We launched a new IT training category! Check out the 140+ courses now.

Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member

What is a matte painting?

From: Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept

Video: What is a matte painting?

What is a matte painting? The word matte in matte painting refers to the fact that the painting would matte out or block the image in the background. Here is how a matte painting was done as far back as 1907. Let's say a filmmaker has built the ground floor of a castle but hasn't built the upper floors and towers for budgetary reasons. So a matte artist is called in. A secure platform is built to get the camera to the correct eye level and the shot is framed through a large sheet of glass mounted in front of the camera. Working with the cameraman, the matte painter would then paint the top part of the castle on the glass matting or blocking out the scene behind the painting.

What is a matte painting?

What is a matte painting? The word matte in matte painting refers to the fact that the painting would matte out or block the image in the background. Here is how a matte painting was done as far back as 1907. Let's say a filmmaker has built the ground floor of a castle but hasn't built the upper floors and towers for budgetary reasons. So a matte artist is called in. A secure platform is built to get the camera to the correct eye level and the shot is framed through a large sheet of glass mounted in front of the camera. Working with the cameraman, the matte painter would then paint the top part of the castle on the glass matting or blocking out the scene behind the painting.

Since the camera has only one eye, it wasn't possible to tell that the painting was actually much closer to the camera than the scene in the background. And as long as the camera didn't move, the painting and the background scene were merged together on film. The man who was credited with the invention of matte painting was Norman O Dawn. Dawn's 1907 film, The Missions of California was the first film to use the matte painting process. Matte paintings were used in films extensively throughout the history of cinema but the general public was largely unaware of the use of the technique. For instance, you have probably seen the classic film, Gone with the Wind. But we're probably unaware that whenever you see Scarlett O'hara's home Tara, it is at least partially a matte painting.

And in another classic film Citizen Kane, many of the signature shots are also matte paintings. I want to talk about two of the greatest matte artists to work in the pre-digital age, Peter Ellenshaw and Albert Whitlock. Peter Ellenshaw film credits include Mary Poppins, The Sword and the Rose, Darby O'Gill and the Little People and Treasure Island. My matte painting mentor was Harrison Ellenshaw, son of Peter Ellenshaw and a master matte painter himself. Harrison shared with me this high resolution scan of his father's painting for Stanley Cubrick's film Spartacus.

I want to zoom in a bit to show you some of the detail on this painting. Back before audiences could rewind and look at a matte painting many times to analyze the fine detail. Matte artists concentrated on the overall effect of their painting. How light fell on surfaces, rather like the great impressionist painters. And many of the matte paintings from this era look surprisingly loose to the contemporary eye. But when viewed in the context of a movie, they look perfectly photographic without actually painting in all of the fine detail.

Albert Whitlock is the second great matte artist of the pre-digital edge that you should know about. Whitlock was long associated with Alfred Hitchcock and his film The Birds, is one of Whitlock's masterpieces. Other movies that include matte paintings by Albert Whitlock that you should check out are, The Hindenburg, The Sting, and Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1. I began my career painting on glass. But the availability of the digital tools I will introduce you to in this course has rendered those older techniques obsolete.

However, there's still a great deal to be learned from the great masters of the past. For a complete history of matte painting, you should find a copy of The Invisible Art by Craig Barron and Mark Cotta Vaz. It is out of print, but if you can pick up a used copy, it is the best book ever written on the topic. A website that everyone interested in matte painting should know about is www.mattepainting.org. Mattepainting.org has great discussions on matte painting.

And it's a site where newcomers can get their efforts critiqued by professionals. Another site you should check out is nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com. This site concentrates on matte artists of the pre-digital era and is updated frequently with new interviews and articles.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept
Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept

24 video lessons · 9375 viewers

David Mattingly
Author

 

Start learning today

Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.

Become a member
Sometimes @lynda teaches me how to use a program and sometimes Lynda.com changes my life forever. @JosefShutter
@lynda lynda.com is an absolute life saver when it comes to learning todays software. Definitely recommend it! #higherlearning @Michael_Caraway
@lynda The best thing online! Your database of courses is great! To the mark and very helpful. Thanks! @ru22more
Got to create something yesterday I never thought I could do. #thanks @lynda @Ngventurella
I really do love @lynda as a learning platform. Never stop learning and developing, it’s probably our greatest gift as a species! @soundslikedavid
@lynda just subscribed to lynda.com all I can say its brilliant join now trust me @ButchSamurai
@lynda is an awesome resource. The membership is priceless if you take advantage of it. @diabetic_techie
One of the best decision I made this year. Buy a 1yr subscription to @lynda @cybercaptive
guys lynda.com (@lynda) is the best. So far I’ve learned Java, principles of OO programming, and now learning about MS project @lucasmitchell
Signed back up to @lynda dot com. I’ve missed it!! Proper geeking out right now! #timetolearn #geek @JayGodbold
Share a link to this course

What are exercise files?

Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course. Save time by downloading the author's files instead of setting up your own files, and learn by following along with the instructor.

Can I take this course without the exercise files?

Yes! If you decide you would like the exercise files later, you can upgrade to a premium account any time.

Become a member Download sample files See plans and pricing

Please wait... please wait ...
Upgrade to get access to exercise files.

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Learn by watching, listening, and doing, Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along Premium memberships include access to all exercise files in the library.


Exercise files

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

For additional information on downloading and using exercise files, watch our instructional video or read the instructions in the FAQ .

This course includes free exercise files, so you can practice while you watch the course. To access all the exercise files in our library, become a Premium Member.

Are you sure you want to mark all the videos in this course as unwatched?

This will not affect your course history, your reports, or your certificates of completion for this course.


Mark all as unwatched Cancel

Congratulations

You have completed Digital Matte Painting Essentials 1: Concept.

Return to your organization's learning portal to continue training, or close this page.


OK
Become a member to add this course to a playlist

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses—and create as many playlists as you like.

Get started

Already a member ?

Become a member to like this course.

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses.

Get started

Already a member?

Exercise files

Learn by watching, listening, and doing! Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along. Exercise files are available with all Premium memberships. Learn more

Get started

Already a Premium member?

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Ask a question

Thanks for contacting us.
You’ll hear from our Customer Service team within 24 hours.

Please enter the text shown below:

The classic layout automatically defaults to the latest Flash Player.

To choose a different player, hold the cursor over your name at the top right of any lynda.com page and choose Site preferences from the dropdown menu.

Continue to classic layout Stay on new layout
Exercise files

Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.

Mark videos as unwatched

Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.

Control your viewing experience

Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.

Interactive transcripts

Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.

Are you sure you want to delete this note?

No

Your file was successfully uploaded.

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.


Sign up and receive emails about lynda.com and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from lynda.com.

Sign up and receive emails about lynda.com and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

   
submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.