Portfolio project: Low-poly portraits

I’m slowly making my way through Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics 2.0, which is ‘The Book’ to read for making sense of the overwhelming amounts of data at the online marketer’s fingertips – check out his blog for hundreds of posts on getting to grips with modern web analytics.

I plan to do a write-up on the key need-to-know points when I’m finished, but in the meantime I’ve been working on a small graphic design project and wanted to share the results. The profile pic on my portfolio needed a little jazzing up, and I came across a good tutorial on how to turn a photograph into a low poly portrait. Having always wondered what I’d look like in a late 90s First-Person-Shooter, I decided to give it a go over a weekend.

Taking a fancy portrait shot I had on my hard drive, I decided to skip the annoying/unnecessary steps of combining a bunch of similar photos to create a perfect amalgamation of my face. Any minor changes would be likely lost in the low poly creation process, and it seemed to be a waste of time considering the final look I was going for.

What was not unnecessary however was the wireframe sketching process; I jumped straight into Illustrator and started with the Pen tool immediately, only to quickly realize that it was a gigantic pain in the ass without guide lines. Since using the Pen tool to add new anchor points deselects the existing paths and anchors, it’s nearly impossible to tell where to join your paths without laboriously adding a single anchor, selecting all paths on the layer, re-selecting the Pen tool then hovering around the area where you other paths are to highlight them. This is an incredibly complicated and unhelpful way of saying: don’t skip sketching your wireframe with the Brush tool in a separate layer.

Wireframe over portrait

Sketching a wireframe with the brush tool

As you can see, I end up looking like a younger, whiter MFDOOM, which is pretty cool in of itself. Then came the time-consuming part of creating a wireframe path on a separate layer using the helpful brush sketch as a guide. This ended up taking a solid three hours, so take the advice in the tutorial and brew some coffee, dig up your old Hip Hop mix tapes from the 90s and focus.

Eventually, after working your way through all of Biggy’s Ready to Die, you are finished and get to enjoy the relatively breezy process of colouring in your triangles with the Live Paint Brush and Eyedropper tools.

Low poly portrait of Ian

The final product: a low poly portrait

I ended up looking like a slightly demonic character from an RPG circa 1998. The eyes are a little scary, but the idea of an HR manager seeing this while checking out my work is amusing, so for now it’ll stay. I’ve thrown it up on my portfolio, as it fits with the low-tech theme and feel I have going there.

If you’ve got some spare time, give this tutorial a try. It’s a good way to become more familiar with Illustrator, and produces some good portraits that you can show off on your resume or website. Illustrator’s vector-based foundations really shine here, as resizing or moving the paths is so much easier than using Photoshop – no pixel distortions or loss of resolution! I’d recommend choosing photos with good contrast and shadows for maximum poly-effect, and if you scroll down the tutorial’s page people have submitted all kinds of cool examples of how you can take this one step further.

Now back to reading about macro analytics and data segmentations…

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