VFX Tools & Techniques /// Matte Painting with Anton Egorov

The River's Castle, matte painting workshop with Anton Egrov, Catalyst Berlin

In our first live online VFX demo, digital artist and Catalyst Visual Effects tutor Anton Egorov showed us some pro tips on matte painting – a classic technique to extend film sets or create backgrounds and concept art. Here’s our recap.

What is matte painting? The good news is that it’s much more exciting than what you’ll find at the hardware store. In the magical world of VFX, matte painting is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Ever wondered how the original Star Wars movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s managed to create otherworldly film sets using only analog technology? That’s matte painting. Mary Poppins flying over London with her umbrella in 1964? That, too, was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious matte painting work. 

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A little background on matte painting

Since 1907, filmmakers have used the technique to create an illusion of an environment that is not present at the filming location. Before digital technology, artists painted effects on a glass panel to superimpose over live-action material. Anything that would otherwise be impossible or too expensive to film would be matte painted – from elaborate fantasy landscapes to legions of extras. Today, the only thing that’s changed is that, now the film and painting tools are digital, matte painting can efficiently create even more sophisticated and seamless effects. 

Though, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. As digital artist and Visual Effects tutor Anton Egorov explained in his live matte painting demo, the research and idea development process is the most time-consuming part of the job. Anton estimated that the The River’s Castle painting that he demonstrated took him 12 hours to complete – 10 of which he spent on planning.

Sven Sauer, Senior Matte Painting artist at Game of Thrones, echoes the importance of research in this behind the scenes look at the series’ stunning imagery. “The series leads us to places which had to be built arduously. This process took several months to be completed,” he says. “Perhaps the most important law is: nothing in our world exists without a past! Our environment is always peppered with details of past events. These details make the world tangible and authentic. This is exactly what pertains to our pictures. A good matte painting is full of memories, telling stories about the past."

Imagining new worlds

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Anton Egorov teaches VFX, 2D and 3D assets, mechanics and dynamics, and analysis to our first and second-year Visual Effects students. He has worked as a freelancer for over 14 years, on projects big and small, from music videos and feature films to VFX art and animation. In his one and a half hour long step-by-step demo, we gained some of his invaluable expert insight into the matte painting process.

Anton showed us how to use Photoshop and an array of stock images to compose a beautifully moody castle landscape reminiscent of Game of Thrones set pieces. He revealed his approach to composition, plus the usage of masks and effects to combine multiple images into one – focusing on light, shadow and blending options.

“The best part of my role is seeing my students start with zero knowledge and learn how to make their imagination come to life” 

The breathtaking finished image is a testament to just what can be achieved when you combine creativity with the right technique and technology. This is exactly what it means to study Visual Effects at Catalyst. “The best part of my role is seeing my students start with zero knowledge and learn how to make their imagination come to life,” Anton says.

Attend Anton's next VFX demo

Anton Egorov's next live-streamed Visual Effects demo, on 3D asset texturing with Substance Painter, is coming up on the 28th of January. It's free to watch so don't miss out!

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3D asset texturing workshop with Catalyst Berlin Visual Effects tutor Anton Egorov