Power Tour Magnetism: Creating the Art
Each year, as a part of the Long Haul Gang aspect of Hot Rod Magazine’s Power Tour, a set of magnets is developed. One magnet is given out to participants at each stop. The full complement of pieces can then be assembled into one big magnet. This is my third year designing these. It was quite an honor to create them for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Power Tour.
It’s one of those projects where I grabbed the reigns and ran with the creative direction. I had a blast coming up with a keepsake for the participants. While my current health situation prevents me from taking part in the event, I live vicariously through the social media posts I see of people collecting them. I pour a lot of time, thought and creativity into these. I like to immortalize the featured vehicles for their owners.
Last year, I had made it a point to raise the bar a bit, as the previous year (2017) the job was rushed, and I had almost no creative input. It wasn’t bad, just wasn’t where I had hoped to take it. It did the job, though, and while I’m no fan of just slapping down a profile view of a car (kinda boring and way too easy), it got the idea across, and I managed to render the vehicles at speed, giving the whole thing an air of fun, motion, and capture the essence of Power Tour: driving. There were a bunch of Holley employee and company-owned project cars in that piece, and the art was created entirely in Adobe Illustrator, as is all of my work.
The vector format allows for infinite scaling of the final work without any degradation or loss of detail. Kind of a win-win when shipping the files of to the printer. You never have that lingering “what if they resize it and it comes back all pixelated and blurry” nonsense. Ironically, I wanted the Ben Day process dots and my own slant on Kirby Dots/Krackle that made up the sky and cloud blurs to remain, well, in focus.
It is what it is.
THE ROAD TO THE PRESENT
For 2018, I went for it it terms of capturing the character of the cars, and playing with texture. You know… as an added dimension. I pushed to have a little more creative control, and ran wild where I could with it in terms of layout, design and detail. I wanted something dramatic to make up for the previous year’s boring profile views and very bland grid layout.
Last year, I was out to tell a story, and I did from a bird’s eye view.
This wasn’t just a simple case of throwing down a horizon line and some vanishing points, unfortunately. It was wrangling seven cars on a plane, certainly… But the trick was going to be in giving the piece a feeling of motion, as though a drone were flying overhead and capturing the vehicles as they advanced on the gate to zMax Dragway. Ever had that feeling that what you pictured in your head was way cooler than what you were going to throw on paper? I didn’t sleep a lot for a few days. How do you make a static piece of art look as though almost every piece is in motion?
You invent some solutions.
The concept was simple: Capture the spirit of the week with the selected cars all making their way to the event finale in Concord. The detail level is crazy when viewed all zoomed-in. but the overall effect is deceptively simple. OK, save for all of that patina. My answer to that earlier question of making it all appear kinetic was a case of slightly cartooning each car, and then warping the rules of perspective. Studying some videos of drones flying over cars and landscapes, I realized that all I had to do was change my thinking from “put these lines on this or that vanishing point” to “think of the vanishing points more as flight paths.” Each car, then sits along a separate flight path, and then all of those are set along a single vanishing point.
Leonardo da Vinci could shove his rules on perspective. I had magnets to make look cool.
CLEANEST PATINA ON THE POWER TOUR
It’s one thing to create a patina effect in a raster program like Photoshop; quite another animal entirely to do it in vector. Much less when each car is barely two-inches long. That hits home.
The solution was to dive deep into the comic book nerdery that permeates my life. Lots of Ben Day dots and Kirby Krackle! I’d build upon my aggressive use of these in the background of the 2017 Power Tour magnets. Strange how a year later we were treated to similar effects by the very-talented animators and artists working on Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse.
I had used dots and blobs to create a rough, rusty texture and matte/flat areas, and build them in layers to make them appear organic.
It was a risky move that paid off beautifully.
It was also a ton of extra work.
All told, I spent probably twelve extra hours (of my own time) just getting the look “right.” At scale, it looks great.
Zoom in, and it’s like a peek underneath the quantum curtain; it just gets more and more detailed.
And that’s the fun of this whole “pushing yourself” sickness: Finding solutions to problems on the fly. I mean any lazy bastard could cut-and-paste, using stock imagery or assets or nonsense. If you’re really out to deliver, then fucking deliver. I’ll look back on this in ten years with some pride. Can’t do that on a filtered hack-and-slap-together piece.
