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How to Create a Bird's-Eye View of Retro Cars in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called Grease Movie Week.
How to Use Adobe Fuse to Recreate the Drive-in Scene From Grease
How to Create a Beauty-Inspired Illustration in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Everyone feels a certain passion for retro style! Those extraordinary clothes, those fancy hairdos, the music and, of course, the cars! In this tutorial we’ll combine our love for the 50s, cinematography and games, creating a crazy mix. We’ll make an aerial view of a stylized Greased Lightning retro car, using basic shapes, various types of gradients and blending modes, working with the Pathfinder panel and other functions of Adobe Illustrator.

Grease is the word. It is a movie that represents the pure essence of the 1950s—a story of love, joy, beautiful things and marvelous cars. Those retro cabriolets with smooth rounded shapes and folding roofs. They definitely remain stylish and unforgettable. 

Inspired by this movie, we’ll be making a top view of a retro car with lightning-shaped patterns. You can actually use these techniques to create any kind of a car—be sure to check the cars top view section of Envato Market to make it easier to imagine the vehicles from such an aerial angle of view. Browsing through retro cars at Envato Market may also be quite useful in order to get a nice detailed reference of a vehicle.

Ready to start drawing? Let’s begin!

1. Create the Basic Outlines

Step 1

We’ll start by making the main parts of our car. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and let’s shape the top view of the chassis. Make a 130 x 300 px ellipse, switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag both side anchor points down, making the bottom part flat and wide.

start forming chassis from ellipse

Step 2

Continue by making a smaller 55 x 155 px ellipse and placing it at the left side of the chassis. This will be the base for the headlights. Drag the side anchor points up, making the bottom part of the shape more pointed.

add a smaller ellipse for the headlights

Step 3

Now let’s shape the bottom part, which is for the back of the car. Make a 130 x 125 px rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M). Select both bottom anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and use the Live Corners feature to make the bottom corners rounded, by pulling the Live Corners circle markers up.

If you’re using earlier versions of Adobe Illustrator, feel free to apply Effect > Stylize > Round Corners. However, it affects all the corners of the shape. You can then use the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) and hold down Alt to delete the upper part of the shape, making the upper corners sharp again.

form the back of the car with rectangle

Step 4

Now add a narrow shape with the Rounded Rectangle Tool, forming the top-view of the wing. And let's add the same elements to the right half of the chassis. 

Select both the oval and the wing and double-click the Reflect Tool (O) to open the options window. Select the Vertical Axis and hit the Copy button. Place the copies on the opposite side of the car, making them fit the chassis.

use the reflect tool

Step 5

Now let’s make a windscreen for our car. Make a small rectangle of about 110 x 18 px size, placing it inside the chassis. Go to Effect > Warp > Arc Upper and set the Horizontal Bend value to 20%, making the shape arched at the top. Object > Expand Appearance to apply the effect.

Then go to Object > Path > Offset Path and set the Offset value to -5 px, creating a smaller shape inside. Click OK.

form a windscreen from rectangle with arc upper effect

Step 6

Finally, let’s add the interior parts of the car. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to make two small rectangles, fitting the inner space of the car. Those will be for the seats. Make the outer corners of the shapes rounded, using the Live Corners feature.

Finally, form a simple steering wheel, made of three ellipses, one inside the other.

Great! Now all the main parts are ready and we can move on to coloring!

make the seats and the steering wheel inside the car

2. Apply Colors and Add Details

Step 1

First of all, let’s select the largest element, the base of our car, and apply a bright radial gradient from vivid red in the center to darker red at the edges. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to shrink the shape of the gradient, making it more oval, this way adding subtle shadows to the edges of our car.

apply a red radial gradient to the base of the car

Step 2

Select the headlights ellipses and use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the red gradient color from the car base. Switch the Type of the gradient to Linear and place the gradients vertically from lighter red on top to darker red at the bottom.

Add a small rounded rectangle beneath the chassis (press Shift-Control-[ to Send it to Back) and fill it with similar red colors, filling the gaps on the front side of the car.

apply colors to the headlights

Step 3

Apply the same red linear gradient to the wings of the car as well, positioning it at 90 degrees angle in the Gradient panel.

Apply the same red linear gradient to the wings

Step 4

As for the bottom element (the back of the car), let’s apply an oval-shaped radial gradient as well and Send this part to Back (Shift-Control-[), placing it beneath the base of the car.

apply a red radial gradient to the back of the car

Step 5

Now let’s apply the colors to the windscreen. Make the outer shape light red, slightly lighter than the base of the car, making it pop out. As for the inner shape, apply a light-blue vertical linear gradient, depicting the glass surface.

apply colors to the windscreen

Step 6

Let’s add some glossy highlights to the windscreen. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to make two narrow vertical stripes of any color (just to make them visible above the white background). Set the Blending Mode to Screen in the Transparency panel. 

