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Learn to create new worlds, both fanciful and totally realistic, in our series on digital matte painting in Adobe Photoshop with David Mattingly, a matte artist for many groundbreaking motion pictures such as Tron and I, Robot. In this installment, he shows you how to set up your palettes and workspace, tone the underlying plate, create silhouettes in your background, and paint in light and other details. Plus, learn to paint waterfalls, smoke, and other elements that make for fascinating movie backdrops.
Most professional matte paintings are done in a supercharged color space called 16 Bit Color. So, what is 16 Bit Color? 8 bit color is the color space where most digital photographs in the world exist. Including most photos on the internet. They are made up of 256 levels of grey for each of the red, blue and green channels that represent digital colors. Basically, 8 bit color's created by multiplying 8 by 8 by 8 which equals 256.
Then each of those 256 levels of gray in each channel are multiplied by each other, equaling 16.8 million colors. That may sound like a lot of colors, but as a mad artist you need a richer color environment. 16 bit colors is created by multiplying 16 by 16 by 16, which equals 65,536 levels of grey for each channel. Then that 65,536 is multiplied by itself two more times, making a total of 281 trillion colors.
Let me show you an example of why 16 bit color is better. Let's take a look at this 8 bit photo of a blue alpine sky. The problem is that a fine smooth gradient like this can't be well represented by a bit color. There's just too many slightly different levels of blue. As a consequence, you get banding, or these clearly defined jumps in color. Let's switch over to the 16 bit version of this plate and see what the difference is. Here we're getting a very smooth gradient of blue, because there are many more colors in this 16 bit plate to represent the sky. If you're seeing banding, that banding was introduced by the compression that was necessary for this video to be streamed.
But take my word for it, this is a beautiful, smooth gradient. Let's switch back to the 8 bit plate and take a look at another difference. If you look at the file size in the lower left corner of your Photoshop document, you'll see that an 8 bit document is half the size of the same document in 16 bit. As I switch back and forth between the 8 and 16 bit document, you'll see that the file size doubles. So, even though it makes our file size bigger, we're going to be working in 16 bit color to take advantage of the rich color space it offers.
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