Traditionally, matte paintings stem from the movie industry. Used as extensions of a film setting, they provide more depth to the whole scene and removing the limitations of a studio location. Today, with green and blue screen techiques, these paintings are still in heavy use, while – certainly – digitally created backgrounds took over the heritage from their usually glass-based predecessors. To inspire the Photoshopper in you, we spared no effort and dug up the highest-class and most astonishing matte paintings we were able to come up with.
An essential tip beforehand: Don’t content yourself with only looking at the embedded screenshots. Instead make sure to follow the links to enjoy the full-fledged original scenes in all their glory. It is only this way, that you are able to delve into all the details.
Then, let these examples spur your artistic creativity and push you to the next level of Photoshop artistry. You say, there are some minor quirks as to your basic capabilities? If so, watch out for the mini-tutorials throughout the following collection. Here we help you out with some essentials to have you up and running in no time.
Designing The Foundation Of A Matte Painting
01 Choice of adequate image material
First, we need to think of a topic for our painting. I like the apocalyptic kind, so I decided to create a destructed industrial area. The needed base material was easily found on Shutterstock.com:
Factory Ruins | #95822182 | Taras Kolomiyets
A Pile of Debris | #66922396 | Tatiana Morozova
Old Factory Ruins | #116643286 | Taras Kolomiyets
Abandoned Factory | #59888428 | Tomas Skopal
Demolition Building | #75249925 | bluecrayola
Landscape of Sunset | #64391617 | narcisse
02 Knocking Out The Not Needed Parts
I knocked out everything unnecessary using the same technique. Then I created a new PSD in the planned size of my matte painting and moved the first building onto the canvas. Using a free transform with Ctrl+T I reduced the element to an adequate size. Afterwards I pushed Add Layer Mask at the bottom of the layers windows.
Inside the mask I set pixels in black foreground color to transparent. Beforehand we could use the Pencil Tool to prepare the knocking out of the background of the building. The Polygonal Lasso Tool cares for the details. This is how it is gonna look. Below you see the mask of the first building.
03 Addition Of More Buildings
I went on with the knocking out of the unneeded parts in the other images, afterwards moving them to the canvas of my new painting. The sunset will serve as the new background of our matte painting to-be. Everything looks a little tinkered at this stage of my project.
Ironing Out The Rough Spots
01 Adjustment Layer: Black & White
To have the base painting look as homogeneous as possible as quickly as possible, we take to the main manu and choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White. We confirm by clicking OK and pull the sliders for the different color values to our own liking. We highten the transparency of the layer to better let the native colors shine through a little.
02 Dodge & Burn
Now we push Shift+Ctrl+N, thus creating a new layer. We name the layer “Shadow and light”, assign a color, change the mode to Overlay and activate “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50 % gray)”.
Using Burn we paint the shadows. Using Dodge we brighten up desired areas of the image. I darkened the picture quite heavily by intention, as in the next steps I am going to apply targeted lightening here and there.
Bringing Back The Colors
01 Color Lookup or Layer Mode Color
To check for the appropriate color look, Photoshop offers a new function called Color Lookup rom CS6 onwards. From the main menu we choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Lookup. Now we choose freely from one of the presets: – 3DLUT-File, Abstract or Device Link –. This is something to experiment with. The presets are not configurable. It is only with the transparency value of the layer, that you can slightly adjust the impact of the preset.
An alternative are layers in the mode color. Add a layer, change the mode to color and pick up the Gradient Tool. From the options bar we activate Foregrount to Background in Linear mode. We define both needed colors and draw the gradient.
Using The Matte Painting As A Background
01 Add Actors
As matte paintings are intended for the use as backgrounds in movies, they usually do not show any signs of motion, no moving or potentially moving elements are allowed, be it men, animals, airplnes or even smoke, fire or waves. As we are not into creating a movie, we need not care for these limitations. Let’s add some life to our apocalyptic scenery. I chose an actor I found on Shutterstock.com: Post apocalyptic survivor in gas | #121884493 | Stokkete. I knocked out the background, pasted the soldier into my apocalypse and positioned him.
This soldier has a strong orange color about him, which I found interesting enough to try to preserve and possibly emphasize it. So I created another layer below the soldier and added a light spot to the background, using the Gradient Tool, Foreground: Orange, Foreground to Transparent, Radial and changed the layer mode to Overlay. I like the halo. It adds to the surrealistic atmosphere of the scenery.
03 Badging Out Sections, Add Smoke
As we want the spectator to focus on the center of our image, we create a New Adjustment Layer > Levels and pull the slider from the right to the left, to completely darken the layer at first. In the layer mask we select a soft bigger brush painting black color and cover the center of the image.
We create another layer. Press the letter D on your keyboard to select standard colors black and white. Now we apply the Filter > Render > Clouds. Add a mask to the layer and apply the filter again. Then we right-click the mask thumbnail and choose Apply Layer Mask.
Afterwards we keep the Alt Key pressed and click on Add Layer Mask in the layer window. Now the new mask is filled with black. We pick the Brush Tool and paint smoke using white color.
04 Finishing Touches
Now I press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E to copy all layers to a new layer. This makes for the same effect as if I had reduced them all to one layer. Now I go to the main menu and pick Image > Auto Tone as well as Image > Auto Contrast. Additionally I use the texture Particles of charcoal on a white | #72849385 by Sergiy Telesh to quickly and easily add some dirt and dust as if thrown over by an explosion. Therefor I change the layer mode to Screen.
Limited by a mask I apply the texture Galaxy in outer Space | #116150749 | DTKUTOO in mode Screen also. Now my matte painting got reduced to a mere background for the actor and his accompanying special effects. Remember, this was all achieved by the use of freely available material from around the web. The spark of creativity got this flame burning. You can do that, too. You just need an idea…
Dirk Metzmacher is a professional Photoshop trainer, book author and designed with over 10 years of experience. He is also a creative mind behind Photoshop Weblog, a blog about techniques, tutorials and resources related to Adobe Photoshop.