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Create film sets in Photoshop

Find out how digital matte painters bring the seemingly impossible to the big screen. By Tim Warnock...

Film scenes frequently rely on vast backdrops and fantasy imagery which would be too costly or impractical to build or find. This is where matte painting comes in. Visual effects artists are called on to create both simple and elaborate illusions for films, by painting over a real image. 

Historically, matte painters worked on glass, which was then superimposed over actual film footage in early 20th century movies. The technique saved having to send film stars and huge set crews off to remote locations, while also adding key details, atmosphere and uniqueness to a set. Examples of matte painting on glass range from classic 1940s Hitchcock films to the fantastical action sets witnessed in the first round of Star Wars films. Painting has come a long way since those early days of painting on glass. Today, using Photoshop and a variety of 3D tools, artists create complex, multi-layered environments that incorporate elaborate camera movement that was once very difficult before the use of digital technology.

In this tutorial I will be using a combination of photo manipulation and digital painting techniques to create a 2D matte painting. Beginning with a finished sketch, I will explain the key concepts to creating a matte painting. Working files and source images can be found on the CD so you can zoom right in and see what I have done. It’s time to get started!

Click here to download the full workshop for free (PDF)
Click here to download the support files (17.72Mb)

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