Wednesday, October 27, 2010

3D Matte Painting Tutorial

In this tutorial I will take you from initial concept painting, to final mattepainting, then 3D camera projection of the final shot.

Step 1 - Planning
Think about what type environment you’d like to create and get some inspiration.
-          Look at reference photos of similar environments and lighting conditions.

For this Tutorial we are planning to do a Tropical Jungle and Water fall scene.

Step 2 – Sky
Pick a sky color for the background

Step 3 – Block in Composition

Choose a mid-tone color for your mountains and block in the shapes, remember that as they get further away they become closer to the sky color. The following guidelines will help you create an interesting composition. 


1.      Have at least 3 main Layers of depth; Foreground, Midground, and Background. 

2.      Choose a focal Point
 Your focal point should be:
- Around one of the third lines
- High area of Contrast
- High level of detail


3. Create visual Paths leading to your focal point. 

 4. Block in your lighting.

Decide which direction you want your light coming from. Keep in mind that you want your Focal point have the most contrast and detail of light and shadow. Areas being hit by sun light will be more yellow and areas in the shade will be bluer. Water will reflect more light so it will be brighter. Keep refining your composition by adding more details.

When you're blocking in your lighting keep in mind the three  main types of light; Direct, Fill and bounce.  

Looking at this photo of the golf ball, you can see that the Direct light from the sun is the brightest, the fill light in the shadows is darker and very blue, and the bounce is also darker and takes on the color of whatever it is bouncing off (in this case green from the grass).

5. Add more Saturation and Contrast

You can use an overall color correct tool, (like “Levels” or “Curves” in Photoshop), to bring your gamma down, and increase the contrast. Also paint in more saturation in the areas that are in the sun. Add a rock texture by using a brighter and less saturated color.

  Step 6 – Add Final Details

Go in with a small brush and scribble in lots of small details. You can also grab a soft brush to paint in some clouds. Pick the sky color and with a soft brush you can add some mist around the base of the waterfalls.

Once you’re happy with your concept painting, you’re ready to move on to the final matte-painting and projection of your shot. I will cover these steps in the next section.

Final Matte Painting and Projection

Using your concept painting as a guide you can take it to the next level of finished matte painting.

I like to start with the background and work my way forward, but doing it in another order works as well.

Start by gathering all the photos you'll need for your painting.

Here are my favorite sites for photos: , , ,

Step1 - Break your concept painting into layers and starting with the sky place your photos in the background.

Step 2 - Color Correct your image to match the brightness and color of your concept painting

Work your way forward by moving to the next layer and repeating this process.

Keep doing this until you replace all the layers of your concept painting with photographs. 

If you're goal was to create a still matte painting then you can stop here, but if you want to make your painting into a moving shot then continue on to the next section.

Step 3 -  Plan out your camera move. Depending on how big of a camera move you want, you'll decide how many layers and 3D geometry you need.  So import your final painting as an image plane attached to a camera in Maya, and block in 3D geometry to match the landscape of you painting.( I like to use Maya, but any other 3D software or Compositing Program with a 3D camera will work.) Try to keep a realistic scale of objects relative to each other. Then duplicate that camera. Name one "Projection Camera" and the other "Render Camera." Animate the render camera.

Here are some screen shots from my maya scene:

 Step 4 - Break up your Photoshop File into layers and save a color and alpha Targa image for each layer.
For this example I only used 4 layers but you can use more for better paralax.

Step 5 - Create a Projection Shader for each layer in Maya.

In maya create a new Surface Shader node and in the color input create a file as a projection.
 Then change the "Projection Type" to "Perspective" and select your Projection Camera then plug in you color image into the file node.
 Do the same for the transparency and matte opacity inputs on the "Surface Shader" node, using the alpha image. For the Transparency file node turn on the invert check box under the effects tab, to invert your image.

Create a new Shader for each layer. Once you've done this for every layer, render from your render camera to see the results. Look for any holes in your layers and extend any layers if needed.

 Here is the result of my render using only 4 layers:

To Complete this shot, you could add some moving elements such as video footage of waterfalls, moving clouds, or birds flying.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I'd be happy to answer them.




  1. Great Tutorial, very helpful, Cheers!

  2. nice thanks for your post

  3. Simple but clever!

  4. Very helpful! I wonder - how did you add the video footage? Was it in Nuke and you just composited it on top, or were they actual particle effects?

    1. Hi, Thanks for your comment and question. Yes, I got some HD stock footage of waterfalls and composited them together in Nuke. I think I had about 5 different layers of footage. I rendered separate image sequences of the 5 layers as a locked Camera shot out of Nuke with alpha mattes. Then you do the same projection technique as you would for a still image but in Maya you can check the "use image sequence" box. I hope this answers your question. I think this is a great technique to get great realistic water with little time and effort.

  5. Great piece of work man! I am also wondering how you achieved waterfalls and water effects seen in final video.

    Keep it up.

  6. Really great tutorial - very comprehensive! Thank you :)

    I was also wondering how you achieved the waterfall motion footage in the final shot.


    Thanks again!

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  8. wonderful tutorial !!! I like to know where is that you have had the video because through my studies I would like to make a plan like this tutorial.

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  10. i love your teaching style ... its very easy and simple for the newbie like me !

  11. This tutorial is excellent, I just wanted to ask what resolution do you make your images in photoshop to obtain this type of quality?

  12. Appreciate this post. Let me try it out.

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