Matte paint a castle on a cliff

Hello everyone, my name is Marvin Funke. I'm a matte painter and concept artist from Germany. I had the chance to work in the VFX industry at Pixomondo as a matte painter and concept artist during my studies, and I currently work as a freelancer. Today I'm going to guide you through the different steps of the creation of the image "Castle on the Cliff" which I did for a matte painting challenge for

Because I'm a big "Game of Thrones" fan, my idea was to create a moody establishing shot for a castle setting, which could appear in the series. It was also a personal challenge to myself, because most matte paintings I did before were for the sci-fi genre. For the final matte painting it took about 5 days, because I could only work on it in the evening after work.

One thing I begin my work with is to search for different references and inspirations. I can really recommend everyone does this first step. Through this process I get an idea for the color values, the lighting, depth, and the whole atmosphere I want to create. In this case my focus was on the architecture and setting of the castle, and the overall mood my matte painting should get.

Quick tip

To get an overview of your reference images, just take a look at the software PureRef. It is free and is a powerful tool when it comes to arranging many references together, or creating big moodboards.

Rough idea
I started my project by creating some rough ideas of different compositions with the help of the Rule of Thirds grid. I also set the final ratio as 21:9 for a cinematic look. In this case, I created different thumbnail concepts to find the right composition, perspective, and depth, but I also often used the technique of 3D, because there you can block out your idea and have full control of the lighting.

Create the base

I began my matte painting by finding the right sky and the right ground base. I took the epic sky from because it was the most fitting one for my idea. For me it is best to start with the sky, because the whole mood is driven by it.


Then I created the rough cliff, based on my references and thumbnail concept. It was my goal to tell the story of an impressive cliff, where nobody could easily climb upon. I broke up the shape of the mountain, so it became sharper and interesting.


Afterwards I used more cliff elements which I put in the background. By putting their values down, there was more depth created. Furthermore I modified the cliff at the top with a paintover from different stone textures to show more structure and vegetation.

Quick tip

Put the black and white adjustment layer from time to time over your image, so you can see if depth and lighting is working.

Castle foreground

So when I had my environment base, I created the castle with a bunch of images from I played with the levels to fit the different castle elements like color and lighting together. For the final touch I added some detail like birds, small waves interacting with the cliff, and different rocks in the foreground. Moreover, I painted some shadow and highlight details with the Soft Light and Overlay mode on the cliff, to show more interaction with the lighting.

Color correction

At the end I did the final color correction to focus on the key elements and to give the image more light direction. To create a warm golden hour look, I used layers, filled with warm color and the soft light mode. For more dramatic lighting I made use of a masked gradient map where I could controll the light direction. The last steps were to make use of some grain and vignette to give the whole image a more filmic feeling.

Final tips

No matter what project you want to produce, the most important thing is to find good references.

From this you can learn a lot about composition, lighting, and scale. I watch a lot of movies where I save the most impressive shots and look at them in terms of these characteristics.

I would also like to say that even if I only worked with 2D techniques in this project, I have to recommend to everyone to experiment with 3D software. You can transform your idea roughly in simple geometry, and then use it for a paintover or camera projection if necessary.

Marvin Funke - Castle on the Cliffs

Marvin Funke - Castle on the Cliffs

Related links

Check out Marvin Funke's website
Marvin Funke on ArtStation
Grab a copy of Ultimate Concept Art Career Guide

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