I'm using Illustrator CC, and I'd like to link some sub-shapes to a master such that modifying the master also moves the sub-shapes.

Context: Octopus tentacles. I've got shapes for each tentacle with relatively sparse points. The details (suckers, edge detail, etc.) are separate shapes. I'd like to be able to modify the low-point tentacle shapes and have the details "ride" on top. Something like what Puppet Warp in Photoshop does. Is this possible?

I should say that I'm open to "standard" ways of achieving the same end. I'm a 3D artist, not a graphic designer, so I'm used to working hierarchically (or acyclic-graphically, to be precise). I can't imagine that a 2D person would just layout the arms, add detail, and then either never go back to make adjustments, or do it by manually hauling around giant masses of points, by the same token I don't necessarily know how he would go about something like this, that doesn't naturally lend itself to simple grouping.

I have done a basic layout of the large shapes, but there are some things that are better judged with detail.

It seems like the methods suggested thus far lend themselves to simple repetition of identical shapes. I think I can clarify what I'm after be restating it: I'd like to drive high-resolution "geometry" with low-resolution geometry. This high-resolution detail could be of arbitrary shape. Basically, I'm asking for a best practices method of laying out a free-form shape with a high number of points, such that I don't have to manually massage hundreds of points in order to make smooth changes in gross shape. Thanks for the suggestions.

Quick mock-up below - imagine that you wanted to add another bend in the middle of that shape, or some such, without taking a million years to adjust the detail.


My hunch is that this may not be possible, and the solution may be to export the curves to a 3D package and rig them with a skeleton. But there must be a "graphic desingerly" way of approaching this project, no?

  • 1
    yes and no. No as in not intended, but you can use wrap and custom brushes to do this yes.
    – joojaa
    Jul 17, 2014 at 22:48
  • As I stated on my answer, you can have all your details separated in symbols and apply them on top of a straight tentacle shape and convert all that together into a brush, apply it on a curve and then do whatever adjustments to that curve. But, you know, you can only do 2D adjustments to this tentacle...
    – Luciano
    Jul 21, 2014 at 9:40

2 Answers 2


Illustrator does not provide a method to "link" or "tie" shapes together.

So, if I understand correctly, you want basically sprites on a spine and when you move the spine you want the sprites to move as well.

If that's correct, one possible way to achieve this would be a blend, but it would be tricky.

  • Draw the spine path (tentacle)
  • Draw a starting sprite (sucker) and an ending sprite (sucker)
  • Select the sprites and choose Object > Blend > Make
  • Select Object > Blend > Blend Options and adjust settings. I'd use "Specified Steps" and enter the number of sprints (suckers) I want.
  • Copy the spine path (Tentacle path)
  • Edit > Paste in front
  • With this new path still selected, hold Shift and select the Blend as well (suckers)
  • Choose Object > Blend > Replace Spine

Now the pain points.....

  • This won't allow you to alter the size of the suckers, which I imagine you want. You can vary their sizes by using more than a start and end sprite before creating the blend. You can set a start sprite to be small, then one a bit larger, then smaller again, then an end sprite to be big. Select them all and create the Blend and the sizes will blend as well. This would take some effort to actual use well though.
  • You can't easily "scatter" the sprites (suckers). They will follow a direct path based upon their stacking order. This really limited the variety you can achieve.
  • The blend spine is a separate path from the tentacle spine, so you need to edit both paths if editing. It's not as simple as "one path to rule them all".

After playing with it a bit....

enter image description here

I'd abandon it entirely in favor of using Symbols and manually placing the sprites (suckers) where I want them. By using Symbols you can have 1 piece of art used repeatedly and simply editing the Symbol will edit all instances of that art.

Overall, I don't know of an easy way to do what you are asking automatically. Even brushes are terribly limiting and wouldn't be much better than a blend.

The tentacles are easy, just draw a path and use the Width Tool to vary it's weight (you don't need an art brush). It's the details that, honestly, need manual manipulation.

I completely understand your mindset coming from 3D where objects must move and adjust based on other objects. Unfortunately, Illustrator simply does not work that way.

  • instead of symbols for the suckers he could also use a brush tool (scatter). Then apply to a curve - less manual work. Specially if using a tablet, the size of the suckers could be defined by the pen pressure.
    – Luciano
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:32
  • True.. but the Symbol tools allow size and scattering and symbols are much easier to edit and allow many more types of objects, not to mention their own layer structure.
    – Scott
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:39
  • can't he make a symbol and use that on a brush?
    – Luciano
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:44
  • Good point. As long as the artwork is allowed in the brush type. :)
    – Scott
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:45
  • Thanks for the reply. This does seem like a "can't get there from here" type of request. I've updated the original question to leave it open to other angles of attack that don't require the specific functionality that I wanted, as I think it will be more useful to people who come looking in the future.
    – meeotch
    Jul 18, 2014 at 15:54

For best results your "tentacle" shape should be straight as if the tentacle was stretched up.

  1. Open the Brushes box (F5)

  2. Select your tentacle shape (or group), drag it on top of the Brushes box to create a new brush (the cursor will have a "+" to create a new brush)

  3. Select "Art Brush" on the dialog box

  4. Name it and click OK

Now you are ready to apply this brush to a curve.

  1. Select a path or create a new one with the Pen tool.

  2. Drag your brush from the Brushes box on top of your new curve.

    Whenever you want to change the tentacle, Double-click it on the Brushes box. A new dialog will pop up asking you if you want to apply the changes to existing strokes - if you say yes, all the curves on the canvas with that brush applied will be updated.

  • While accurate, this doesn't really answer the question. Also, one could simply use the Width Tool for the tentacles.
    – Scott
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:05
  • actually, this is better than the width tool because you can bend and twist the tentacles, specially useful if there's a lot of details in it since you just do the curves as you want and apply the brush. You can also easily bend again the tentacles later on. (of course it doesn't matter if you use a solid color one). That said, I indeed didn't considered the "suckers" in my answer.
    – Luciano
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:29
  • The brush is a good method, but you can also reshape any path with a width profile applied to it. Not arguing that art brushes are bad.. just stating that there's also an easier method in some cases.
    – Scott
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:31
  • My point was that it's more flexible, since you can only use the width tool on a path stroke, and with the brush approach you could create a more detailed tentacle composed of multiple objects that you could easily re-use. But I guess it's a matter of preference in this case...
    – Luciano
    Jul 18, 2014 at 14:42

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