The astonishing tale of lava and the Adobe noob
August 24, 2007 3:22 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get a glowing molten lava effect in Illustrator CS3?

Hi AskMe. I'm learning Illustrator in advance of purchasing a Wacom pad, with making whip-ass comics in mind. Right now I'm just scanning in drawings and photos to play with, learning the program as I go. I've found some good web tutorials, but none of them have specific instruction on what I'd like to create today.

I want to learn how to make a molten lava/metal effect with a convincing glow and illusion of motion. I want to start with silver as the overall color.

Like I said, this is part of a larger effort to learn Illustrator inside and out. Making comics is my principal project, but I hope to develop a marketable skill with this software in the process. So, if you know of any quality online tutorials or other useful means of learning Illustrator, I would love to hear about them.

Thank you.
posted by EatTheWeak to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Do you want it to look photorealistic, or are you looking for comic book lava?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:38 PM on August 24, 2007

I'm interested in both, but i'm skewing towards photorealistic for the moment.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:48 PM on August 24, 2007

This one's pretty good.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:53 PM on August 24, 2007

Thank you! That's just the kind of thing I was hoping for. How well do Photoshop tutorials translate to Illustrator? They seem to share a lot of tools.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:58 PM on August 24, 2007

How well do Photoshop tutorials translate to Illustrator?

Basically not at all.

By the way, you won't really need a Wacom tablet for Illustrator. You're going to be mostly drawing things with Bezier curves, not freehand.
posted by kindall at 8:34 PM on August 24, 2007

>>you won't really need a Wacom tablet for Illustrator

Ha! I'd be lost without my tablet in Illustrator. I find my mouse is just not accurate enough.
posted by b33j at 12:42 AM on August 25, 2007

My experience is that unless you have a really big tablet, the mouse is going to be more accurate. But different strokes. :)
posted by kindall at 8:12 AM on August 25, 2007

How well do Photoshop tutorials translate to Illustrator?

Well, there's the rub. When you're dealing with transitions of colors as opposed to lines, you start crossing the line between raster art and vector art. Illustrator is (primarily) a vector-based art program. The stuff you create is actually saved as a bunch of formulas in Illustrator. For example, if you drew a straight horizontal line of a certain length, a vector image would say "Pixel 1 (RGB #000000), Pixel 2 (RGB #000000), etc..." while a vector image would say "line: point 1 (X,Y), point 2 (X,Y)".

The primary advantage of vector images is that they can be scaled infinitely without any loss of quality. The primary disadvantage of vector images (and advantage for raster) is that you don't have the level of control or range of manipulations as raster.

If you want to do a lava effect in Illustrator, you're going to have to use the techniques that air-brush artists use: strong lines, lots and lots and lots of detail, and gentile gradients. It will take a shitload of time, let me tell you. There's simply no reason to waste that much time on something that can be created near-automatically using raster techniques to any scale that you'll need.

For example, if you wanted to use this for print, you just open your Photoshop file and set the resolution to 600 or 1200 dpi and you're done. You'll have to scale everything up, but it's the same process. You can then import the image into illustrator -- they're both Adobe products and their files are virtually interchangeable (if you import an Illustrator file into Photoshop, it'll ask you for your target resolution).

If you want photo-realism, that's a lot harder to do with vector images, but as you can see from the tutorial, dead-simple in Photoshop. If this is just part of a larger image, I'd say it's time better spent actually drawing in Illustrator. Save the time-consuming, boring-as-hell repetitive stuff (like lava) for Photoshop.

As for the discussion on resolution, a (good) tablet will usually trounce a good mouse, with the added advantage that you get degrees of pressure--something you can't measure with a mouse. I have a pretty decent tablet that I never use, because it's just too damned big to go anywhere convenient. I'd get a smaller Wacom to replace it, except that I don't do as much drawing as I used to, and I could never buy something from a company owned by the leader of the Moonies.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:28 AM on August 25, 2007

I'd also be lost and annoyed without my pen tablet. I go back and forth between mouse and tablet depending on the task and how I'm working at the moment.

I have a small 4x6 and I think it is great for just about any scale of drawing. I think if you are a real artist, having a larger tablet would be pretty fun to work with but the smaller one, I think, works for just about 90% of stuff you'd want to do in the post-production type work. If you are drawing by hand and scanning then the small tablet is a great place to start.

I agree with all the comments about illustrator v. photoshop. Your workflow might be: Illustrator for the vector linework --> photoshop for all the subtle painting and gradients --> back to illustrator for finishing touches and text overlays.
posted by amanda at 10:36 AM on August 25, 2007

To create a photorealistic lava flow in Illustrator is fucking hard. Basically, if you have to ask how to do it, you can't do it. I've been working in Illustrator for years, and there's no way I could even begin to start to figure this out without another few years dedicated exclusively to illustration. My answer to this question is either a) learn the gradient mesh tool until you know it the way you know your own face, or b) use Photoshop.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:03 PM on August 25, 2007

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