Intro to Matte Painting
What you will see here is a very basic introduction to digital matte painting techniques, but these can be adapted or taken in many directions. When producing your own work, you may wish to spend more time on the details, create your own structures or even re-paint the finished result. You can aim for something more realistic, work in colour and forego many of the overpainting and lighting techniques. Generally, the more time you put into your image, the better your result will be. Just try to be flexible and feel free to experiment.
Unlike pure digital painting, matte painting integrates various photographic materials, often including a base photograph, numerous cuttings and textures. Although some purists (myself included at one time) argue against the ethics and satisfaction of such methods, matte painters are concerned only with quality results and meeting deadlines. In truth, itís actually good fun and allows you to distort reality and craft your own dreamscapes.
The idea here was to make the scene look dirty, as if Venice is in a state of deterioration. I started adding some textures, such as junk, rust, brickwork and corrugated steel, by simply cutting and pasting from other photos. I then played with the levels sliders and various overlay/transparency modes until it looks like a natural part of the image.
I copied and pasted some broken windows and blended them into the scene using brightness and contrast sliders. I softened the edges with the eraser tool and a soft brush (lowering the opacity sometimes helps). To align certain cuttings, I used the transform tools, such as scale, perspective, warp and skew.
I replaced the canal with more dirty looking water and removed the overlapping edges using the eraser tool, then covered up the incongruent window reflections using pieces of the same layer and the clone tool.
I cut the bridge from the main foreground layer, flipped it, adjusted the layer transparency and blended it with the eraser tool and a soft brush. I repeated this process with some sky. This creates a reflection and helps the water look as if it belongs in its surroundings (always important to remember).
I decided to flatten the image (make sure youíve saved the PSD file with the layers preserved before doing this). I duplicated the background later and applied a moderate gaussian blur filter. By setting this layer to hard light it softened the image and added some extra shadows. I decided to erase through parts of this layer with the eraser tool and a soft brush in order to create some highlights. I then lowered the transparency again to soften the shadows.
I created a new layer and applied a basic black to white gradient. My aim was to get it to coincide with the lightsource (the sun in the sky). Because the church is in the way of the sun, it will cast its own shadows so I flipped the gradient around so the dark area falls on the right, in front of the church. I set this to multiply (which retains the shadows, but removes the white) and reduced the transparency.
To apply some colour I added a new layer and filled it with orange, before applying the clouds filter. This underpainting layer adds warm tones to the image. I strengthened the contrast using the brightness and contrast sliders, set it to color and lowered the layer transparency. I rubbed through areas of this layer with the eraser and a soft brush.
On a new layer, I started airbrushing some blue into the shadows to add a cooling tone. I set this layer on overlay mode and adjusted the transparency so that itís not too pronounced.
I painted these colours into a new layer, which I set to overlay mode. I worked very quickly and loosely here, but it may be worth taking more time at this point and introducing more tones. During these stages I frequently returned to previous layers and adjusted the transparency and overlay modes, or the levels and hue and saturation sliders. Itís just a matter of trial and error and just messing around until it looks right.
After flattening the image I duplicated the background layer, which I set to lighten and added a strong gaussian blur. I adjusted the brightness and contrast sliders, the levels and layer transparency until it starts to look like fog (or smog). I used the eraser again just to remove some of this fog from areas where I want to preserve detail. This gives the fog a more natural feel. I added a new layer, which I set to multiply, and applied another gradient. I removed parts of this using the eraser tool to emphasise the shadows.
Time to add some lights and add to the overall atmosphere. In a new layer, I painted in the lights with a soft brush then applied an orange outer glow in the layer styles menu, adjusting the sliders to give the impression of diffused light. I created a new layer and painted reflected lights in the water. I copied the layer style of the previous layer and pasted into the current layer before lowering the opacity and applying a motion blur filter.
I repeated these processes in different areas of the picture, including windows. I also pasted a street lamp from another photo and added some light inside it. After playing with the transparency, levels, hue and saturation sliders some more, the image is finished! Kinda simple eh?