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Image © Alp Altiner
● This matte painting from Alp Altiner’s forthcoming graphic novel, The Unknown, demonstrates the importance of composition. The viewer is lead into the image and across the bridge
TIPS & TRICKS
Our experts this issue…
Award-winning matte painter and VFX Art Director, Alp Altiner’s credits include Superman Returns and Spider-Man 3 www.alpaltiner.com
Digital matte painting
A dark art or simply a craft to be mastered? Whatever your preconceptions, these tips from ﬁve world-class matte painters should guide you towards the light ...
ost matte paintings begin life as a verbal the most competent colour grading skills in the world, the techniques we cover over the next few pages will never compensate adequately for a lack of artistic ability. Most of all, you’ll need a good eye, an excellent sense of composition, an aptitude with colours, and a solid understanding of spatial design for the camera. Especially for this feature, ﬁve of the best matte painters from around the world have combined to share their collective experience, offering insights gathered over the course of their many years in the creative industry. From selling concept art to a director to working effectively with layers, we’ll take you stage by stage through the process of creating a matte painting and empower you with expert tips along the way.
Best known for his work on Return of the King, Dylan has just completed Superman Returns as Lead Matte Painter www.dylancolestudio.com
brief communicated by the ﬁlm’s director: “A cold and bleak environment, not too alien in its feel” or “a historically accurate view of the
Southampton Docks, circa 1912”. If the brief hasn’t already been visualised by the art department, the concept sketch becomes the digital matte painter’s ﬁrst job. Vital as a development tool for exploring the composition of the ﬁnal painting, and also as a method of communicating the look to the director, it’s only when the concept image has been signed off that work should begin on the actual matte painting. Whether the matte painter’s role is to reconstruct an entire imaginary background from scratch, or to augment a rudimentary set or existing location, the craftsmanship is essentially the same. These days, the majority of digital mattes start with a background plate; reference footage is sourced, then the layered paintwork begins. Colour-picking a brush and painting from scratch is becoming an increasingly rare task, as digital stills form the foundation of the majority of paintings. Yet, by no means does this equate matte painting to a Photoshop collage. Artistic talent is vital, and even with
One of the pioneers of digital matte painting, Charles’s credits include Titanic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Minority Report www.charlesdarby.com
Currently Digital Matte Painting Supervisor at Cinesite, Dave’s credits include Gladiator and the Harry Potter ﬁlms www.cinesite.com
DON’T RUSH THE DESIGN PROCESS
If you’re involved in designing the matte painting, spend your time wisely and don’t rush your work. While the majority of matte painters produce concept art digitally (with Photoshop or Painter), others work in whichever medium is appropriate. Ensure that the colours, composition and lighting are signed off, and that the perspective is accurate before you move to the next stage and begin work on the details.
With his own matte painting company, Christov Effects and Design, Lubo’s credits include The Last Samurai www.christovfx.com
060 | 3D WORLD September 2006
● Using a combination of stills taken from various American cities. September 2006 3D WORLD | 061 TDW81. A 3D projected matte provides all the beneﬁts of true perspective shifts and real shadows. and explain how you’ll address any weaknesses. atmospherics and colour grading were used to create this ﬁnal impressive shot. the scene can be rendered through the shot camera. 04 Within Shake.5D projection. as foreground elements in Shake. this method can also include simple.5D PROJECTION Matte paintings are no longer conﬁned to locked-off shots. Known as 2.Digital matte painting tips | TUTORIALS STEP BY STEP | Working with layers Images © Buena Vista Pictures When Cinesite created the Planet Factory sequence for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. By camera projecting (or camera mapping) a matte painting onto 3D geometry. 06 PRESENT ONLY YOUR BEST WORK Since you’ll probably be working on several variations of ideas in your concept drawings. If you’re convinced that one of your images represents the perfect composition. Image © Alp Altiner the shot camera rotates nodally around a locked-off position. PROJECTING A MATTE PAINTING IN 3D An alternative technique allows for even greater movement of the camera through a scene. the compositors then assigned the matte paint layers to cards positioned in Z-space. But each planet was still handed off as a separate layer to the compositors so that.5D and 3D projection. and camera data imported to give the impression of slight shifts in perspective via a multi-plane technique. Each card was assigned a distance. yet with a lower geometry count because details are provided in the textures. show a couple of alternatives where one element is clearly wrong. 