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Why Matte Painting Works
Garrett is Offline
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Default Why Matte Painting Works - 02-13-2012, 02:54 PM

Hey Everyone,

The forum is a great resource for people. I have, however, been looking around the forum I see some users propagate misinformation with a lot of conviction--which confuses me why that happens.

I have been feeling like I should fight for the cause of Matte Painting and I think the best way to do this is to offer clear and concise information. I believe the next generation of matte painters need to know what is really going on.

Here are several articles I wrote about "Why Matte Painting Works".

The articles are too long to post here but here are a couple of the opening paragraphs:

There is a lot of information out there about “how” matte painting works but not a lot of “why” matte painting works.

First of all, I should say that Matte Painting is the most misunderstood discipline in VFX feature film industry. Not just from without the industry but within the industry as well. I have been in meetings at well established VFX companies and I hear things like “This is a stereo show so we cannot use matte painting.” Or “the camera is moving so we cannot use matte painting”.

This is why I want to educate people about “why” matte painting works. The question I will be answering is, when with other means of completing the work, “why use matte painting at all?”. If you are just starting in film--this might be the most important information you could read. It not only justifies your existence as a matte painter but also reassures you that matte painting will not die out anytime soon.
Here are the links:
Efficiency, Create Only What You See: Why Matte Painting Works pt1
How Matte Paintings are Foraged and the “Trumped 80/20 Rule”: Why Matte Painting Works pt2
A Matte Painter is a “One Stop Shop”. Fast and Flexible not Slow and Rigid: Why Matte Painting Works pt3

Garrett Fry

Last edited by Garrett; 02-13-2012 at 08:22 PM..
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Default 02-15-2012, 08:25 AM

nice posts :) just a few comments, if you don't mind:

regarding part 1: I think Nick mentioned somewhere else a nice way to circumvent major client changes - by having light (and shadows) on separate layers. It's a bit more complicated to work like this, but it may save a lot of time in the end.

regarding part 2:


If you think about it matte painting is almost opposite the full CG pipeline. In the full CG pipeline geometry has to be created first. Then it has to go through the process of being textured, lit and rendered before in can even be considered an “image”. With matte painting, the image is created first using photos and then the geo is created to catch the projected matte painting. A lot faster.
Not entirely true; Most people who haven't worked on a lot of high profile projections think that you do the matte first and create the geo later to match it. In reality it's the total opposite - geometry is created first, tested with concepts and then matte painting is made to tailor that geometry. Why? Because of two reasons:

1) It's much easier to plan the camera movement ahead and do the matte knowing exactly which areas to cover, rather than patch & fix it at the end.

2) It's much easier & faster to paint over geometry than to match geometry. The result is relatively the same.

"Digital Art is like magic...and we are all it's Wizards"

-Tiberius Viris-

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Garrett is Offline
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Default 02-16-2012, 02:24 PM

Hey Suirebit,
Thanks for your feedback.

With these articles I was focusing not so much on the "how" but rather the "why".
The point I was making was that matte painting vs. full CG have different methodologies for "content creation".

Maybe I was not totally clear--the "hows" of approaching a mp shot I kind of left open ended because there are so many ways of an approach that is connected to the needs of the shot. It is hard to get all the different matte painting approaches in an article. To really explain "How to Approach a Matte Painting" you almost need to be looking at shots at the same time as getting an explanation.

I would like to do more on the subject--the closest thing I have to this is my demo reel and shot breakdown (

I think that is what makes matte painting so great, is that every shot is so different and therefore the approach. The two approaches you mentioned are very valid--I can vouch for them. Everyone thinks of the artistic creativeness that comes with matte painting but there is a huge amount of technical creativeness that I really enjoy. I like thinking out of the box and innovating new ways to apply the matte painting methodology.

Thanks again,
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rockhoppermedia is Offline
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Default 02-16-2012, 04:12 PM

I am currently looking at matte painting in use in other industries especially in scenes of crime work, and archi previs. Also am interested in immersive environments for museum displays, been asked by a museum to recreate the D Day landing beaches so that visitors get the (private ryan) immersive effect.

Also looking at matte painting in cognitive therapy,

there will always be an outlet for matte painting, and the technical side will get better. However you always need a artistic and creative zest. Something the CG geeks often overlook,

Cheers Rich

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Default 02-16-2012, 06:42 PM

Cool stuff, I always enjoy reading the articles you write, and as much as anything the discussions that they create. Thanks for sharing.

Rich - Id probably fall under the category of CG geek myself, but you do have a point in a way. I often find myself working closely with world class TD's and compers, and sometimes feel like I don't stack up, as my skills in these areas aren't as strong as the truly specialised TD's or compers. But then you have to remember that it is your artistic eye that makes you so valuable, as you might be the only person who can start with a blank canvas and end with a photoreal shot. The TD's and compers don't tend to cross into each others territories, but as a matte painter you should be able to do it all, even if your knowledge is not as deep as those individuals. One of the things I love about matte painting is the opportunity to experiment with different solutions and happily cross disciplines to a greater extent probably than any other artist in the vfx industry.



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