View Full Version : School of Visual Arts Matte Painting Week 11

04-03-2009, 02:40 PM
Your assignment for this weeks class is to do a concept sketch for your final project, a mutiplaned moving matte. The requirements are as follows:

1. Create a concept sketch for a matte painting composed of AT LEAST 3 layers that multiplane against each other. The sky, which you will probably want to add a subtle move to, does not count as a layer.
2. You can do anything you want--a city, a volcano, a nature scene. The subject matter is up to you. However, make it something complex enough that it is worth working 3 weeks on. If it is to simple, it will be difficult to reflect the level of finish that I am looking for here. I would be particularly happy if it is a shot that will be used in your thesis--one of my goals as a teacher is to see more matte paintings in thesis projects at SVA.
3. One element must be animated in the composition. Whether your matte shot is great, or terrible, it will looking better if there is something moving in your shot. Your eye loves movement, and it will enhance the reality of your shot.
4. You can also add video to the scene, like a waterfall, a river, of smoke. I would prefer that you not use video of clouds, since they are so easy to do by animating painted clouds broken up into layers.
5. You must add at least one figure using green screen. In two weeks we will reserve the green screen room so everyone can shoot a figure for your painting. Please think ahead about costume and casting. If you just shoot yourself in your school clothing, your figure will look pretty lame, but if you cast your part, and assemble a bit of a costume that matches your scene, it can enhance the shot a lot.

As I mentioned in last weeks class, I will fail anyone who uses photographic elements now.



Lets talk a bit about why I want you to just paint your concept sketches. First and formost, I believe that using any photographic element while you are trying to get a concept down inhibits the free flowing of your ideas. I think the worst work being done today is by people who just sandwich a bunch of photos together to make a good concept, or matte painting. I find it distracting to have a mix of elements right off--your photographic elements look so realistic that your painting never matches, and your find yourself fighting to get your sketch to look as good as the photographs right away. But a sketch shouldn't be about that. You should be trying to establish the position of your elements in the scene, getting mood and a feel in the piece, and not worrying about detail. I realize that some of your aren't painters in this class, but that shouldn't stop you from jumping into the picture plane, blocking in your elements, and figuring out how to get a fun picture going. Once you have your idea down, you can use all the photos you want to add realistic textures, but first get an idea down, no matter how rough the picture looks.
Here are some questions from students this semester and past:

Q:. "Can I paint over a picture of a forest, or a cliff, or a canyon as a start to my shot?"
A: "No. If you have a nice picture you want to use as the basis of your shot, put in on your screen were you can see it, and refer to it as you paint it into your concept sketch. You can work over that. I have a two monitor system at home, and I tend to keep up pictures that I like on my right hand monitor, and paint on the left hand monitor. Sure, look at good reference as you work, but don't use it directly on your concept sketches. It will limit you.
Q: "I looked at the Craig Mullins, or Ryan Church, or Dylan Cole DVD, and I can't get my concepts to look anywhere near as good as they do. I have to use photos."
A: The only way Mullins, Church and Cole got as good as they are is by painting a lot. None of them spent a lot of time sandwiching photos together to make their paintings--they painted! Dylan Cole uses lots of photography after he has his basic idea, but not before. Listen, if you find looking at those DVD's discouraging, then don't watch them! I think we are very lucky to live in a time when we can watch great artists work--just think what a resource it would be if someone had put a camera behind John Singer Sargent as he did a portrait! Hopefully you can take inspiration from these DVDs. I've watched all of them, and picked up some tips, but I always emerge feeling inspired, and lucky to be able to watch their creative process, and I also recognize that level of achievement represents an entire lifetime of hard work with no shortcuts.
On a personal note, I was blessed enough to work with Peter Ellenshaw, who may be the best painter I ever watched in action. When we were working on "The Black Hole", I got a chance to do a concept sketch of the interior of one of the space ships. I worked all weekend, stayed up late, and on Monday brought it into the studio, and Peter took a look at it. He talked a bit about how much information there needs to be in the frame. He talked about how what I had done needed "more", and mentioned a few things he saw immediately. He had an open palette in his office, and I asked him to do some corrections himself to show me what he meant. He quickly sketched in some additional background details, and I realized that what he had done in a few minutes was much better than everything I had done in a long weekend of work. I could have gone away discouraged, but I committed myself to working hard, and someday becoming as great an artist as he was.
I won't leave you hanging--it didn't happen. Even though he is dead now, he could still probably paint rings around me. But I did work hard over the years, and learned a few things, and got better. You should do the same!
Q: "I know the sketch I turned in looks crappy, but I really did work 12 hours on it!"
A: Let's talk a little bit about work habits. While you are working, are you also watching the John Stewart show, or the pirate copy of the Wolverine movie you found on the internet? That isn't working! That is working with half (or probably a lot less) of your brain in gear. Shut down all visual media while you are working or that doesn't qualify as working. Also, no texting, or video chat, or anything that pulls away the visual part of your brain. Some people think you shouldn't listen or watch anything as you work, but I have always listened to either music or National Public Radio while I work. I find that music or NPR can often distract the "thinking" part of my brain, and I can get into the "zone" easier. The zone is where you lose all track of time, and you look up and have several good ideas sketch, and no idea where the time went. Kids tell me they can do work while they watch movies or TV, but I don't believe it. Cut down your distractions while you work to get the best results!
Also, glue yourself to your seat while you work. If you get up every few minutes to roam around, you will never get anything done. Work in 2 or 3 hour chunks at least, so you can get into the project. Get rid of distractions, and sit and work. I am guilty of this as anyone else, and I have to be conscious of not wasting time by getting up to get a snack, or pet the cats, or talk to my wife.

So lets have some great ideas for next week that will be worthy of the last project!

David Mattingly

04-03-2009, 06:33 PM
Id love to hear all the stories about working on the traditional mattes. It really facinates me. I could listen for days about masters like Ellenshaw.
Anyway, i completely agree with the advice you gave there, you really dont start producing your best work until a few hours in. When i am sketching i generally feel like my first few are the best and that i get worse. Until i look back that is and see that my first few are nowhere near as good as the last ones, my expectations have just gone up and the flow of my sketching too.

My uni could definitely use you to come and show how to be passionate about teaching...


04-03-2009, 10:28 PM
Great advice, David! Milt Kahl, one of Disney's "Nine Old Men," and his then apprentice - the now famous Richard Williams, asked him if he ever "listens to music when animating." Milt famously flipped out, and lambasted Williams for asking such a stupid question - saying that he wasn't "smart enough to do two things at the same time." Williams figured that since Milt was a genius, and he couldn't do it, then he better not either. Although I'm guilty of sometimes listening to jazz or a good podcast while working, for the most part, these are distractions, and one would be wise to "unplug."

04-04-2009, 07:51 AM
Yea I do sometimes have a podcast on in the background whilst I'm working and I've got a great list of movie soundtracks now. Watching anything in general I find distracting though. I sometimes have planet earth on my tv next to my moniter but even that I find offputting if I'm concentrating on something really hard. Listening or watching anything at all whilst I'm writing reports and such is an absolute no go. Even music is distracting for me. Dunno, I guess my linguistic branwaves are more easily interrupted than my artistic ones. I think it's because if you don't want to look at something you can turn your head and paint away, but if you don't want to listen it's not as simple.


04-07-2009, 12:17 AM
I will be in other city this week. I will post my sketch here later or I will post it in the next week thread.

Sorry :-/

04-07-2009, 09:14 AM
Gah sorry about my lack of work recently, I'm back on track now and coming back to NY with an awesome new HD.

This is just a woods scene with black/gray leaved trees and sand instead of dirt. Roots are growing over and through a path with track marks on the right hand side. Drippy moss is right in front of the viewers face on the left side.