03 The ‘Douglas Adams’ planet on the left was created from a cyberscan made of the author while he was still alive. They would later be projected onto spheres and rendered in 3D through the Shot Camera to enable 3D lighting and real shifts in perspective. glows. a sense of parallax was created in the distant planets as the camera moved through the shot. with the hi-res matte painting adding ﬁne texture detail on top of the 3D geometry. point out which of your images work well and provide good explanations as to why. never present more than three images or you’ll inevitably be asked to take elements from each and end up with a composition that doesn’t work. so when the live-action camera move – tracked from the background plate – was imported. Various lens effects. Knowing how to sell your work is an essential part of the process. careful grading and paintwork. Alp Altiner designed this shot to draw the eye towards the pyramidal buildings on the right SELL YOUR DESIGN When presenting your concept work. they could be positioned ‘in space’ to create a sense of parallax within the shot.t_tips 061 3/7/06 17:51:01 . rendered 3D elements. 02 The layers containing the foreground planets were painted with greater resolution. Where the matte painting can be projected onto series of planes in the compositing software. use your own judgement when choosing which to present. and the element was rendered as a 3Dprojected matte painting. including the Vegas planet on the right. Point out the strengths of the images. within Shake. Don’t fail to underestimate the importance of a psychological sell. The detailed matte-painted texture was then applied. as it was known that these would be used for more than one shot. required much less detail. WORK ON A LARGER CANVAS How often has a guaranteed lock-off ended up being a ‘slight’ ▲ zoom-in on the matte painting? Expanding your canvas beyond the CREATING PARALLAX WITH 2. Matte painter Sevendalino Khay created a projected dome backdrop for the distant stars – the ﬁrst in a series of layers. 05 Once the background was complete. shot in the studio against bluescreen. The render formed another midground layer for the compositors. Although most directors like to have choices when considering how elements of the matte painting will work with the story. the compositors added the 3D-rendered scaffolding and live-action plate. David Early knew that the movement through this shot would require a combination of 2. 01 Background layers of planets.
Like much modern matte work. as is nearly always the case. Good cloning is invisible cloning. the composition of the matte painting required careful thought WORK IN 10-BIT COLOURSPACE ● Sundown on Magrathea. and also noise from digital photographs. the Shot Camera was duplicated at this frame. unless you’re making radical colour grades to the scan. you won’t be a great matte painter without a fair degree of natural artistry. While maintaining all of the original data. LEARN TO LOVE THE CLONING STAMP It may sound straightforward. including HDTV. 10-bit images maintain the full dynamic range of the original camera negative. each is shown as a separate colour. The LUT alters the screen to show the log image as though it were a print. The resulting render was used as a selection matte in Photoshop to variously isolate the ground. and the scene rendered through the Shot Camera. 01 Once the 3D geometry had been created. In the image above.048x1. ● Good matte painting fools the brain into believing a ﬂat image is a truly three-dimensional world. 02 Back in mental ray. Practice removing a tree from a digital image of a landscape. the Projection Camera was set up.TUTORIALS | Digital matte painting tips Image © Buena Vista Pictures. This was an essential step for the next part of the process. but learning how to clone well is an important trick of the trade. DEGRAIN THE FILM SCAN If. a plate is the basis of your matte painting. rooftops. an alternative is to have a compositor create a grain-averaged plate from 12 consecutive frames of the shot. a grid texture was projected from the Projection Camera. BRUSH UP YOUR ART SKILLS Even with the best knowledge of Photoshop in the world. 03 062 | 3D WORLD September 2006 TDW81. work in 10-bit log colourspace wherever you can. you’ll rarely see the difference. Rather than needing to ensure your brushstrokes are pixel perfect. Once the camera move was ﬁnalised. as revealed in this render of the ﬁrst frame of the shot. or those obscured from the view of the Projection Camera. Better still. 