Hold down Shift and rotate the shapes 45 degrees, placing the stripes above the windscreen. Now select the stripes together with the blue glass shape and take the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M). Hold Alt and click the unneeded pieces outside the glass to delete them.

Finally, set the Fill color to white in the Color panel and here you have it!

add highlights to the windscreen

Step 7

Now we’ll make the striped pattern for the seats in order to make them look more realistic and textured.

Make a 13 x 60 px rectangle and fill it with horizontal linear gradient from white to light grey.

Hold down Alt-Shift and drag the shape to the right, making a copy. Press Control-D several times to make seven more copies. Group (Control-G) the shapes.

make the seats texture from rectangles

Step 8

Now let’s head back to our car, select the seats, Copy (Control-C) them and Paste in Front (Control-F). Place our texture beneath the seats (press Control-[ a few times to move the object several positions down). Hold Alt-Shift and drag the texture up, creating a copy for the second half of the seats.

Now select the bottom piece of texture and the seat-shape above it, click the right mouse button and Make Clipping Mask.

As you can see, now the texture is hidden inside the seat-shape, creating a nice puffy texture.

place texture inside of a clipping mask

Repeat the same for the second half of the seat, placing the texture inside the Clipping Mask.

place texture inside of a clipping mask 2

Step 9

Now let’s create some additional shadow in order to make the seats more three-dimensional. We still have two more outlines of our seats (the copies that we created a few steps before).

Select the upper half and fill it with the same white-grey linear gradient as we had for the seat’s texture (you can use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the color), but this time place the gradient vertically. Switch the Blending Mode to Multiply, making a darker semi-transparent shape.

And repeat the same for the second half of the seats.

apply shadows to the seats in Multiply mode

Step 10

The two halves of the seats look equal now, but let's add a bit more variety here. To do so, select the elements of the lower half and shrink them, making the seat narrower. As for the second half, let’s do the opposite: extend the shapes, making the seat much wider, creating contrast between the shapes.

adjust the shape of the seats

Step 11

Now let’s move on to the steering wheel. Select the two circles (which are for the wheel), right click and Make Compound Path (or simply press Control-8). Fill the created donut shape with a squashed radial gradient, consisting of three colors: dark grey, white, light grey. Fill the center of the steering wheel with a simple radial gradient from light grey to darker grey.

apply colors to the steering wheel

Step 12

Now let’s modify the back of our car, adding a folding roof. Copy the bottom shape and Bring it to Front (Control-C > Control-F > Shift-Control-]). Fill the shape with vertical linear gradient from white to light grey.

Make the shape much smaller and place it as shown in the screenshot below: the light-grey shape should fit nicely inside the back of the chassis, so that the dark-red bottom of the chassis creates a thin outline around the shape, making both shapes match perfectly.

Finally, duplicate (Control-C > Control-F) the light-grey shape that we’ve created, make the copy smaller and reverse the colors of the gradient, creating the inner part of the folding textile roof of the cabriolet.

add the folding roof

Step 13

Now let’s form the inner part of the car, making it much darker. Select the base of the car and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Set the Offset value to -5 px, creating a smaller shape inside the base.

Now select the new shape together with the outer part of the windscreen (the red one), take the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M), hold down Alt and click on the top piece to delete it. This way we have formed the interior of the car.

make the inner part of the car

Step 14

We already have the base for the headlights, but we haven’t yet made the headlights themselves. Let’s shape them out!

Make a 35 x 8 px oval shape using the Ellipse Tool (L). Fill the shape with vertical linear gradient from light grey to white. Copy it and Paste in Back (Control-C > Control-B).

Select the bottom anchor point of the back shape with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag it down, holding Shift.

Finally, fill the extruded shape with bright-red radial gradient by picking the color from the chassis, using the Eyedropper Tool (I).

Voila! Now we can attach the headlights to the car.

shape the headlights from the ellipse

Place the headlights on the top part of the car. They should look like this.

Place the headlights at the top part of the car

Step 15

Now let’s add a shiny chrome element to the front part of the car. Take the Rounded Rectangle Tool and form a narrow vertical stripe at the top of the car.

Apply a linear gradient with the following colors: light grey, white, dark grey, light grey. Place it horizontally, as shown below, giving the shape a true-to-life metal look.

make a chrome stripe with linear gradient

3. Add the Lightning Pattern to the Car

Step 1

Now it's time to make our retro car look unique and associate it with the Grease movie! Get ready to grab the Pencil Tool (N) and draw those flowing lines, creating a fancy lightning pattern for our car. Try to keep it simple. 

You can double-click the Pencil Tool (N) to play with its Fidelity settings, making it smooth. I’m drawing these shapes with just a mouse and, as you can see, Adobe Illustrator copes perfectly well with making the lines smooth.

draw lightning with the pencil tool

Step 2

Make three more different shapes of lightning.

Make three more different shapes of lightning

Step 3

Start applying the lightning shapes to the left half of the car. Rotate them and move them around, making them fit the elements of the car perfectly. Remember to use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) to delete the unwanted pieces of lightning outside the car.

