EX9a: Matte Painting

What is a Matte Painting?:

Sometimes referred to as a ‘DMP’ (digital matte painting), it is a painting of a certain environment or location that wouldn’t be possible to film, such as a space station, a good example of exactly this would have been in the original Star Wars trilogy, like with this background here:

Original Trilogy - Matte Paintings 04.jpg
This would have been on a sheet and placed in front of the camera while filming. This shot in particular is especially impressive as it tricked viewers into thinking there were really that many actors on screen at once.

This helped create the illusion that the characters were actually where it looks like they are, and would require lots of skill to make the composition seem natural.

It is one of the earliest forms of VFX and is still being used just as much today, as projects become more ambitious with the scope of their worlds due to expectations of VFX today.

How were early matte paintings created?:

Originally, as there wasn’t software for it, matte paintings were created by highly skilled artists using oil paints onto glass.


Compositing Rules:

Like most things to do with VFX, there are many rules to consider for this method.

– Lighting: We want the effects to blend in with the scene, so having poor lighting will make the matte painting stand out and appear obviously fake to the viewer, so it is important that everything is lit properly.

– Colour Matching: We also want to be making sure that the matte painting is colour corrected properly, this can also be done vice versa, this so nothing will stand out and become glaring for the viewer to spot. Matching black points is vital for creating a good shot.

– Focus Matching: This is to match the focus of the camera for when the footage was being taken, typically, you would write down the camera settings you had when you took the shot to help recreate the desired effect.

– Perspective Matching: This is making sure the matte painting is painted at the perspective the footage was when it was taken.

Some more examples of Matte Paintings:

From Indiana Jones
From Lord of the Rings
Original Trilogy - Matte Paintings 16
From Star Wars


My attempt:

We were tasked with creating our own digital matte paintings on Photoshop, and given a large folder of resources to use, including aztec / mayan buildings and mountains.

Messing with alpha channels and the lasso tool, I was able to extract the parts needed for my matte painting, such as the bushes.

I started with the aztec building and cropped it out after removing the tourists from the original picture with the clone stamp too, and then moved it for use in a new Photoshop file.



I then added more grass to fill the bottom of the canvas, and used the clone stamp tool for each picture to blend in with each other, and then added bushes to the far left of the painting.


After this, I added to mountains go behind the bushes to add more to the world, and colour corrected them to help blend in with the overall composition so far.


After this, I added the background of a cloudy sky, and added a small mountain range to the far right (and colour corrected it) also.


I then added ivy to the building to help it look a little bit different and then clone stamped some areas to make them look more natural.


Then finally, I added some branches that didn’t require cropping as they were already transparent PNG files, these help bring the composition together through framing, and below is the final, rendered result:

ooo eee ooo aaa aaa.jpg


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