These Ain't Your Grandma's Matte Paintings

Posted Thursday, November 6, 2008, 11:20 PM

Matte Painting is an astonishing art. The real geniuses of this art of the last 100 years of movie visual effects are true masters. Using nothing more than paint and their eye, they could match colours, create photo-real imagery, that matched the live action seamlessly, all done effortlessly. It's bewildering what they're capable of.

These days that art is no longer practised in the same way. Computer graphics and digital cameras means we can now use photographs to assemble together, to make our background plates and matte paintings, eliminating the practised art, and replacing it with reality itself.

In many ways it's disappointing to lose that specific approach to a relatively young art. But on the other hand, there is still a good amount of skill and artistic endeavour involved in digital mattes, especially when creating a fantastical environment that cannot exist in the real world.

I haven't had to make anything too spectacular before now, most of the time it's been a "real" location. Augmented to suit our needs, true, but basically made up of tangible and familiar elements.

Click the image for large pic

And today's work was just such an effort. I had to make an airfield runway from a particular close angle. It shouldn't have been anything too fancy and modern, because it was set in 1940s wartime, so it needed to look suitably worn and well used.

I found a whole slew of pics that someone had taken of a WWII German airfield, that has long since been abandoned and disused. It looked overgrown, but it had a suitable length and flatness to it that worked perfectly.

The land around it was a little crowded with new trees that had started to fill up the unused empty field, and the photos were all taken on the runway itself, instead of to the side where the virtual camera would have to be, so my job was to blend the photos together in such a way as to eliminate the trees and replace one side of the runway to make it look like we are standing in the grass next to the tarmac. Coupled with having to clear the overgrown weeds, it was a little bit of subtle work.

I may have to green up the finished image once we go full resolution and finalise it, but until then I believe I have figured out the right angles and created a suitable matte painting for the shot.

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