8-bit linear is the standard for television work. Virtually all of the background for this shot from The Fifth Element is a 2D matte paint STEP BY STEP | Projecting a matte painting in 3D To achieve a photorealistic crane-up on the ancient African city of Carthage. For a locked-off plate. and while the full dynamic range of the negative isn’t present. take advantage of the beneﬁts of downsampling: double your image resolution (work at 4. You’ll need to understand perspective like an expert. locked off and renamed as the Projection Camera. side walls and front-facing walls. working in 10-bit linear is a good alternative. a lookup table (or LUT) is applied to the monitor. Image courtesy of Charles Darby now’s the time to pick up any of the numerous books on the subject and hone those skills. this shot from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy involved blending.556 pixel ﬁlm resolution creates a safety margin for any unplanned moves on the shot.kodak. then downsample to 2K when your work is ﬁnished. or a lamppost from the front of a brick building. If you’re still unsure about constructing multiple vanishing points. Since the city was seen at its widest at the last frame of the shot. Areas showing excessive texture stretching. three orthogonal. If your ﬁnal output will be ﬁlm.com) works well in eliminating ﬁlm grain from scans.096x3.112) and you’ll enjoy the added advantage of more comfortable paintwork. primary coloured distant lights were rendered through the Projection Camera.t_tips 062 3/7/06 17:51:15 Image © Buena Vista Pictures . Kodak’s Digital Gem Professional 2 plug-in (www. painting and colour grading multiple digital stills together to create the perfect sunset standard 2. before starting any paintwork. so to view them properly. were identiﬁed as requiring separate texturing. Courtesy of Dave Early ● The live plate for the shot on the left. Lubo Hristov’s team decided to project a matte paint on a relatively simple 3D model. If you don’t have access to lookup tables. Since much of it would be hidden by the set. you’ll be able to work with broader strokes. you’ll need to remove grain. log images look washed-out to the naked eye.
3D knowledge is often beneﬁcial. and the shot rendered through the Shot Camera. the matte painting was an enormous 20K YOU CAN’T COLLECT TOO MUCH REFERENCE DATA Most matte painters build up their own reference libraries of images by shooting digital stills wherever they can. or using 3D models to help with perspective. By using the selection matte. try your hand at one of the more self-contained modelling and rendering packages such as Cinema 4D (www. including general views. where required. The trees were textures projected onto cards and then rendered in 3D.net). was added as an overlay layer to preview the effect of the rendered lighting.maxon. shooting HDR images generally considered overkill.Digital matte painting tips | TUTORIALS Image courtesy of Charles Darby colour-correcting a reference image until it ‘breaks’. Keep a digital camera with you and jump at opportunities to go out on location. appropriate areas within each of these images were combined to form the basis of the matte painting. a 3D ambient and shadow lighting pass. composition and perspective are faithful to the original concept art (below left): proof that digital techniques do not render traditional media entirely obsolete ▲ to foreground. 06 September 2006 3D WORLD | 063 TDW81. paintwork began. A good matte painting isn’t simply a collage of photographs bound together with a few painted pixels. the tones. then move on to the clouds. don’t force the wrong photographs to ﬁt. you’ll appreciate a good working method. 04 With the texture layers combined as overlay layers in Photoshop. The process was repeated with about 20 other brick.t_tips 063 3/7/06 17:51:21 . but unless you’re really pushing a grade. If launching headﬁrst into Maya seems overwhelming. it’s USE LAYERS SENSIBLY Be structured. stone and tile textures and procedural shaders to create a series of layers. Where shots require signiﬁcant colour grading. may be worthwhile. rely on your artistic skills and. with mental ray lighting. Image courtesy of Charles Darby Image courtesy of Charles Darby DON’T FORCE PHOTOGRAPHS TO FIT While photographic images are often the best starting points for a digital matte painting. textures and lighting conditions. Since the lighting would be rendered in 3D in order to achieve greater realism through real shifts in perspective. Rather than stretching and ● For Crouching Tiger. animated boats and people. label all of your layers clearly and sort them into folders. paint areas from scratch. Start with the sky. Shoot all the stills you think you’ll need. 3D KNOWLEDGE IS ALWAYS HELPFUL Though it’s certainly no prerequisite for the job. Charles Darby presented this single A4 watercolour to demonstrate how his ﬁnal matte painting would look A stone procedural shader was applied to the 3D model and rendered through the Projection Camera. When you’re up against a deadline and trying to tweak the roof tiles on the ﬁfteenth building from the right. including the ocean. ● Because this shot from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire required a zoom into the lit window. and bracketing images around a central exposure will provide more information about the highlights and shadow areas. Whether it’s in setting up your own 3D camera projections. Capturing images in RAW format retains the most data. Hidden Dragon. Work like a painter from background ● In the ﬁnal digital painting. Renders were graded in Shake and additional 3D elements were added. 05 The ﬁnal matte painting was projected back through the Projection Camera. so much the better if you can produce the elements yourself. rendered through the Projection Camera.
