APP1: Developing the Thrust SSC poster

For this blog post I will detail the development I have made with the Thrust SSC poster up until its completion, ready for the printing stage. I have done the same thing with my last blog post, looking into the development of the Golden Arrow poster. To provide a stage of reference to compare against the developments I will be making, here is how far I have currently got with the poster.

As I had been working on finalising this illustration after the Golden Arrow one, I realised that the Gradient Mesh tool would need to be used again for the engine covers and nose cone, as I needed a more complex gradient than a linear one could provide. As I documented in a previous blog post, I had been struggling to get the right looking reflections on the gloss black finish that adorns Thrust SSC. Thankfully, I remembered a useful book I have by Adrian Dewey.


Within the book it features a specific section on how colours react with light sources, and here it looks into black and chrome. This information has helped me out a lot as I learn this.


Combining his analysis with a picture I found on the internet of a black Lamborghini Gallardo, it allowed me to build up a much better idea of what I had to achieve. In the image below, it is visible that I have applied a Gradient Mesh to the engine cover, what is not visible is how many changes I went through, too many to document.

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Looking at the nose-cone below gives an idea as to the development of the mesh. Below it is visible that the colours are dulled throughout, and not as defined as they should be.

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I developed this to bring in brighter colours nearer the edge, and to crisply blend it into the bodywork. It now matches the mesh seen on the engine cover.

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I knew the chrome needed improving thanks to what I had read in Adrian Dewey’s book I discussed earlier in this blog post, so I decided to take a swatch of the colours of the engine intake cover using the Eyedropper Tool for the basis of my illustration.

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The final engine intake cover can be seen in the image below.

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I also needed to work out the correct effect for the back of the jet engine, as it is not strictly chrome as it does not reflect the same quantity of life, but I did find reference images where it was clear the metal was reflective enough in bright sunlight to pick out the change between the sky and ground.

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A relatively late change in the project was to change the shape of the engine cover as from looking at more and more reference images it became ever clearer that the top did not curve down at the back, but instead continued in a straight line. This required changes to be to the mesh, but thankfully this was not too problematic.

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There were still quite a few sponsors present on Thrust SSC that needed to be replicated in the illustration in order for it to be an accurate representation. While many of the sponsors were able to be sourced from Brands of the World and edited to match the sponsor I needed, some had to be made from scratch, and these were the most difficult.

There were two reasons as to why these sponsors were so difficult to replicate. The first is the lack of decent reference images, especially close-up and from a side angle. As I found when I saw the mock-up of Bloodhound SSC at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this year, such long vehicles are very difficult to photograph from the side as you need so much space, and if you do manage to, you won’t be able to zoom in on a particular detail. Combine this with the best image being from 1997, so not particularly high resolution and it makes this a challenging problem.

The second problem also came from the age of the land speed record run in 1997. Most companies have re-branded since then, and for companies that are not very large, it is very easy to not have a trace of their old logos. Google was not created until 1998 even, so it is very unlikely they would even have a record of these logos as I was to find.

With the Kidde International logo, they have re-branded and no good reference images were available, so I had to make the best effort I could. I was impressed with the end result though. I started with the typography, trialling the Helvetica typeface which was a close match apart from the character ‘K’ and the stroke for the character ‘D’. First of all, I altered the tracking so that it matched.

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I then right-clicked on the type using the Selection Tool, and selected Create Outlines, which turns the type into editable vector shapes so I could make the changes that I had noted earlier on to make it much more like the reference image. Of course, it is necessary to be careful as that image is of such poor quality it could lead you into a mistake.

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Then it was a case of creating the design, which was easier. There may well be some inaccuracies, but these will be covered by the size of it on Thrust SSC when printing.

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As for the Sterling Software logo, this was probably the most difficult logo of the lot to try and replicate due to an awful typeface and no real reference image to work on. I did have a reference image but due to the angle it seemed to be of no use. However, opening it in Photoshop and using the Free Transform Tool to warp it into some sort of straightness helped me to create a vector of the type. It is not the best vector I have ever produced, but as with the logo above, at the size it will be printed, any inaccuracies won’t be visible.

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As for the logo part, this was a reasonably easy image to look at and work out what proportions it needed to be, so I was pleased with the result. The process can be seen below from right to left.

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The Cadas Software logo was the easiest to replicate, just needing minor use of the Shape Tool and Pen Tool. The element that again caused the difficulty was the typography as no good available reference image was available so I could not accurately draw a vector version. Looking at the characteristics of the typeface I could see it was sans-serif, with a varying weight stroke. The closest match was the Optima typeface, which was fantastic for the size it would eventually be.

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The main problem with the Chase Technology logo was finding the right typeface to reflect the curved characters ‘C’ and ‘S’ – as all the others featured angular components that could be easily replicated. With no suitable reference image I struggled to find a typeface that could be adapted, but found that the bold weight of Myriad Pro, when stretched to increase its width was a suitable alternative when the size the logo would be placed at was considered.

