Matte Painting Advice and Response From MPC

June 2016
Digital matte painting is one of the areas that I’m interested in trying over placement year. Alec introduced me to his friend Jack Stevens who works as a digital matte painter.

Jack’s reels:
Jack was kind enough to give advice and shared his method with me:

“the best way to start a matte painting would be to do some thumbnail sketches and find a base photograph that you can use as the canvas. from there you would do your base preparation such as removing people/cars. you should go through libraries of images to slowly build up your final image. or you could build the whole thing in 3d. A good website to use for a reference library would be this: (”


Seeing his steps in a breakdown is inspirational.

He also suggested keeping an eye out for the internships from MPC, DNeg and Framestore as this is how he got into his job.
Seeing as I didn’t get accepted into the MPC First Step internship for lighting, I figure that I need to look more closely at the job requirements and build my skills from these. Hopefully, I will be prepared enough with a more targeted showreel to be successful before my placement year ends, and if not, I can always try again for their graduate traineeships once that time comes. If all fails, at least I will have learned and developed my skills for work elsewhere!:)
This is Framestore’s requirements for the DMP role:

“A strong understanding for real world materials, lighting and composition is essential. DMP artists will work closely with CG and Composting departments and therefore must have a basic knowledge of the practises of each of these disciplines.”
• Able to create photo-realistic digital matte paintings in Photoshop
• Assist with and develop the look of a shot/sequence in liaison with the show Lead and Supervision team
• Communicate regularly with Production and Leads regarding schedules and deadlines while maintaining the highest standards
• Work closely with the Lead Digital Matte Painter and VFX Supervisor to ensure that DMP meets any concept design or client requirements
• Work with Environment and Compositing teams to ensure shots are delivered to the very highest standard
• Seek out photographic reference material, where needed
• Share techniques, reference materials and ideas with the team
• Continue to become familiar with new tools, software, data and other related technology

Essential Skills:
• Previous experience in a similar role
• A thorough working knowledge of Photoshop
• Previous experience working in a Linux environment
• A good working experience of 2.5D Nuke Camera Projection techniques
• An ability to create concept artwork / mock ups.
• Strong knowledge of photography, with a good sense of artistic composition.
• Creative problem solving skills
• Works well in a team

I need to work on my ability to paint photo-realistically. I’ve never worked with Linux before (unless that one math module counts) but it can’t be too difficult, right? My composition skills could always do with improving also.

Christian Guthrie, who informed me of not being successful with my MPC First Steps application, was able to tell me which departments hired interns. He advised me:

“…the 10 departments that hired interns this year were
Technical Animation
This is not to say that these are the biggest hiring teams in the company, this is simply the way it has worked out this year. I would continue to focus on your passion and hopefully things will be different next year.”

This seems to be some indication that I should not choose a department because they’re hiring. Focus on the skills that I enjoy and I’ll find employment.

Blast Wave Compositing Practice

Following on from the Video Copilot blast wave tutorial, I attempted to create an explosion in my driveway in Donegal. The footage is kind of terrible as I don’t have access to a decent camera for filming but it still provided a good challenge for matching the assets to a similar quality, colour and contrast.

Driveway Explosion

The results are quite similar to what I created in the tutorial so now I’m curious about what different types of explosions could look like. I used the Action Essentials 2 pack (from video copilot) to create this so I’m also curious about how I could go about creating my own assets if the story so needed. Also, there’s no camera motion in this so it’s more apparent that the debris is disappearing.


Video Copilot Blast Wave Tutorial

Blast wave tutorial (after effects)

I had a look at this tutorial a few weeks back and it was a great introduction into how various assets can be integrated seamlessly into footage. Some points that I took from this tutorial are:

  • Apply your tracking data to nulls instead of precomps as movement in the footage will reveal the cut-off edges of a precomp. Parent your assets under a null. Then parent this null under another null with the tracked movement from Mocha’s ‘AE transform data’.
  • Study how different explosions work in real life. What are the order of events? Blast gets kicked up, reacts to oxygen and blast waves move out.
  • Mocha is good for this type of heavily blurred motion tracking.
  • Use time stretching to retime assets as needed.
  • Use colour adjust, tints and levels adjust to match assets to the footage.
  • Blend the assets using feather masks and watch out for sharp unnatural edges.
  • We can turn on motion blur as we’re using nulls to hold our data.
  • For a spherical explosion, animate a cc sphere effect.

This is my own attempt of going through the tutorial and trying to get the same result:

Iglu Media and Football Euros Animation

It has been an informative 2 weeks working at Iglu Media. Andrew Coyle, Kerry McCormick,  Jonny Shields and I worked on two quick turnaround videos for the football Euros. The first video was an explainer style animation that explained the difference between Irish and Northern Irish football. That one was very successful with views as it very quickly got over 2,000,000 views on Facebook alone, then many extra on YouTube.

Irish and Northern Irish Football Explained

We then started the next one on Friday evening (June 10th) and managed to have it complete by Wednesday (June 15th). That one was more complicated as it involved character animation and lip syncing for the first time! This one is currently on around 200,000 views on Facebook. It’s interesting to see the difference in views between YouTube and Facebook.

Paris Bun music video:


Some reflection on what I’ve learned over the past two weeks:

  • There’s a great advantage to everyone working together in an office space and keeping the same office hours. Everyone was in early in the morning, had a reasonable lunch and worked until 5 or 6.There was simply no time to be distracted during our set work hours. In the past I’ve felt guilty about having this expectancy of everyone in the team. I understand that some people like to stay up extremely late at night and then sleep as needed. However, after seeing how well a team can work when we keep regular office hours and be together to discuss ideas or troubleshoot problems (or just as happily work at our own desks), I would really love to see this happening in our final year team.
  • When it comes to animating, having pre-recorded sound for timing is so priceless!
  • Having a tight deadline really forced us to be efficient as individuals and as a team. Planning was greatly helped by having a locked down script or song to work from. We could immediately jump into the storyboard stage. We were forced to quickly decide on a simple style that the whole team could adapt to, for drawing and animating. Jonny Shields was a great organised force to work with and set up the initial assets list that let the team plough ahead.
  •  The presence of a ‘boss’ like figure also helped. There was that extra subconscious pressure not to be fluffing around or having unneeded tea breaks.
  •  I’ve discovered gaps in my knowledge, particularly around graphic design and typography. It would also have been useful to know how to use Illustrator for creating vector based graphics to animate. I ended up drawing with the pen tool in Photoshop for the first time but I’ve seen previews of Illustrator tools that would have made my life easier. Jonny Kane pointed out that this is a recurring area (Illustrator) that people passing through have said would be useful but lacked knowledge in.
  •  Jonny Shields pointed out and helped me fix poor typography layouts. Having a knowledgeable person as part of your team to learn from is a great plus! Andrew Coyle also pointed the way to expressions that I had now known about in After Effects. Having everyone around for immediate feedback, when I asked, was a great plus also.
  • Usually I’m not afraid of failure but I found that this fear became a greater obstacle at the thought of other people having real dependencies on the outcome of my work. I came at this project with the thoughts that I knew absolutely nothing about football and I’d never created motion graphics like this in After Effects before. On top of that there was a crazy deadline. Looking back, it was a risk worth taking but I didn’t know that at the time. It was a relief when Andrew joined the project and then Kerry soon after. I couldn’t have asked for more reliable team mates. I still would have tried to tackle this by myself, even if that might not have been wise.