grouped into about 10 folders for easy colour grading. Changes may be requested until the moment before delivery. 15. and elements which may become foreground to live-action should also be split off into a new layer. save out the layers discussed with the compositor. 11. When the work is complete. Check that your monitor has been correctly calibrated for colour and contrast. Switch to log colourspace and run a log-to-linear LUT on your monitor. Import your images into Photoshop and organise your layers with care. 7. Set up your Photoshop canvas slightly larger than the ﬁnal image. the landscape was created via a combination of photographic reference images and paintwork ▲ ● From another of Dylan Cole’s personal projects. If you’re unable to shift a background element to make way for the new positioning of the CG. 5. 9. or a higher resolution then downsample. you’re in for a lot of unnecessary paint ﬁxes that could have been avoided by keeping more elements live. 3. KEEP YOUR ELEMENTS LIVE Never ﬂatten or merge a layer unless you’re sure you’ll never need to tweak that element in isolation. shadows and various mattes. highlights. Only the foreground building on the left is true 3D ● With the saucer building as the only 3D element in this shot. Import your personal settings into Photoshop. background atmosphere and subsequent layers of buildings. Layers that are typically required include atmosphere.TUTORIALS | Digital matte painting tips Images © Dylan Cole Image © Dylan Cole ● Initial: as comparison of this sketch and the ﬁnal matte painting (reproduced below) shows. Shoot any additional stills that might be useful. CHECKLIST | 15 steps to success 1. using reference images where you can. all of the important creative decisions should be made in the concept work ● Final: the composition. and whether they have any special requirements. 3D renders and reference stills. 4. particularly if they’re blending the matte painting with live-action elements. These will include background plates. Import the concept drawing (and/or any hardwarerendered wireframes) as a background layer.5D projection or full 3D projection? 2. 13. 12. colour tones and ‘feel’ of the lighting are almost identical to the concept created in Photoshop. this desert town sketch demonstrates just how closely the concept lighting matches the ﬁnal matte painting ● Created from a combination of photographic reference stills and Photoshop paintwork. 8. Now paint to your heart’s content. 6. You may end up with about 50-100 layers. Collate all the images you’ll need. following the studio’s naming conventions. Lastly. Is it going to be straightforward matte paint. Create two or three concept images and get approval on one of them from the Director or VFX Supervisor. Check whether the compositors have any speciﬁc requirements for you. Elements that need to be animated should be created on their own separate layer. Images © Dylan Cole WORK WITH THE COMPOSITOR Discuss with the compositor which layers they would like to work with. the blimps were the only elements in this shot derived from basic Cinema 4D models mountains. or will it require a 2. 10. ask the modelling department to hardware-render a wireframe from the Projection Camera. Familiarise yourself with the shot.t_tips 064 3/7/06 17:51:27 . List courtesy of Alp Altiner 064 | 3D WORLD September 2006 TDW81. If you’re working on a 3D-projected matte painting. including shortcuts and custom brushes. ● 14. get sign-off on your ﬁnal image by the Visual Effects Supervisor. Decide whether you’ll paint at 2K.
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