04-08-2009, 01:56 PM

Jim McKenzie
04-08-2009, 07:34 PM
its going to have more stuff in it, but i just haven't figured out what. maybe some Alice and wonderland looking creatures. http://i189.photobucket.com/albums/z43/jimmymckenzie/mattepainting.jpg

04-08-2009, 07:35 PM

04-08-2009, 09:40 PM

might seem a bit empty now but i was leaving space for green screened people, balloons floating around, maybe some flashing lights. possibly animals that move but i'm not sure how that would work out.

04-08-2009, 09:43 PM
Hi everyone,

The first image below is my final concept sketch, as well as a more design-oriented sketch below that. First, I'll explain the shot, then, I'll explain the connection this shot will have to my thesis, "The Point, The Line, & The Plane."

1.) The Shot: This will be a vertical pan. It will start from the bottom, as a man walks into an elevator shaft, and rides upward. This bustling, surrealistic cluster of buildings, , stacked like a wedding cake, will be the view from the upward traveling elevator. Specifically, when the man gets into the elevator, he will push the button, then the elevator (with the man in it) will rise ABOVE the camera and pass it up, so essentially, the figure WON'T be obscuring the cityscape as the camera pans up. However, as the elevator rises, the camera will be traveling upward through the elevator shaft, so it will be panning behind some iron bars - seeing that we are traveling through the "canal" of an elevator shaft.

2.) My thesis: My thesis is called The Point, The Line, & The Plane. It is rooted in a famous design theory that everything around us can be created by a hybrid of basic points, lines, and planes. With this theory, I tell a story of how these three singular elements have created the world around us. I take the audience through many significant styles and artistic movements through 2d and 3d animation and visual fx. For THIS shot, it will fall in the 1930's Art Deco section, and in many ways, is a small homage to the stylization of the film Metropolis, by Fritz Lang. I want the final version to maintain the sentiments that make Art Deco what it is -- strong and dynamic shapes, geometric architecture, industrial strength brass, and an overall sense of grandiosity and class. In the actual animated Thesis, these buildings will dramatically extrude out from the ground, and erect the Chrysler Building -- one of the most significant relics of the Art Deco style.

Final sketch:

Preliminary sketch: In the animated version for Thesis, there will be massive 3D Typography sitting on top of the building tops to spell out "Skyscraper!"

04-08-2009, 09:55 PM

04-08-2009, 11:22 PM
Hi all--
The main elements I am looking for in grading are:
1. A concept that has layers of information that can be broken apart and multiplaned against each other.
2. Your concept sketch done without the use of photographic elements. I am serious about just painting to get your concepts down.
3. An exciting concept. This is our final project, and I want something worthy of the time we will devote to it. You can render and render, but if you don't have a good basic idea, your piece will never be any good, so I am looking for some imaginative and fun solutions.

Looking at all of the homework, I notice that many of you have used flat, or horizontal, planes in your composition. A regular multiplane shot uses a series of vertical planes of information that move against each other. Setting up a horizontal plane is more complicated, but I will show you a couple of ways of doing it in After Effects tomorrow.

So here are this weeks grades:

Dan Bradham--See my critique of Dan Pochtager's piece--you also need to check out the golden mean. Your focus is a little off to the side, but doing this golden mean technique could make the composition less obvious and more pleasing. Let's say that round whirlpool thing is your first focus, and the bridge between the 2 mountains is the second, smaller focus. You could make the right side heavier with buildings also, and the left side balancing out with the area of greatest contrast being the bridge. Definitely push the atmospheric perspective on this to give it some depth.


Grade: B-

Kate Conrad--What can I say? I love it. This is the best concept of the class, and best fulfills the assignment, with vertical planes that can be multiplaned against each other. Very nice finish for the sketch also--not too fussy, but communicates everything I need to know.
Grade: A

Brandon Lori--This looks like a very ambitious project, but remember that the elements have to multiplane against each other. The art here looks very flat, so remember that just panning over the artwork won't do it--you have to dolly up or down, or push in to see the various pieces move against each other. You have the chops to pull it off, but don't let this end up looking flat.
Grade: B

