Matte Painting: Tips from Berube

I was looking at how Jonathan Berube did a matte painting of a prison cell, from sketch to digital. Here is a summary of what you should be doing for an efficient matte painting workflow.

1) Have an idea in mind!
Of course, you can start with paint splashes or textures and all, but make sure you have something in mind before starting.

2) Prepare your sketching materials.
That include cheap copy paper, pencils and eraser, pen, rulers, markers for tone. Feel free to use what suits you.

3) Draw a frame in the aspect ratio of your shot.
If you are doing it for film, you definitely want to compose your painting according to the aspect ratio. I personally like 1:2.35, the other being 1:1.85.

4) Decide on the horizon line and vanishing points.
You got to draw these in pencil to make sure the perspective are right, since it’s likely to be built in 3D in a layer stage of production. The 2nd and 3rd vanishing points depends on your shot and are most likely outside of your frame, so don’t be afraid to draw it outside! Since Berube was doing a prison, he used a low horizon line and exaggerated the height of the walls to create an overpowering feel.

5) Make several small sketches first.
We never get it right the first time unless we are a genius. Do a few and pick out what you like, then do a bigger one.

6) Go to the library or Internet for reference materials.
I must stress the importance of reference materials for a CG artist. Creating something believable is not a simple task. Berube flipped through books on pistols, aircraft and architecture just to get ideas for his columns and bunker.

7) Use compositional tools, check composition
Composition is perhaps the number one thing that decides whether it is a good painting or not. Berube uses the rule of thirds (but not restricted to it), flip the paper around etc. Have open spaces in your painting to slow down, for example. There are so many ways to vary the speed and lead the eye!

8) Keep going back to reference materials for inspiration
When you are not sure what to do, just go away from your sketch for inspiration!

9) Scan your sketch and throw it into Photoshop

10) Clean up your sketch, reframe your canvas
It might require some reframing, as you can see in the sketch above where he draws beyond the frame.

11) Decide on a color palette
Berube actually cheats by going to a photo of a landscape, motion blur it and pick colors from it to quickly fill the canvas with colors that have relationships to each other. But of course, he doesn’t actually use them. But this is such a convenient way to do paint 😛

12) Go take photos of a place that resembles your painting’s mood
This is a nice way for a color picking palette as well as an aid for the lighting of the scene. Berube went to take photos of an industrial site at night.

13) Fix the perspective, use different techniques
Berube actually went to build a simple 3d model to cast some shadows, as well as place his photo at the back for color picking. He even used one of the towers for real. The canvas is a huge mess but it just shows ways in which we can make our painting work. He rather sample from photos, distort them and paint lots of texture than to paint solid colors. Paint all these photos in with blend modes like overlay.

14) More Lasso, Cut and Paste
Don’t be afraid to do it. Scale things up, slap photos in.

15) Paint on layers
Delete them if you don’t like it.


2 responses

  1. Great post! It’s always interesting to see the different ways matte painters use to create their pieces.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    • Yup! Image making is limitless in techniques. Good luck to your matte paintings!

      March 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm

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