Moving along, let’s get to the present day, and this monster of an undertaking:
GETTING IT ALL TO STICK TOGETHER
The challenge, then, was to take those two magnet sets and bring their very different stories together. For the twenty-fifth year, I thought I have some real fun. One night while hanging out with my son, we were playing a tabletop game, and the idea hit me. A board game-inspired layout, with die cast-looking cars! That would bridge the family aspect, the car thing and a mutual love for Hot Wheels that springboards all car people into the hobby.
Easy as pie!
Once again. it would be all vector artwork created in Adobe Illustrator using the pen tool. Seven cars. Eight magnets total (one for each car/stop on Power Tour, one serving as the initial piece or keystone). This was going to once again be a mountain of work. But the personal goal was to put the bar as high as possible. A masterpiece, or at least something that would look cool stuck to a fridge or toolbox.
Let’s take a cruise through the process.
IT USUALLY STARTS WITH A SKETCH…
This time, however, it started with a visual. I grabbed a few Hot Wheels cars, and tried about dozen layouts, trying some with a spinner, a few with dice, some with cards… And some with dice and cards. I was exploring a number of tabletop gaming tropes, and at one point a Pokemon-style trading card game even entered the running.
I settled on the simplicity of a round game board with a spinner, as it gave me a clean layout for the text that would be required. Of course, this led to all sorts of challenges; why the heck wouldn’t it? Some abuse themselves with illicit substances or lewd acts. I push myself to do more and more difficult circus acts with scale, proportion and perspective. And we haven’t even gotten into the really challenging stuff on this one.
Looking back on this, I’d have been much better served to simply draw a basic torus shape. Then segment it for each car, and just draw them in what would essentially be a curved version of the typical box method. But noooooo…. I wanted each car to look as though it were a game piece placed individually on the board. That meant that some would need to be off-center on their respective spaces.
I suffer so you can have nice things. I’m a giver, after all. You’re welcome.
I’M A TWENTIETH CENTURY ANALOG-TURNED DIGITAL MAN
The real work begins when it hits the computer. Contrary to some very ignorant opinions, vector (or any digital art) isn’t easier than any other medium. The digital tools are just that: tools… Like a pencil or a Copic marker, it still requires human input. There’s a steep learning curve when making the jump from analog tools to digital, especially when working to retain that hand-drawn look. I’m fortunate to have spent years working with traditional drawing and painting tools. My work has a less “cold” or sanitary digital feel, simply because I have studied light, shade, and the techniques to convey them. I’m merely working pixels and Bézier curves like oil paint.
That all warrants mention before we move on because shit’s about to get very crazy.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Once I had established the physical space that this game board would live in, it was time to put up or shut up.
The name of the game over the next sixty or seventy hours would be detail. This was to be my “push the bar well up there” project. If you’re gonna be cute, be memorably so. However, that came with a caveat: Where I was going to go all stupid detailed, it just could not look surgically clean. It had to have a loose, fun feel. The text would have to sit just right on the plane to sell the perspective, yet just be a hair “off” in the overall read of the piece. One of my themes in this was to take the person whom was collecting the magnets back in time once the image was complete with all eight pieces in one place. Just slightly warped like an old memory, yet vivid and saturated like that first pay of a game as a kid.
Told you we were going deep.
Any asshole can draw or cut and paste something together; this one was going to flick a few memories around. Again, I’m a giver. I get you. Enjoy.
LIGHT AND SHADOW WITHOUT SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Had I wished to, I could have taken the easy road, and created some outlines, and then blocked in color in Photoshop. Heck, I could have even gone as far as cloning the text and whatnot to create reflections.
But I’m a giver. And giving you anything less would be insulting. From this day forward, never settle for less than what I am about to show you.* Anything less is a slap in the face, in my opinion. This pushed me in terms of finesse, skill, patience and time. And I think it came out pretty bad-ass. Take the Mercedes kit car for example. Wire wheels? Check. Top down to show the interior? Check. Reflected date and location text in the paint, all created in vector paths? Check it.
