Blog: Secrets from the Chef

Drawing an Icon: Sketches and Metaphors

Dmitri JoukovAuthor: Dmitri Joukov
5 July 2007

Rejoice, our young fans of digital miniature! The festival has finally come to your town. Turbomilk in my person is starting a series of posts on how we draw icons: from the moment of placing the task and receiving an advance payment to sending the final versions to the customer. Eugene Artsebasov, our illustrator, was so kind to assist me.

Inspired by our illustrations of alien life, the Space Invaders (SI) have placed an order with us for making three icons for their Universe Subjugation Control application.

For those of you underage please do not be scared: there are no real Space Invaders, it is all just a product of my wild imagination.

So, the SI placed an order for the following icons:

  1. Alien/user
  2. Conquered world
  3. Spaceship

For the sake of simplicity and excitement we decided to avoid the perspective projections a la Windows XP or Vista. Hardly an adequate alien would install an operating system created by an organized group of primates. Therefore, instead of following the Microsoft’s icon style guidelines, we will use the talent of our staff illustrator to create a unique set of icons in all respects. Let’s assume that this is a style used by the Space Invaders in their modern operating system.

However, I am a bit outpacing myself… the icon design starts not from the visual style and all the bells and whistles but from conceptual thinking about what we are going to illustrate. We have discussed this stage in details two weeks ago. Follow the link if you need to refresh your mind. And for our today’s experiment I have purposefully selected simplified icons to avoid stress.

Let’s start with the most intuitive examples that come to our mind first. An abstract living creature, some planet with incinerated surface and an ordinary spaceship:

initial sketches

It would seem that we could send these sketches to our customer right there but instead let’s wait a minute: it is a good time for a second thought now. And an ordinary SI manual will come in handy here. First, let’s consider the most politically tricky question: How does a space GI look like? We may find a slight resemblance with a human being: one head, a pair of eyes, two hands and the same number of legs. Excellent! Keeping the new knowledge in our head, let’s draw two more versions. The first version also hit the spot but the invader we drew had a lot in common with a representative of SI generalship. Some SI general may take it personally when he sees himself as an ordinary GI invader. You get the idea of what it may lead to.

GI invaders

Now we move on to the sketch of a “conquered world”. The first thought as you remember was a completely incinerated Globe. By referring to the Manual we will see that a world is normally subjugated using several huge flying saucers and one gigantic super-squid. Incineration, as we learned, is not listed as the options here. Right not we are unable to say which option our customer would prefer, therefore we will draw both versions:

enslavement variations

The situation with the last icon was largely simplified, since in the process of searching for info for the first two icons we came across the article on “Invasion Battle Spaceship” (IBS) several times. The image of a skyward carrot-shaped colossus with nozzles at the bottom was firmly grasped by our minds. No other options here:

rocket, just rocket

Now it is the time to send the sketches to our customer for review. It took less than two light-years for us to get comments back from SI. The request was to replace the laser spear with a regular killing blaster and add a couple of larger ones to the spaceship. They also wrote that they are currently phasing out the hardware-based subjugation for a biotech option, which leaves the version with flying saucers out. Generally they are pleased with our work and they even may consider moving the invasion of the Earth forward in their schedule.

finale sketches

That’s all for today, folks. In our next post we will describe the process of drawing a single icon.

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