Create a Samurai matte painting scene


In this tutorial, I will talk about the step by step process from concept to finish of creating a production shot. To do a cinematic scene with matte painting technique, it is necessary to have clear visual communication, and I will cover the basics of lighting and digital painting in Photoshop.

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This is the final image of the project that captures the mood and storytelling.

Brainstorming & adjusting photo

Firstly, I brainstormed the story and set it in Japan. The story was about a Samurai whose family were lost after the war and he planned to take revenge. After setting up the basic storyline, I then searched for a preferred photo as a base from the Japan photo pack purchased on Ben Mauro’s Gumroad.

I then adjusted the overall photo perspective and removed the unnecessary objects in the photo by using texture brushes and the Lasso tool. As the storyline was set in ancient period of time, I did not want the street lights and wires to be seen in my drawing.

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Select a photo as a base and subtract unnecessary elements in the photo by using brushes

Modifying Saturation & adding elements

As I wanted to create a melancholy feeling, I lowered the saturation and brightness of the original photo and picked a sky that fit the environment scene. After adjusting the color grading, I then kept on adding other elements, such as the gate and some broken wood structures on the roof to make the place look more ruined.

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Adjust the overall mood and continue adding more ideas into the drawing

Dry Brush in Filter Gallery

As the foreground was missing, I added more rocks and a path to lead the eyes to the gate. Usually there are many details or noises in photos, so it is necessary to do a paint over on top. To save time, Photoshop has a default dry brush in Filter Gallery that I highly recommend. I usually set the brush size to 5 or 10 depending on the final result for decreasing texture noises.

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Using the Dry Brush in Filter Gallery to reduce noise

Adding more grass & mud

So far it was a bit dull, so I added more dry grasses and wet mud around the area, showing some shadows in the puddle. Every time I dragged in new photos, I modified the saturation and color straightaway. At this stage, I ignored the hard edges of how everything interacted with each other and just focused on bringing all the ideas together.

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Add as many ideas as possible into the drawing and adjust the overall composition and mood

Blending pathway with other elements

I kept on fixing the grasses and adding tiny rocks and mud to blend the pathway a bit more. It is always good to try different solutions, but one thing I needed to keep in mind at this point was the road leading to the gate. It should be clear without too many obstacles. I also captured the skylight in the puddle, adding more color into the drawing.

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Continue fixing the drawing and adding more details

Adding details & background

As the story setting was in Japan, I added more Japanese cultural elements in, such as lanterns and roof decorations. The silhouette of the architecture looked too calm to me at this point. To make it look more dangerous, I used sharper edges and broke down the roof tiles. For the background, since the mid-ground was packed with details, the background should be simplified and everything in the whole image led to the gate (focal point).

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To show the leading lines that eyes follow in the composition

Refining overall composition

Since the image was too balanced, I put a spooky tree in front to break the rule. Twisting the tree shape to demonstrate that this place was not safe and to create an uncomfortable feel. After that, I kept on refining the overall composition, modifying edges and interactions between objects.

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Refine details further, adding and subtracting elements

Using Blend Mode

I used Multiply in Blend Mode in the last step as it is easy to make the drawing look dirty. As the sky was a bit too bright, I used a soft brush to lower the brightness down. Adding mist around not only can separate the foreground and mid-ground, but also bring the overall composition together.

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Create an immersive environment by adding mist around

Color grading & lighting

I kept on working on the previous step to add more mist, sharpening the details at the focal point and blurring out the details for the rest. Since red is a signal of danger or warning, I added some red lights in a subtle way. To double check the overall mood, I added one more layer on top filled up with black and turned it to Color Blend Mode. This step is essential for checking the grayscale and value, from the background to mid-ground and foreground.

color grading lighting effects rendering models focal points

Tweak the lighting and details in grayscale

Characters & birds

To fulfill the storyline that the Samurai was about to take revenge, ready to go into the unsafe place, I added the characters with swords. For the birds, they are always good to be directional lines to lead eyes and to give artwork a feeling of movement.

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Adding characters in a scene can provide better storytelling

Match Color

When you want to change the original image to another color or hue, this function is the best. There are many happy accidents with this, so it is better to explore and do experiments. Go to Adjustments under Image section, and you can see Match Color. The next step is to choose the source which is the file you are currently working on, and then click on the layer underneath by choosing another image color you prefer.

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Two steps demonstrating how to use the Match Color function in Photoshop

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