Oh yeah… See the pointer on the spinner? No gradient mesh bullshit there. Making plastic look like well, plastic requires some subsurface scattering. Life Drawing classes pay off again. Draw enough plastic bowls or paint plastic cups or utensils in oil enough times, and you pick up a few key observations. This is why you learn the analog tools before digital. I cannot stress that enough.
…and yeah, I went there on the Monte grille. Sometimes you just need to keep the light sources doing their thing even in the smallest of places. Viewed at print scale, it just looks right. Take away the little shadows and highlights, and it goes flat. Let your plastic parts live in your world as they are, and harmony just settles in. There’s a metaphor for life in that, too. More giving, grasshopper.
GRAPHICS IN THE DESIGN
I do not like “Graphic Designers” as a rule of thumb. Oooh, I went there, too. I should clarify: If you’re an old-school Graphic Designer who can sketch comps and draw and create where needed, we’re good. If you’re a clip-art, cut-and-paste jockey, you are not a designer. You’re a Graphics Paster (read as “a parasite”). If your first question is “what font is that?” or “can you pull every element in that piece apart for me?” well… I have no respect or use for you. Seriously, if you’re just cobbling things together, “designer” is a misnomer. You don’t design anything. What was the last graphic that you designed? Not something you slapped together from existing parts; but designed from the ground up? Exactly. Get off of your ass and work for what you do.
Oh, wait, we were talking about the graphics on the Bronco. We’ll just pretend that last bit never happened.
While I Googled for “clip-art Bronco graphics” and came up short, I was left to, well, draw the fucking things like any self-respecting Illustrator might. I had a lot of fun in there, and worked to nail the colors, the flow and the pinstripes between. Why? Because it adds that one extra layer of depth. And it kinda looks like someone went back in and finished that tampo on your old Stompers toy! We’re back to that “flick a few memories around” thing again. You’re welcome. Again, all pen tool using the mouse and five reference photos, all of the wrong angle, naturally.
Sometimes you just gotta make do with whatcha got. Anyway, an hour or so of close-up detail work later, and we get this:
…and more reflected text! Giver. Told ya.
On a side note, dig the simplified, yet still detailed tires. Goofy little stuff like that will help you make a name for yourself, and push your art (and patience) to new levels.
Foreshortening is your friend. While the reflection isn’t perfectly accurate, it’s imperfection lends some character to the theme of seeing things though the eyes of a child. Storytelling. More giving.
THE FINISHING MOVES
Tying something this complex, and frankly stupidly time and effort-intensive together boils down to focusing on key areas. I try to have just a handful in mind as I get near the finish line. The image below illustrates this concept clearly.
Dig on the slight glow coming from the date text. This helps to accentuate the central light source I had decided upon at the outset. Note how on the Camaro, it’s lighter toward the center of the game board. While conventional wisdom says to make the side closest to the viewer lighter in value, we’re giving the finger to conventional wisdom. Never heard of her. What we will do, though, is give her a small win by making the value go darker just slightly from front to rear on the car, making it appear to rest in space on the game board. More giving!
The very subtle hot spot dots hint at shiny paint and some complementary lighting, as do the linear bright reflection lines. You can use these to some great success when working to delineate a body line or slightly exaggerate a panel transition. A super-helpful trick for making a peaked hood center rise up, or play a bit to create reflected light on a cowl hood. I know… right? Giver.
On the left here is a quick look at the image attributes. Crazy numbers. Over twenty-six thousand paths in this monster (and not one stock photo, Graphic Designers!), but even that’s not the really fun part. If one pixel equals 0.0104166667 inches, then the 19,535,078,504 pixels in this piece convert to about 16,957,533 feet, or about 3200 miles. Considering that Power Tour is 1,400 miles, it’s kind of cool that the artwork, if laid pixel-to-pixel would be more than double the event it celebrates.
I hope that you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes, and look for more (including video!) plus tutorials soon. Thanks for looking in, and if you have any questions or comments, hit me in the comment box below. Stay safe, and put everything you can into your work.
*I hope that you take all of this with a grain of salt. Yes, I did work to give the best possible product on any given level. However, the day that I take myself that seriously, well, all is lost. I’ve always just wanted to be THAT guy, just once. Now that I’ve tried, I realize that just being my own dumb ass is just fine.