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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.
Before starting on the castle structure, I find it very helpful to tone the plate to more closely match the environment of the castle I envision. If you plan to do a castle on a bright, sunny Caribbean hill, then your work is done. But often you'll want to tone and color correct your plate to make it something more dramatic than your source material. Even if you don't plan to change the plate, you should watch the next couple of videos just to get a handle on how to do it. You'll probably want to deal with the hill separately, so it would be helpful to separate it from the rest of the scene before we begin.
You could do this be using the Lasso tool to carefully select around the hill. But I want to show you a better and more accurate way of doing that. Go to the dock windows on the right of the interface and choose the Channels tab. Here you can view the red, green, and blue color channels that make up your image. Look through the individual channels and see if one of them shows the hill more clearly separated from the rest of the scene. In this case the blue plate shows the hill darker than both the sky and the water.
Make a copy of the blue color channel by dragging it to the bottom of the window on to the Create a New Channel icon. It looks like a square with the bottom left corner turned up. That copy labelled blue copy appears and it's selected. Now press Cmd or Ctrl+M to open up the Curves panel. You want to pull the black point which is in the lower left corner of the curve to the right until the hill becomes completely black. Then pull the white point which is at the upper right corner of the curve to the left until the water becomes almost completely white to create a high contrast matte.
this channel isn't clear enough to get it perfect using only the curves, but it'll get you most of the way there. Either choose the Lasso tool from the Tool panel or press L on the keyboard to access it. And now you'll need to do some hand lassoing to get rid of these dark tones in the water. Once you have made an initial selection, you can add to this selection by holding down on the Shift key while using the Lasso tool. With your initial selection made, you'll want to fill it full of white, so make sure that white is in your foreground color picker, and then press Delete. Photoshop will ask you what you want to fill the contents with, and choose foreground color.
Now I can see, there's a couple of areas I've missed, and I'll go ahead and add them to the selection. I'm going to make sure white is still in my foreground color picker, and hit Delete again. Now all of the areas that contain water and sky are completely white. You'll need to do a bit of patching on the hill so quickly marquee around all of the white in the hill. Press the X key to swap the foreground and background colors in order to get black into the Foreground color picker.
Press Delete and choose foreground color again. You'll also want to clean up these rocks in the water so marquee around them. Press Delete and then fill the rocks full of black. Now you have a clean, high contrast matte. However, what you want is white where the hill is, and black where the sea and sky were. You want the inverse of this, so go ahead and select all, Cmd or Ctrl+A, and then invert the channel, Cmd or Ctrl+I. Now the area with the hill and the rocks is completely white and the area with sky and water, completely black.
Cmd or Ctrl click into the channel thumbnail preview to the left of the channel name to load the selection in. Photoshop loads a 100% selection into any area that is white, and a 0% selection into areas that are black, cleanly selecting the hill alone. Click on the top RGB icon to view your color plate again. And then click on the Layers tab. Now press Cmd or Ctrl+J to separate the hill from the background and place it on a new layer. In this lesson, you learned how to separate your hills from the background using a high contrast matte extracted from one of the RGB channels.
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