Making Of 'Archetype'
This matte painting for Aaron Sims' short Archetype has been made with a variety of techniques (photo manipulation, 3D and a bit of painting to speed up the process).
I started by defining the sky in Photoshop, and therefore the overall lighting of the scene. The camera pans from right to left revealing the giant pumping towers far away, where a battle of robots will take place. I spent time focusing on the transition from the blue sky at the beginning of the shot, to the dusty and more dramatic atmosphere surrounding the towers (Fig.01).
Then I began to add detail in the clouds and on the horizon. I had to spend quite a bit of time color correcting and properly integrating all the different photos necessary to create such a wide sky. I used Curves in Photoshop, which are my favorite tools when it comes to color correcting and integrating photographic elements. Curves offer a huge amount of control and the possibility for the artist to modify very specific segments of the color range in the image (Fig.02).
When the sky was roughed in, I chose the first photos to create the complex canyon landscape. I spent some time finding photos of similar canyons in Arizona (not just using the internet, but a library I personally built during a trip with my wife to that state). I did this in order to give a consistent look to the rocks all over the landscape, giving a more natural feel (Fig.03).
I kept adding details to the landscape, trying to find a sense to the morphology of the ground. I wanted the ground to feel complex, carved and mysterious. I chose photos with a particular kind of lighting, with an overcast sky and beautiful spots of light breaking through the clouds. This gave the landscape a charming and intriguing atmosphere. I always try to give my matte paintings a dramatic and deep atmosphere, which makes everything way more appealing to the audience (Fig.04).
I assembled some photographs to generate a big lake in the canyon, with an island in the center and a giant rock pillar. I knew that this matte painting would have become a battleground by the final shot. Not only that, but the director wanted to place some big futuristic structures in the canyon to make the environment look more unique and exciting. Adding particular features to the canyon like an island, or a giant rock bridge on the left, gave me wonderful places to attract the audience's attention to and therefore to place one of the futuristic structures or some robots fighting (Fig.05).
I quickly painted some patches to cover the gaps. At this point the matte painting was coming along. All the different photos placed on the canvas were slowly starting to make sense and blend nicely together. In this situation I focused on the details, doing small color corrections and blending the different photos accurately. In order to blend in a nondestructive way I strongly recommend using the Masking tool in Photoshop. This way you'll be able to erase or add back in parts of the photo in real time. Masking makes it possible to experiment and find your solution (Fig.06).
With another photo of a canyon, I placed a river on the right side of the composition, achieving the overall idea that the landscape is made of deep canyons, carved by water streams. Even in this case I kept building a more and more exciting morphology, with many "moments of depth". This is important, particularly if you plan on doing any kind of camera movement and camera projection afterwards. Instead of having a flat desert, a canyon with all its deep ravines gives you a perfect chance to create interesting camera movements with significant parallax involved (Fig.07).
I finalized the landscape and started to add fog layers, to separate the canyons better. Adding fog and atmosphere, and in general any element to increase air density, is one of the main ways to create really deep matte paintings and make shapes stronger and more readable. Many The elements of the foreground often tend to blend significantly with the shapes in the background. In these cases it's useful to use atmosphere to outline more of the main elements of the composition. Be careful not to over-exaggerate; placing too much fog when it's not really necessary can quickly make your work look fake (Fig.08).
At this point I focused on the left side of the frame, increasing the dust in the air to make the atmosphere in that area even thicker and more dramatic. This will fully make sense, when the camera moves about in the matte painting, framing the battle that is fought on the left area of the composition. At that point the dust storm will really become a perfect background for such a dramatic moment in the story (Fig.09).
I finalized the overall lighting of the scene, adding a nice vignetting on the edges and a flare on the sun. Playing with the curves, I increased the overall contrast. These final adjustments, even if very quick and easy to apply, are absolutely essential to make your scene look "cool". I usually try to keep the matte painting as photo real as possible during the whole process, not worrying too much about the beauty of the image, but just trying to keep everything real and consistent. Towards the end, however, the matte painting needs a "push". The image feels good, but with some more contrast it usually becomes much more appealing, stronger and deeper (Fig.10).
I finally added the giant pump towers. I created these in Maya, modeling simple geometries, which I quickly lighted and rendered out as grayscale in V-Ray. In Photoshop I then added some concrete texture for the walls and rusted metal for the tubes that I blended in Soft Light. I finalized everything, adding some photographic details of refineries and other similar structures in order to give a more industrial feeling to the towers (Fig.11).
To see more by Francesco Corvino, check out /Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection