What is Matte Painting..?

Who is this man and what is he doing?

The Matte Painter
The lost art..

I happened upon the latest edition of Ballistic Publishing’s Exposé 8 the other day and apart from seeing some great digital art I continue to see the same old mistake being perpetuated over and over in regard to Matte Painting.

©Ballistic Publishing

The Matte Painting category is full of artwork that is in no way representative of actual matte painting.

I’m only going to say this once:

– Matte Painting is a specific tool in the toolbox of Visual Effects artists. It is used within the context of a film, TV, or games project. It is most frequently an extension to an existing live action shot or shots. Less often it is the entire shot. These shots most often, these days at least, utilize a moving camera. These shots also incorporate live action elements like actors, vehicles, and physical locations.

As a matte painter, your job is to fill in a hole that cannot be filled in by any other visual effect method within the constraints of the project’s brief, budget and deadline.

It is NOT any old bit of digital art that you throw together for a blog post, magazine or mere fancy.. Digital Art is not Matte Painting!

Matte paintings can be painted with a certain painterly looseness which again is dependent upon shot duration, speed of camera move, camera direction etc, but submitting loose concept art style work and calling it matte painting just highlights your ignorance. There is more to it than painting pretty pictures! Most matte painting is not pretty, it is functional yes, but not always pretty and certainly not cool. Every matte painter working on TV commercials will tell you that!

If the shot/s include something moving within the frame, it ain’t your department (technically at least it’s animation and/or live action) even though the matte dept may also provide these elements.

So I’d like to see the Matte Painting section of these publications show the before and after’s, show the live action plate if applicable and include a composited final frame… because matte painting is not the end of the process for a shot. I’d also like to see the film, TV, games project listed alongside the artist’s name.

©Ballistic Publishing

As Ballistic already produce a fine book in the D’Artist series for matte painting which describes these processes, why is the matte painting section of the Exposé series so arse about? Most of the artwork I’ve seen in the Futurscape section of Exposé 7 qualifies for matte painting more than the matte painting in the matte painting section!

If the artwork submitted is just digital artwork of some environment with figures, then why isn’t it thrown into the Environment or Concept Art category?

When I started matte painting in 1997 no one had even heard of the art form unless you were a hard core film freak and even though I was a Johnny come lately to the industry, (having missed out on the traditional matte painting but starting at the beginning of the digital era), I still knew what the tool was and where it was applied.

I was 10 years old when Star Wars appeared and wanted nothing more than to create those images that I subsequently learned were called matte paintings. Of course I’d seen those backgrounds in the original King Kong and Hitchcock films, I’d even seen them in the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope ‘Road to..‘ movies.. See the opening shot of this youtube clip..

Road to Morocco

A Whitlock classic!

Now every Tom, Dick and Harry calls themselves a matte painter and they wouldn’t have a clue who Albert Whitlock is! If you still don’t know, go here to Peter Cook’s marvelous blog on the subject!

So I’d like to see the Ballistic Publishing guys set this straight for the next edition.

That’s enough from Grandpa Haag for tonight! 😉


    • Ankaris says:

      That’s because the real matte painters probably no longer post on that forum and there’s no one left to inform the young guys what actually constitutes real ‘matte painting’.. Thanks for the comment Nick!

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