Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept
Illustration by John Hersey

Finishing the details


From:

Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept

with David Mattingly

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Video: Finishing the details

We're almost done with this concept painting. And what is left to do can get repetitious, since it involves a lot of cleaning up and reinforcing forms I already added. However, I want to show you a few more tricks and tips on how to imply detail on a sketch like this, and how to quickly revise sections you don't think are quite right. A good example is the bastion or square structure below the flame holder on the left. I wish it was higher. Rather than repainting it, I'm going to Marquee around the section I want to raise up.
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Watch the Online Video Course Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept
1h 40m Beginner Jul 29, 2013

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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.

Topics include:
  • Setting up your Photoshop workspace
  • Toning the plate with adjustment layers
  • Examining transfer modes
  • Finding the silhouette
  • Drawing internal forms
  • Creating a custom brush for clouds
  • Painting the sky
Subjects:
3D + Animation Design
Software:
Photoshop
Author:
David Mattingly

Finishing the details

We're almost done with this concept painting. And what is left to do can get repetitious, since it involves a lot of cleaning up and reinforcing forms I already added. However, I want to show you a few more tricks and tips on how to imply detail on a sketch like this, and how to quickly revise sections you don't think are quite right. A good example is the bastion or square structure below the flame holder on the left. I wish it was higher. Rather than repainting it, I'm going to Marquee around the section I want to raise up.

Cmd or Ctrl+Shift+Copy that section out, and paste it back into place. Then I can nudge it up into the new position, and the correction is done very quickly. The difference between Cmd or Ctrl+Shift+C for copy merged, and the regular Cmd or Ctrl+C for regular copy, is that copy merged copies all of the pixels within the selection. Not just the ones on the current layer. I'll mention that shortcut several times during the course of this series, because I think it's one of the most valuable shortcuts for changing the position of elements in a painting.

Another technique I want to highlight is Cmd or Ctrl+clicking into your layer thumbnail preview to load selections from your layers. I just loaded this selection from the castle sillohuette and it allows me to paint into the castle without fear of painting onto the background. Pressing Cmd or Ctrl+H hides the selection, so, it isn't distracting while you paint. Another idea you should keep in mind is that of implying detail. I want to add a stone carving above this door, but in a sketch that should take an hour or so, there isn't time to really design it. However, a few symmetrical scratches can easily imply that there is more there than meets the eye.

While working on a concept sketch, keep an eye on your number of layers. When Cmd or Ctrl+Shift copying layers out to make corrections, you could accumulate a lot more layers than you need. And it's a good idea to keep your file as compact as possible at this stage. Merge unnecessary layers together by selecting them and press Cmd or Ctrl+E. Right now, the castle is not sitting on the hill very well, and that's because there's no ground shadow. Cmd or Ctrl+click into the layer of thumbnail preview for the hill layer to load the selection. Then select the layer.

Choose a big soft round brush and paint into the hill layer, darkening around the castle where it would be casting a shadow. Now, the castle appears to be correctly attached to the hill. Select a brush with some roughness and scatter on it and let's paint some details on the dome. In keeping with the lava theme, I'm adding windows to the dome starting with a bright yellow, then surrounding the yellow with red to make them pop.

So far, I've been using the brush in normal mode. But I'd like to add some more saturated orange to the front of the castle using the Overlay mode. First, here's the effects layer we've been painting the details onto into the silhouette layer. So, we're painting on just one layer. From the Mode Drop-down menu, choose Overlay. Cmd or Ctrl+click into the layer thumbnail preview of the castle silhouette layer and then hide the selection. Then pick a bright orange yellow using the heads up color picker. Now, start brushing that orange lightly onto the front of the castle. In overlay mode, the color is applied at high saturation without destroying the underlying detail you've already painted.

Now, I'm switching to black to darken the base of the castle a bit more. There's a couple more things left to do. After getting all of the forms nicely defined, save a little time to dirty them up. Select that brush with some scatter on it, then open up the brush window and add even more scatter and spacing to it. Make sure transfer is checked, so, there'll be some variation in the opacity. This will work great for adding streaks and dirt to the castle. Now, go in and scribble over these flat areas of tone. Right now they look too pristine.

But the moment you break up the tones a bit, they'll have more character and look more like an old castle. Even on a quick sketch like this, I like to save some time to do this since it adds a lot to the final effect. I'm going to fast forward on this sketch and add a final smoke effect to the base of the lava waterfall. Select that cloud dynamic brush again, create a new layer for the smoke effect, and dab at some clouds in the base to show how the lava is smoking. I did a bit more work on the sketch after the recording was turned off, mainly rearranging and cleaning up elements.

So, here is my final castle concept. You can find a copy of this in the course materials named CastleConcept.psd. This completes the demonstration for the first part of the course, but hopefully this has given you some useful techniques to help get your ideas down quickly. Since these sketches take anywhere from an half hour to an hour to complete, why not go ahead and put down a couple of ideas yourself. And then choose your favorite to go on to the next section perspective.

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