Matte painting techniques for set design

Week 02

After blocking out rough layouts for the apartment design in Maya I thought it would be a good idea to look at different options for moving forward. I came across this tutorial on Gumroad yesterday: Matte Painting techniques for set design by Simone De Salvatore

I was quite surprised by this workflow as it doesn’t involve any rendering with paint. Salvatore uses mental ray to do almost all of his shading and material rendering and then composites the different passes in Photoshop and layers textures on top of the different forms using different blending modes, adjustments and masking.

I had intended to just draw and paint over the basic 3D forms that I had blocked out but been able to mix with this approach might also be helpful (if I have time to develop my blocks into better models.)

These are my notes from the tutorial:

02 Mood Painting

Create a rough painting of the mood and colours. Start to sculpt forms with these rough colours.

Always keep colour perspective in mind. Also keep bounced light in mind and how it affects the values on surfaces.

Design loosely in the initial mood painting and then develop the designs more precisely in Maya. Material decisions can also be made later.

Play with adjustments at the end. During the production, don’t go too bright or dark. Leave modification to adjustment layers.

03 Design Elements

Roughly sketch a number of different designs (create 3 different versions) and then choose your favourite elements from each. Re-sketch one side of this if it will be symmetrical.  Try over and over again to get the best line possible. Pay more attention to the silhouettes and negative spaces than the details.

04 Modeling

You can play with curvature using the ‘create bend deformer’ from the animation menu.

05 Set Modeling

Salvatore uses a focal length of 15 for a more dramatic perspective.

Use a figure to determine how objects can be scaled in relation to each other, especially in perspective. Take some quick renders to check if the composition is working. Continue developing the design of the space.

06 Set Lighting

Use direct lighting for more control and to create a more cinematic/illustrative look.

Instead of using an ambient light for a soft fill light, Salvatore uses and ambient occlusion shader.

For lighting outside a window, create a sphere with a lambert shader, the colour set to black so it doesn’t respond to the light and the incandescence set to the light colour that you want. Also add a slight glow.

Now create bounced light using area lights set to low intensity and emit specular turned off. Use depth map shadows.

Create fill light coming in from the windows using area lights facing through and towards the window.

You can add scene fog using the fog under the maya software render tab.

Render passes: Ambient, beauty, diffuse material colours, diffuse without shadows, diffuse, glow source, incandescence, reflection, scene volume, specular without shadows, specular and camera depth.

07 08 and 09 Compositing and painting

Layer the passes: ambient, diffuse material colour, diffuse, diffuse no shadows, glow source, incandescence, reflections, specular, specular no shadows, volume, z-depth render pass (which he leaves invisible but keeps for later). Experiment with the blending modes; overlay, linear dodge, screen, multiply etc.

Add photo texture using the transform tool and mask the areas that are not needed. Remember to scale textures in perspective. Textures that are further away will need to be duplicated more and blended at the seams. Try different blending modes with the textures and adjust the levels as needed.

To add shadow/relief within a texture, create an adjustment layer e.g. curves and then mask this layer and paint in the shadows that you want so as not to loose any detail. Continue layering textures and adjusting their contrast, blending mode and colour as needed.

Going back to your render passes, mask out areas of the ‘diffuse without shadow’ layer so that dark areas appear in front of light ones and light areas appear in front of dark ones. Mask areas of the ambient layer to bring out the shadows.

Transform cloth into place – warp tool.

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