Washington, D.C.-based artist Rob Generette III, aka Rob Zilla, has a thing for digitally drawing athletes. He experienced his latest round of work drawing for a fan appreciation event for the Golden State Warriors this April, designing a shirt with 36 different drawings on it given to all fans on the final regular-season home game of the season.
“It will be a mixture, almost like a salad of players, fans and legendary types within the organization,” he says. “They may be old players, folks who work there or even the ugly sweater mom [made famous for her dance moves during home games].”
Generette has worked in the digital sports art space before and Adobe and Apple have taken notice of his creations and his methods, helping push his name to the forefront when the Warriors and Adobe agreed on a sponsorship that gave a way for Generette to show off his creations for the California-based basketball franchise, both for the shirt and a fan cheer card.
The shirt remains the focal point, as Generette riffs on a popular old design that exaggerated a previous era’s greats, such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isaiah Thomas. “I don’t want to copy the styling, but I want to take some elements,” he says. “The head will be larger, the arms longer, the feet stylized in the way that I would do it. It will be my very own with a pinch of this and a pinch of that.”
With 36 different pieces of art—each one a person’s head—combining into one element, Generette knows he has more work than just designing each person to adorn the shirt. “They are all connected to the Warriors, but I am trying to find that visual element (to connect them),” he says during the design process. “I haven’t quite solved that problem yet. It gives me something to solve. I feel like Sherlock.”
Once Rob settled on his 36 individuals for the shirt, it took him about an hour to knock out two head designs, moving faster once he found a rhythm. His design process mimics that of a comic book artist, with the majority done from the iPad Pro with Apple Pencil. His first passes quickly turn to blue-line sketches with the additions of outlines, colors and shadows. Then, he moves into his Apple Macbook—via a simple one-touch button that sends his artwork from the iPad to the Macbook’s Adobe Illustrator—to finalize compositions and give the file its final details before sending it off to the Warriors.
Previously, Rob worked mainly on paper for his initial drawings, then snapping pictures and sending the photo into a vector file. More and more, though, everything, including the outlines and shadows, happens digitally. Plus, he loves the ability to create different files, such as a player’s body and a player’s head, which allows him to tweak portions of a player without redoing the entire person.
His design process streamlined during a stint drawing for DC United of MLS where he was given the freedom to try something different every project. “I would present myself with a new problem every new assignment,” he says. “It made me streamline my process and made it more versatile and allowed me to deliver within a quick time even through rounds of revision.”
It took time to transition away from paper, but “I didn’t really realize I had to continue doing what I was doing, just with a different medium. Most folks think you have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to find where the new item fits in your methodology and you basically got it.”
Generette spends the most time in Adobe Draw, his main vector drawing application. He also uses Adobe Capture. The app allows him to find a logo, for example, and then do the work of creating a vector copy. On one project for NASCAR, he had to draw a driver’s fire suit, full of logos. Instead of drawing each one individually, he allowed Capture to create the vector images that he then warped in Illustrator to make look like they were folding with the material of the suit, saving him oodles of time. Rob also dives into Adobe Comp CC to lay out a project, offering a feel for “Steph Curry should be this far from Kevin Durant and then even out contrasts of height by putting Draymond (Green) in without messing it all up.”
For those looking to make the transition from paper into digital, Rob has four rules:
Rule #1: Don’t change your method, instead find a way for an app to fit into what you have already been creating.
Rule #2: Do something different every time you approach the iPad. The fear of exploring will whither away.
Rule #3: Never compare your work to others.
Rule #4: Share your work.
Rob will get the opportunity to share his work with Warriors fans filling Oracle Arena, just the latest digital creation providing art to the sports world.