I added a stroke to the characters, and used the Pen Tool to create the ‘wave’ that covers the top half of each character. The ‘TECHNOLOGY’ part of the logo underneath could be accurately created using the bold condensed weight of the Helvetica Neue typeface.

As for the shapes that make up the logo, these were easily re-created using the Shape Tool and Pen Tool.

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For the Dunlop Aviation sponsor, I needed to source the typeface. This was not possible, as Dunlop presumably use a custom typeface that is not available to be used. So I needed to find high-res reference images, which I could not. I could only find this image from the Thrust SSC website as Dunlop Aviation are now rebranded as Dunlop Aircraft Tyres.

So then I went looking on Brands of the World for Dunlop logos where the characters would be in vector form. I found ‘Dunlop’ and ‘Dunlop Tires’ – which when the characters were extracted and edited left me with the characters ‘A’ and ‘V’ to make.

By examining how the other letters were formed and using the reference images I had, I was able to make a high quality ‘A’ which can be seen below. This was a time consuming exercise, but was worthwhile to achieve.

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I then set about making the character ‘V’ when I realised that essentially it was just an upside down ‘A’ with the bar removed. This saved an incredible amount of time as if I hadn’t noticed, which I nearly didn’t, would have taken me time to work out.

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A difficult task was to create an accurate profile of the rivets that hold Thrust SSC together. To get the rivets at equal spacing was a case of using the Blend Tool, and setting it to the correct number of steps I needed between two points.

The difficulty was making sure the sizing and positioning was accurate, and that the different sections of rivets merged together perfectly. This took an enormous amount of effort, but was well worth it in the end.

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Below are some screenshots of where I added in rivets to make sure my illustration replicated as closely as possible Thrust SSC.

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A very small change I made was to increase the shadow on the inside of the thick dark grey band that runs near the edge to create a slightly stronger sense of the three dimensional nature. This was done by a small change in the Gradient settings.

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To create the background the techniques I used were very similar to the Golden Arrow design I discussed in my last blog post, but I will still show the processes involved, just in less detail. The first task was to open a document to the right size, resolution and colour profile (CMYK is designed for printing, RGB for screen)

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I then created a rectangle using the Shape Tool, added a Gradient Overlay and altered the settings to match what I wanted.

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As with the Golden Arrow design, I then created the ground using the Brush Tool, using a Layer Mask to clean up the effect.

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Unlike the Golden Arrow design, where I had decreased the size of the brush to coincide with the different coloured sand, here I had to blend in the size change difference in a subtle way to create the sense of perspective.

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This was achieved by adding a few extra strokes in the middle to blend it in better.

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I then placed Thrust SSC in from my Illustrator document and sized it to fit.

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I then added the text, in the Mohave typeface which I discussed the reasoning behind in my last blog post. The range of weights has worked well, as the name can be placed in the bold weight to give it authority, the speed which is the next most important factor at the bottom of the text box can be in the semi-bold weight, and the text in the middle can be the regular weight. As for opacity, 60% works well on-screen as it is reasonably pale, but perfectly visible.

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I then copied across the backdrop of hills from the experimental document I had previously been working on. While I knew it was no good for the poster when it was finalised the shape of the hills was one I wanted to keep so would be a good guide for when I added a layer mask to the new hill pattern later on.

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To make the backdrop I used a technique I originally used when I made the experimental poster design, which can be read here.

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As I did with the waves for the Golden Arrow design, I then converted it to a Smart Object so I could apply a Smart Filter, in this case a Motion Blur. I then added a layer mask to clean up the edges and create the profiled backdrop I wanted, making sure it was not too high to interfere with the text.

I could have moved the text higher, but to ensure the posters had a consistent typographic element as the sizing of the text would obviously be different to fit into the same width box, I kept the top of the text box for each design the same.

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I then moved on to creating the diamond shock effect again, (it was previously covered here) but this time in a more realistic and refined manner. I started by using a brush to place the diamonds into position.

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I then added in the first part of the ‘shock’ using a Layer Mask to ensure the shape tapers at the right points. I lowered the opacity for this layer to stop it being a solid block of colour, which it is not in reality.

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Because the emission of heat and flame from the afterburners will always be more intense in the middle, I created a new layer and made some brush strokes in the middle at a higher opacity than the preceding layer. I also used a different brush here, instead of using a normal soft circular brush that was heavily modified, I used a brush resembling a candle from a free-to-use pack of fire brushes I downloaded a while ago.

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From there, I added the base layer of dust in using the same technique as I had done before with the Golden Arrow poster.

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I then added a secondary layer in and moved it slightly downwards so that it ‘hugged’ the ground to a greater extent.

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I then went through the process of creating a shadow, which is the exactly the same process as I did with the Golden Arrow poster, which can be read here.

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And here is the final piece! I will now proceed onto the printing stage of this project and see what the result is. If it is deemed any improvements are needed, then I will make them from there onwards.

Thrust SSC old version