Creating a Racecar Illustration with Illustrator

Dateline: February 15, 2006
Version: Adobe Illustrator CS

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San Franciso-based illustrator John Mattos took advantage of racing photos to create stylistic gradients and realistic perspective in Illustrator.
Mattos imported images into Illustrator and traced over the shapes using the Pen tool. He concentrated on parts of the images such as the face and hand of the racecar driver and created the basic shapes by paying close attention to the lighting and the interaction of light. “You have to virtually eliminate most detail from reference images, otherwise it doesn’t look posterized,” Mattos notes.
Mattos created reflections on the helmet and windshield by adding Linear and Radial gradients to the strap and top of the helmet, and created the highlight on the glass using a white-to-gray Linear gradient at 21% Opacity. He constructed the car body and tires from grouped vector shapes referenced from a scan of an old Ferrari. For the swift lines of the tires, he drew relatively straight-edged shapes and filled them with a 46% Opacity gray-to-black Linear gradient set to 177 degrees. He added highlights to the tires by grouping the paths making up the tread marks and applying a black-to-blue Linear gradient at angles that added to the car’s sense of motion.
Using a photo of a track to help determine the perspective, Mattos traced the general shape of a stripe and drew two long curvilinear shapes to act as shadows for the grooves in the stripe of the track. He filled the first shape to the left with gray at 36% Opacity, and filled the right shape with a light gray-to-gray Linear gradient at 16 degrees. Without using reference material, he drew the shape for the shadow underneath the car on the track and filled it with blue-gray at 52% Opacity to simulate the natural transparency of shadows.
For a background, Mattos used reference photos scanned in as Bitmap TIFFs, such as the trees, clouds, and mountains. For trees, he traced over the details of the foliage to create many separate shapes, filled each with brown, olive, or mineral green, then layered the shapes to add dimension and scale. He created the mountains in the back left using the same process. The clouds were simply filled with pink-to-purple Linear gradients at various angles. The color of the sky was achieved by filling a path around the upper edges of the document with a white-to-coral Linear gradient at 110 degrees.
The final image is shown at left.

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John Mattos is a San Francisco-based illustrator.