Produced by KelbyOne

Fun Film Design Using Illustrator

With a little experimentation and imagination, you can use tools in not-so-obvious ways to create really interesting and seemingly complex effects. In this tutorial, we’ll use a number of basic shapes and a photo to create a simple filmstrip. Then we’ll map that art to a 3D shape that we’ll create and manipulate entirely in Adobe Illustrator.

STEP 1 Start with the Basic Shape
Select the Rectangle tool (M) from the Toolbox, then click once on the artboard. In the Rectangle dialog that appears, enter 18″ for Width, 5″ for Height, then click OK. In the Control panel, set the Fill color to black and the Stroke to None. We’re building the filmstrip sideways because of the way we’ll use it as mapped art on a 3D shape.

STEP 2 Create the Sprocket Hole
With the Rectangle tool still selected, click on the artboard again. This time enter 0.2″ for Width, 0.3″ for Height, and click OK. Set the Fill color to white and leave the Stroke set to None. Now choose the Selection tool (V) and position this box in the upper-left corner of the black rectangle.

STEP 3 Repeat the Sprocket Hole
With the sprocket hole still selected, go under the Effect menu and choose Distort & Transform>Transform. In the Move section of the dialog, enter 0.35″ for the Horizontal setting. Then, enter 50 for the number of copies and click OK. This will repeat the sprocket holes all the way across the shape. Now hold down the Option key (PC: Alt key), then click-and-drag the first shape in the series down toward the bottom of the rectangle so the holes are on both sides of the film. (Note: Add the Shift key after you start dragging to keep the holes aligned.)

STEP 4 Create a Film Frame
Choose the Rounded Rectangle tool (nested with the Rectangle tool) from the Toolbox. Then click once on the artboard and enter 3″ for Width, 3.75″ for Height, 0.2″ for Corner Radius, and click OK. Then set the Fill color to white and the Stroke to None. Choose the Selection tool and move the film frame onto the left side of the filmstrip.

STEP 5 Place the Photo
Now let’s place the photo that we’ll use in the film frame. You can use different images for each frame or you can use the same image. We’re using the same image so it looks like a movie clip. Go to File>Place, navigate to the photo you want to use, and click Place. (Note: Make sure the Link option is unchecked in the Place dialog. Also, if you’ve placed a landscape image, go to Object>Transform>Rotate, enter 90° for Angle, and click OK.)

STEP 6 Crop the Photo
Drag the photo over the frame box we created in Step 4, then choose Object>Arrange>Send Backward. Now resize and center the photo so it’s just a little bit bigger than the film frame. Select both objects, go to the Object menu, and choose Clipping Mask>Make. This will crop the photo inside the frame.

STEP 7 Repeat the Frames
With the object still selected, choose Effect>Distort & Transform>Transform. In the Move section of the dialog, enter 3.5″ for Horizontal and then set the number of copies to 4. Turn on the Preview option to see the result before you commit, tweak the settings if necessary, and then click OK. (Note: If you’re using multiple photos, go to Object>Expand Appearance, then choose Object>Ungroup. Select the next frame on the filmstrip, open the Links panel [Window>Links], and click the Relink icon. Navigate to your next image in the Place dialog that appears, and click Place. Repeat this step for each image.)

STEP 8 Make It a Symbol
We need to convert this object into a symbol so we can map it to our 3D shape. Open the Symbols panel (Window>Symbols), choose the Selection tool, and click-and-drag over the entire filmstrip object to select it. Click the Symbols panel’s flyout menu and choose New Symbol. In the Symbol Options dialog that appears, choose Graphic, name the symbol, and click OK.

STEP 9 Draw the Line
We’re going to create our 3D shape from a stroke. Choose the Pen tool (P) from the Toolbox and draw a smooth, wavy path about the same length as the filmstrip (not too wavy though). Set the Stroke to any color and set the Fill to None.

STEP 10 Another Dimension
With the stroke selected, go under the Effect menu and choose 3D>Extrude & Bevel. Check on the Preview so you can see the result as you work in this dialog. Change the Surface setting at the bottom to Wireframe, enter a Perspective amount of 50°, and set the Extrude Depth to 375 pt. Now you can use the cube to manipulate the angle of the 3D shape or you can enter specific values for each x, y, and z rotation. Don’t click OK yet.

STEP 11 Map the Art
Click the Map Art button. In the Map Art dialog, toggle through the Surface to find the face of the filmstrip (the selected surface is indicated by red outlines on the artboard). Then click the Symbol menu and choose the film symbol we created in Step 8. When it appears in the window, click the Scale to Fit button and turn on Invisible Geometry. This will render only the mapped art, leaving the 3D shape invisible. Click OK to close the Map Art dialog, but don’t close the main 3D Extrude & Bevel dialog yet.

