as fewer and closer light sources.

  6. When this half of the lanyard is exactly the way you want it, give the other half highlights and shading and a cast shadow as well (see Figure 3.13).

Figure 3.13

FIGURE 3.13 My finished lanyard, with highlights and shading and a cast shadow provided by gradient meshes, and all parts distorted with distortion meshes.

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