Andrea Lowery--Please read Max Thomas' and Dan Pochtager's critiques. You also have a dead on symmetrical composition, something you will almost never find landscape artists using. Put your main tree with the spring coming out of it to one side, and smaller trees on the other side to balance it out. Also, have your pond more to one side, and perhaps a foreground element like a big rock on the other. Right now your could cut your picture in half and flop it over and have just about the same composition. I like the "tree of life" idea, but lets start thinking out the composition. Also, you might look at Alan Lee's work (the designer on Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings trilogy) for some cool ideas on trees. He designed that humanoid tree sequence in the movie (I'm not enough of a Ring fanatic to know the actual name of the trees--wasn't one of them "Treebeard"?)
Grade: C

Jim McKenzie-- Alright, but you need to make this realistic looking, like a Tim Burton set. One of the goals of this class is to paint realisitically, so you can't get away with a cartoony painting, but if you take this into wackey Tim Burton land I could grow to love it.
Grade: B

Danica Perry--I'm glad you are back doing your class work, but this doesn't look like you put too much time into it. I know you can paint, but this basically just looks like a quick scribble to me. You can do this sort of golden swamp scene, but something in the background to make it hang together, like a mountain, or a body of water beyond the trees, would make this more interesting. You need an "A" on your final assignment to pull your grade up, so let's put some additional seat time in to get something good. (Seat time=hours you sit in your seat working)
Grade: D

Dan Pochtrager-- Your composition is very symmetrical, with an equal bunch of trees on each side, and the tent right in the middle,which is a composition to be avoided. If you think about the golden mean, a compositional rule that goes back to the renaissance masters, you will find an easy way to get a good composition every time. Basically divide your composition into 6 parts, with 2 lines horizontally, and 2 lines vertically with basically equal spacing, and where the lines meet is a good place to put compositional elements. There is a lot more to it that that, but avoid putting your central focus right in the middle of the composition. Put it either on the left or the right, and then place another element on the other side of the golden mean. I did a quick and dirty version of your composition to show you what I mean--the red lines are the golden mean, and where they meet is a good place to put one of the focal points of your picture.
Otherwise, you did sketch this, and it could be a cute scene with a lot of additional work.


Grade: C

Max Thomas--No homework. What happened here?
Grade: F

04-12-2009, 07:57 AM
Here's my concept.

The image planes are the foreground rooftop, which will have a green-screened character standing at the edge looking out, the closer cluster of buildings, and the further buildings. The blimp will be animated, and I'll add some birds flying between the planes to add depth. I'll use photo reference for the details on the buildings, with the lower-lying buildings being residential/apartment style and the larger ones commercial.


04-12-2009, 10:39 AM
This is the critique of Max Thomas's multiplane city. Max is a graduating film student, and finishing up his thesis, so I am cutting him a break for being late this week.

As for your concept, it looks alright, but be sure to layout a perspective grid as you move toward the final. Your perspective is terrible in this concept, and needs to be worked out. I will post more complete instruction on mattepainting.org about what I want to see next week, but basically you will texture you piece, and get it broken up into layers, and show me a first pass at your camera move.

Also, think about real world coloration of buildings. You have used a variety of different colored buildings here, but this would be a lot more realistic if you looked at more of what the landscape of a skyscrapered city looks like. Google "Top of the Rock", and look at what the major buildings of New York look like--you can sample some more realistic colors off a clear photo. But basically, you see very few solid baby blue, or green buildings.

Grade: D

04-14-2009, 04:52 AM
Hey all,

The Maya file in which I was about 50% finished with for this weeks assignment somehow got corrupted, so, in an attempt to make the deadline, I whipped this one up. It has less architectural geometry, but also ties into my thesis. It would be nearly impossible to duplicate the work I had done on my broken file in the course of a day, so it looks like I'm going with this...


04-14-2009, 08:54 AM
I was flipping through my new Matte Painting 2 book and was inspired by one of the works with a hot air balloon, so I couldn't resist the temptation to add one of my own!

Taking this into Maya now...


04-23-2009, 03:13 PM
Bringing SVA matte painting threads together for reference