As soon as you’re happy with the position of the elements, select them and use the Reflect Tool (O) to flip the shapes over the Vertical axis, making mirrored copies and attaching them to the opposite side of the car. 

add patterns to the car

Step 4

Now let’s add a bit more dimension here. Select the two mirrored lightning shapes on the front part of the car and Make a Compound Path (Control-8). Apply a bright radial gradient from white to greyish-pink, making the pattern silver and glowing. Apply the same color to all the other lightning shapes.

apply silver gradients to the patterns

Step 5

Now let’s add some highlights to the car, making its surface look glossy and polished. Select the biggest element of the chassis and apply Object > Path > Offset Path with -7px Offset value. Fill the new shape with vertical linear gradient from pink to black and set the Blending Mode to Screen. You will see the black part becomes transparent, creating a nice glossy effect.

Do the same for the oval shapes beneath the headlights.

add highlights to the car in Screen Blending mode

Step 6

Add a similar highlight to the back of the car. Be sure to place the lightning patterns beneath the highlights.

add highlights to the car in Screen Blending mode 2

Step 7

Now let’s add another important element of any car: the exhaust or the tailpipe. We’ll actually make two of them to make our car look cool.

Make an 8 x 35 px rectangle for the tailpipe and fill it with the same chrome linear gradient as the decorative stripe at the nose of the car (use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the gradient).

Hold Alt-Shift and drag the shape to the right, making a copy. Select both tailpipes and Send them to Back (Shift-Control-[).

make a chrome tailpipe from rectangle

Step 8

Now we’ll depict flames being thrown from the exhaust.

Start by making a 7 x 30 px ellipse of black color and attach it to the tip of the tailpipe. Create a smaller oval on top, filling it with bright-orange color.

make flames from the exhaust using Blend

Step 9

Select both ovals and go to Object > Blend > Make. This way we make a smooth transition between the colors, creating a flame effect.

We can still edit the elements inside the Blend group in the Layers panel. For example, you can add a smaller yellow ellipse on top and drag it inside the Blend group to make the flame even brighter.

Drag the side and bottom anchor points of the shapes down, using the Direct Selection Tool (A) to extend the flame.

make flames from the exhaust using Blend 2

Step 10

To get the semi-transparent flame effect, firstly we need to create any kind of background beneath our car. For this purpose, create a grey rectangle of 800 x 600 px size and place it beneath the car (Shift-Command-[).

Select the flames and switch the Blending Mode to Screen.

 switch the Blending Mode of flames to Screen

4. Form the Background and Add Finishing Touches

Step 1

Now that we’ve already started making the background, let’s proceed with that, making our composition look complete and balanced.

We already have an 800 x 600 px rectangle beneath our car. Apply a radial gradient from grey to dark grey, depicting the asphalt surface.

make an asphalt background

Step 2

Now let’s return to our car and tweak it a bit, adding a gentle flat-style shadow. Select all parts of the car, duplicate them (Control-С > Control-F) and Unite in Pathfinder, creating a single silhouette.

Use the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a red vertical line across the car.

create a silhouette with Unite function of Pathfinder

Step 3

Let’s align the objects. Select both the red line and the car silhouette, hold Alt and click the silhouette to make it a Key Object. You will see a thick selection stroke, indicating that all the selected elements will be aligned to this object. Head to the Align panel and click Horizontal Align Center.

While both objects are still selected, go to the Pathfinder panel and click Divide in order to split the silhouette into two equal halves. Delete the right half and apply Multiply Blending Mode to the left half, making it semi-transparent and thus darkening the left side of the car.

make a shadow in Multiply mode

Step 4

Let’s make the ground beneath the car textured for more realism. Duplicate (Control-C > Control-F) the background rectangle and head to the Swatches panel. From here, click the Swatch Libraries menu icon and find Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. Apply the USGS 22 Gravel Beach texture to our rectangle.

apply a swatch pattern to the ground

Step 5

Now let’s add a shadow cast by our car. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to make an oval of a slightly larger size than the car. Place it beneath the vehicle and apply a squashed radial gradient from greyish-pink in the center to white at the edges. Switch it to Multiply Blending Mode, forming a blurred shadow on the ground.

add a shadow ellipse beneath the car

And here is what we have!

top view retro car

Greased Lightning, Go, Greased Lightning!

Great job guys! We’ve successfully crossed the finishing line of our race and created an aerial view of a retro car, inspired by the Grease movie. These techniques can be used to create any other top-view vehicle or symmetrical object, which is perfect for simple racing games and easy to animate.

Feel free to go further and adjust our result image even more. For example, here I’ve duplicated the car that we created and played around with the colors, creating alternative palettes, which can also be found in the original Grease movie. You can get these top-view retro cars in AI, EPS and PNG in order to see how they were made or to edit them your liking.

Keep creating fancy things and share your results! Good luck!

grease movie aerial view of retro cars with lightning pattern
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