STEP 12 Finish It Off
Back in Step 10 we set the Surface to Wireframe. This was mainly for visibility and speed because this setting doesn’t have a render lag when manipulating the 3D object. But now that we’ve rendered our map art, we need to change this setting to No Shading. This will render our finished art as it was created but now it’s mapped to the 3D shape, giving the appearance of a semirealistic strip of film.


  • Dinhi says:

    Oh! A super tut and great big shout out thank you to Laurie for making a full day of head scratching go away with a very helpful hint [=

  • Dinhi says:

    Ok—Having tried to replicate the film strip after a successful go of it, I began using the paint tool vs. the pencil took which worked the first time. I have since repeated the task with the pencil tool and there are no torn film strips in the finished product.
    Not that familiar with this program, can anyone explain why that may have happened with the paint tool?

  • Dinhi says:

    Another hint I discovered that may help the newbee (like myself) with this tutorial:

    double click on the pen or pencil tool, which ever you are using, set the Fidelity to 20
    and smoothness to 100%

    What I have discovered is the least amount of anchor points contributes to the best image, and you can draw your shape with much more curves and no distortion to the symbol image you apply.

    ah…learning…love it!

  • ismail rv dubai says:

    thanks boss very very super…….

  • Rajesh says:

    After Step 7 not able to create a Symbol as mentioned in Step 8, it shows an error as “A Symbol definition cannot contain a linked image”

  • r says:

    you should have the source files.. it is a good tutorial, but what would help if we have the files so we dont have to do the work.

  • Jason says:


    all the people having problems with the film strip not filling up the path as a whole image, make sure your path has a “BLACK STROKE” NOT a “BLACK FILL” actually it dosent make any difference what color you use. And with the linking error, you cant have the clipping masks in your layer when you try and make it a symbol, what i did is export the illustrator layer to photoshop and used the clipping mask as a selection and did a reverse seletion and deleted the area around my pictures then took the pictures back into illustrator and layed them over my “clipping masked” pictures and once my photoshop edited pictures were alignded i delelted the clipping mask and my old pictures. Hope all that makes sense

  • tasost_greece says:

    thank you soooooooooooooooooo much!!!

  • Shannon says:

    Hi everyone,
    I am hoping you can help me.. I tend to make things more difficult then what it actually is and don’t see the simpliar things sometimes. I am new to illustrator and was wondering about what the size of document should be when you first open it up? I know how to set the size of the rectangle for the filmstrip but unsure of what the right size is for the new document should be all together.. Should I just set it the same size as the filmstrip? Like I said I am making it more difficult I am sure but would like to know what you guys have set yours too. I obviously can’t use the tool unless I have a new document open. Thanks again

  • Greg says:

    Would be nice if it worked, but it’s nowhere’s near useable. I used to teach Illustrator back in the day, and you have to learn how to WRITE a tutorial, there’s obviously about 50 missing pieces of info, otherwise it’d work perfectly.

  • Joseph Gardner says:

    i loved it and it worked perfectly. As far as greg above, he may need to learn to read a tutorial too. Look at link check and surface area and it will work exactly as shown. Fantastic job!

  • Don says:

    Awesome. I just looked this up to fix an error.

  • Jayski says:

    Great tuto but Laurie saved the day for sure, couldn’t get it to work before picking the right surface.
    Anyone else have trouble with the power used for this, I have a pretty big new computer, but she does not like this. 🙁

  • nkk says:

    Hi. I have tried this tutorial over 10 times. It works till extrude and bevel but as soon as I do fit to scale and preview it the photo strip (which i have made a symbol) just becomes a thin line. Can someone please tell me why this is happening and how to make the complete photo strip as shown here??

    • Judi says:

      nkk, same thing happens with me. I have the symbol created and have followed the 3D steps at least 10 times but just end up with a thin line like you do. I don’t know what to change.

      • Cmorales says:

        I guess nkk and Judi have solved their problems after 2 years (or otherwise they have desisted) but, for anyone interested: in step 11 you have to pay attention to the “surfaces” (top right of that window) and apply the symbol to all of them.

  • Ellen says:

    I have the same thin line problem. didn’t work for me at all.

  • james says:

    the idea of filmstrip is sweet but the end part is confusing – the 3D part
    there is a better way for that
    Effect / Warp / Flag

    even 3D after that works

    I played with one and posted on on the contact page – hope is still there

  • fariha says:

    why the film strip is not showing in the map art?