Hello and welcome to the making of article of one of my latest matte paintings called "Lost World: Temple of Nature"
During this walkthrough we're going to talk about the creative process behind the image as well as some general guidelines and advices. This is not a tutorial however, and we will not detail how-to-s or techniques.
Note that this image is a matte painting so I've included a short introduction about this genre for those who are unfamiliar with; otherwise you can simply skip to the walkthrough.
Digital Matte Painting combines digital painting, photo manipulation and 3D in order to create "virtual sets" that are otherwise hard, if not impossible (and nevertheless not cost effective), to find in the real world. Traditional matte painting was developed initially for the movies and was done optically, by painting on top of a piece of glass to be composited with the original footage, but nowadays, matte painting is done in computers with the use of a tablet as
a drawing device and 3d software.
Matte Painted scenes are used widely for any kind of application that requires a virtual set, but, of course, movies are still the ones who use it the most. The goal here is to produce realistic environments (sets) where actors can perform as if they were there.
Basically, in modern movies, the actors are performing on a small area called "active set" or "platform". This can be
a studio room (like the weather forecasts which are filmed against a blue/green background), an outside platform or even a real environment. It's then the job of the matte painter to change everything around them and to make it blend with the active set.
Matte Painting can be used to create entire new sets, or to extend portions of an existing set; It became a true trend
of the new century and it has a bright future, together with the relatively new 2.5D and 3D compositing techniques.
Walkthrough - First Steps
Everything begins with the concept. Whether you had a moment of inspiration or simply follow the directions of your supervisor, you should begin by analyzing the scene you want to create. Think about the composition, the subject of the scene (maybe some actors will play in the foreground?) or what's the best perspective & angle. After that it's time to do a sketch to see if what you had in your mind really works. When sketching don't pay attention to details! Instead try to find the color scheme and the right composition; don't forget that, depending on the project, you might have to lead the viewer's eye through the whole image or just towards a focal point so pay good attention to composition!
When I started my image I already knew what I wanted; I've quickly made 4-5 rough sketches and studied the best composition following the golden rule; At this point I didn't pay any attention to details. In the end this is the concept I chose to start my project with.
You can see here the image divided into rectangles according to the golden rule, with the focal point placed near the right top intersection. You can also notice - if you look at the concept and the final image - that not much has changed in terms of composition; that's why is very important to have a strong concept from the beginning and test as much as you can in this stage.
I knew that the tree doesn't look very well there alone because together with the left foreground element it sets a diagonal direction which breaks the composition but I was happy enough with the general look so I went ahead to the first step of the creation process which I call "Terrain Generation" keeping in mind what I should correct later; In this step I discard all the details and focus on creating the land base and the sky.
I start with the sky first. Why? Because the sky affects everything in the scene...it casts shadows, it defines the mood, the colors and the interaction of almost everything in your scene.
I've started by creating a basic sky in Vue.
Then I've added the big cumulus using a photo reference and refined everything in Photoshop. This became the final sky you can see in the image, which hasn't changed throughout the creation process.
Now it was time to bring the sky into the main file and starts to work on the matte itself; this is a long and slow process which involves a lot of attention to details and a keen photographic eye especially since you have to use. Different stock images have to be brought in and color corrected in order to fit with the scene's atmosphere; Then they have to be light/value corrected because most likely the sun comes from another direction in the original stock (note: keep an eye for overcast photos, those are very easy to work with). After that they get blended in with each other by the use of digital hand painting. Don't forget to use stocks that have similar quality...otherwise, if you use a noisy and bad reference next to a clean and very good one the viewer will notice it no matter how much blending you make.
Also, it is important to use references that have similar properties, and also common with your concept.
After gathering up all the references I needed, I started to bring them in into the scene. For the beginning, I've discarded the foreground sketch to reveal more of the waterfall behind and be able to build it properly. Later on, I'll come back and build the foreground elements too in order to fit the original concept.
I didn't pay too much attention to details at this point, just tried to match the colors and to create a mood. Also tried to follow the geometry of the concept art because it is there where I've built the composition.
Obviously, not every stock comes with the proper lightning. Most of the time you will have to relight the stock.
Note: Don't forget to use adjustment layers only so you can simply mask out what you don't need!
At this point I started to use the clone stamp and brush paint a lot to connect the stock, to fill gaps or simply extend it. Don't mind the big tree; I put it there just to see how it looks with a framing style.
Note: When using the clone stamp - don't sample pixels close to the area you want to fill as the cloning will be too obvious. Sample carefully from different areas, paying attention to texture. The last thing you want is a pixel soup.
If some photos don't match or are not big enough don't panic, take your brush, pick colors from the plate and paint in the gaps at double res, no one will notice the hand paint back in normal res ;)
It became obvious that the original concept lacked some composition depth and was too flat in the distance; hence it was the time to start adding some distant mountains and hills.
After adding the big left hill I had to decide how to continue, not to overthrow the focal point or cover the big cumulus.