Remember that scene from the 1980s Transformers movie when this happened:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

I thought it was amazing.

Anyway, I'm trying to make that retro "this is what we think the future looks like in the 80s" Tron perspective-neon-laser-grid effect you see in the background. I actually bought a stock image that had it, thinking I'd be able to reverse engineer it and figure out how its done. So I stripped away all the layers until it just looked like this, but I guess whoever made it didn't want people to know, because it was just hundreds of tiny line segments; as if it had been expanded and flattened.

enter image description here

My first thought was "Is this where I finally break out the perspective grid and mesh tools I've been neglecting for so long?"... Lets just say, it didn't go so great. What do you guys think; any ideas?

  • Perspective grid tool wont help you with mountains. And the thing ot helps with you can construct in less than two minutes
    – joojaa
    Jul 31, 2019 at 14:58
  • 1
    These kind of drawings can be made in Illustrator if you're able to simply draw everything by hand and there is probably some nifty tricks which works in some cases. This can be OK for a single illustration, but maybe you should take a step outside your comfort zone and get started with 3D graphics?
    – Wolff
    Jul 31, 2019 at 15:06
  • @joojaa No, but I think the mesh tool might, not that I ever really got the hang of it.
    – voices
    Jul 31, 2019 at 15:08
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    Like said above, this is most likely made in a 3D program. Here is an example tutorial for Blender Blender for the 80s: Wireframe Mesh
    – AndrewH
    Jul 31, 2019 at 16:53
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    One benefit of Blender is that there is a dedicated Blender Stack Exchange - so if you get stuck, there are enthusiasts and experts that are only a question away!
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 31, 2019 at 16:57

3 Answers 3


I am a 3D generalist as well as an illustrator user, and I’ll say for just this I’d stay in illustrator.

Yup, the mesh tool, yup patience when first trying. I did a slightly more complex but similar thing to this, with depth to the baseplane shown at the edge, ground colour there, dark green substrate and green gooey wireframes above, mountains and valleys, all as a demonstration to an architecture firm that you can take Illustrator pretty far with a little patience and practise.

Start with the appropriate perspective grid setup for a one-point, create a trapezoidal polygon, then make that your mesh. Sub-divide it, shift points to snap in perspective grid to get the basic perspective plane starting point.

Duplicate that, lock & hide original, and start dragging points with direct select white arrow to distort grid and form hills and mountains. Drag select to get multiple points at a time, move them a bit, then reselect with fewer points and move them a bit further; this helps keep changes all smooth and of decreasing scale - reads as a hill or mountain. Once you’re comfortable with this workflow, move between two upwards masses and try the same thing downwards for valleys...

I’m away from my home workstation now, so can’t post images, either illustrating method or the old image for results- I’ll append those to this answer once I can.

I did answer a shadow-casting question a while back where I used Affinity Designer to mock up several attached planes in perspective- no mesh warp, but it might help to get a feel for constructing one-point perspectives.

Hope this helps.


I wouldn't try to draw it in Illustrator. It's much easier to make a 3D terrain in a polygon mesh modelling program and export it as a wireframe with no hidden lines.

Here's a plane which has got some random bumps by dragging some surface faces(=squares) upwards and then applying polygon subdivision and smoothing. Total creation time = 2 minutes.

enter image description here

This is actually a screenshot of the editing window, not an export, so forgive me the colored coordinate lines and the object frame. The program surely isn't Blender, but a much simpler ancient tryout version of a commercial product named Shade3D.

There was some exports available, but unfortunately the only vector 2D export was with hidden lines included. The exported file opened well in Illustrator and it contained 4 sided polygons.

ADD: It was just in this simple case (=about 90% less hilltops than in your example) possible to remove the hidden polygons one by one manually. Filling them all with color didn't the trick because there were hidden polygons stacked to the front. Reversing the stacking order was also useless.

This is the result after some tinkering in Illustrator:

enter image description here

  • 1
    Although I agree it's easier done in 3D that usually creates some awful vectors to customize afterwards. If the output is vector I'd rather create it directly in vector form.
    – Luciano
    Aug 1, 2019 at 12:07

I agree with everyone saying to do this in 3D. But if you really want to do it without digging into 3D then I'll offer a completely different solution at least for the ground work. My old love, Photoshop.

Let's make a base:

  1. Start by creating a grid pattern
  2. Now make a rectangular selection and fill with the grid pattern (on a new layer)
  3. Use perspective transform first
  4. Now use distort

Tron Grid Base

Now let's make some mountains, at least the foundation of them:

  1. Filter > Liquify
  2. Now lets use the Freeze Mask Tool from the left to lock the lower half
  3. Then use a combination of predominately the Forward Warp and Plucker tools to bend and mold the mesh.

Then with some glow added:

enter image description here

It's not nearly as precise but its very fast. 5 minutes and you've got a base. If you then really need it in vector form I would bring this into Illustrator and manually recreate the lines in there. Then once they're all recreated could start to fine tune to make it sharper and more angular.

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