Month: November 2009

Matte Painting Projection pt1

Howdy all..

Been a hellishly busy several weeks which has been both a blessing and a curse! Good for the cash flow, not so good for oil painting! Been working with SOAP Creative here in Sydney on a James Bond website promotion thingy.. I cant say much more than that and will post more when I can.

I rolled straight into a matte painting job after the Bond gig.. the task.. create New York in 1927! This is big and I had approx two weeks to complete it. It’s taken two and half actually. Matte painting projection was the primary approach, Maya being the 3D tool of choice and of course Photoshop CS2.

Projected matte painting, for those who don’t know of it, is a method of mapping your 2D matte painting onto 3D geometry. For you old school folks, it’s like projecting a 35mm slide of an image onto white blocks of wood in a pitch black room.

Imagine those white blocks of wood are scale models of real buildings and you’re projecting your 35mm slide of the exact same building onto that model (perfectly aligned of course… impossible with a slide projector I know, but stay with me here..)

Now you pick up your handicam and start filming as you walk towards the model and perhaps move around the model a little. Traditional 2D matte paintings have always been limited to.. well, 2 dimensions. You cant go around anything within the painting. You can zoom in, move up and down the painting but the sense of 3 dimensional space is lacking. Same as projecting a 35mm slide onto a screen, you can walk up to it, move it up or down but it will always look 2D.

Projecting that 2D image onto a 3D object allows you to push beyond the 2D realm cheaply and more cost effectively than going full 3D. It only works in some situations and has certain limitations, but if your camera is moving in one direction with perhaps a little drift this way or that, projection is the way to go.

I was taught a fancy trick at Digital Domain by a dude named Eric Hanson.. Use INCANDESCENCE mapping. This has the advantage of A/ Allowing the matte painter to paint the lighting onto the object/scene in a way that only a matte painter can and B/ Doesn’t use a single 3D light within the scene, so rendering time is dramatically reduced. If the lighting needs changing, then it’s back to Photoshop and a re-paint, but the rendering time becomes consistent, predictable and fast.

I will usually render the object flat shaded or with a basic global illumination pass. It will look something like this:


Then I paint it up..


Before I show you the New York shot, here is an example of how I used the technique to great effect on Vincent Ward’s recent Blossom Hill Wine TV commercial, look for the shot of the train going over the viaduct. The viaduct, the train and background were all 2D images projected onto 3D. Yes, even the train!

I’ll leave it there and post a more in depth ‘how to’ soon.. Including the New York shot, so stay tuned!