The following lecture, Matte
Painting in the Digital Age, is from the "Invisible
Effects" series given on July 23 at SIGGRAPH 98. This
is an illustrated transcript for Web presentation.
My name is Craig Barron and I'm the owner
of Matte World Digital in Marin County, California.
Matte World specializes in digital matte painting and
realistic computer-generated 3-D environments for feature
films. Before we talk about the exciting changes happening
in the present, I'd like to start putting things into
perspective by looking at the history of matte painting.
Traditional Matte Painting
Originally, visual effects artists used
matte paintings to solve a variety of film's production
problems. Today, we use new techniques like "virtual
sets" and "digital backlots" to solve the same problems
in a more powerful, flexible manner. But these new technologies
have their roots in traditional matte painting technique.
Let's take a look at a sequence from Alfred
Hitchcock's 1948 film, The Paradine Case, from
the Selznick studios. [The film sequence is shown; we
see a London Manor house; then we see Gregory Peck enter
and stroll through huge rooms with incredible ornate
ceilings and details]
If you were making a film in Hollywood
under the old studio system that existed during the
1940s that required a sequence to be shot in a remote
location, you would never want to take the time and
expense to send your star Gregory Peck and the hundred
or so crew members overseas. You instead would create
the shot using visual effects at home in the studio.
A good example is this Manor House interior, set in
We are now seeing the matte painting shots
that created this interior, but I'm not going to point
them out to you until after the clip is finished. See
if you can spot them as I continue talking. For those
of you unfamiliar with matte paintings, they are, in
simple terms, paintings of environments on glass that
are combined with the filmed actors to complete scenes
that don't really exist. This approach minimizes production
costs by avoiding construction of large, unnecessary
sets or the spending of huge amounts of money for travel
to distant and often unsatisfactory locations.
In fact, at the Selznick Studios during
this period, any location outside the city limits of
Culver City would have been considered too far away
since they had a matte painting department. In these
slides, we see the live-action scene was first photographed
on Selznick's sound stage. Then, a matte artist painted
in the required imagery to finish off the scene.