Creating a Matte Painted shot in Blender

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A few months ago, I was excited to once again contribute to 3DArtist magazine. This time I was asked to write a piece involving set extensions, which of course means matte painting. I hired an actress and headed right out to shoot something that could be open to lots of different creative interpretations! The printed article (and what was offered for download) was limited by space, but I thought it was a fun tutorial so I really wanted to go over all the details here on the blog and take it even further.

I suppose I should state right up front that this course will not cover the actual creation of the painted elements. Also, those elements were not created inside of Blender. I used Photoshop for that, but Krita or Gimp would have worked just as well, so please use the one with which you are most comfortable.

This is a big one, so I hope you’ve got some time to spare. 11 video tutorials, most of them ranging from 15 to 40 minutes long, so it’s almost 5 hours of tutorials. You’ll definitely have to be familiar with Blender to follow along. I tried to move fast to keep the lengths of the videos down, but they still came out a bit longer than intended. Some things just take a bit of time. Hope that’s ok!

Here’s what the final shot is going to look like. Download the clip HERE.

For the magazine, I considered shooting a city street or something where we could extend the buildings upwards, which has always felt to me like the traditional set extension tutorial. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do something where people would have a bit more flexibility in what was added to the scene. With a street full of buildings, sure, there’s a bit you can do to extend them upwards, but with a natural, wide exterior, the possibilities are really endless. So be creative, don’t feel obligated to use the matte painted elements I’m providing!

For example, maybe you would just add more things similar to what I’ve used, like a campsite or some distant smoke. Maybe you envision it more sci-fi, or maybe you would rather see a much bigger castle, or an army gathering for war. Maybe you would just rather see a completely different natural environment, like a lush forest with native temples peeking out of the treetops, or maybe our actress has stumbled upon her first sight of the distant ocean. Have fun with it! And of course, we can always do a city extension in the future if there’s a demand for it.

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Let’s quickly run through the steps we’re going to take. We’re going to take our handheld footage and matchmove it first. Then we’ll use zero weighted tracks to help us reconstruct the set, which will make placing the 2D cards with the matte paintings very easy. Once those cards are placed, we’ll create a few 3D elements to help bring some life to the scene, including the infamous background birds. And finally, we’ll bring it all together in compositing, which is going to require some tricky matte creation for our actress and other plate elements that need to remain in front of the 2D cards.

So what do you think? Ready to dive in? Let’s get going!

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What could this image be? You’ll have to watch to find out!

Assets required:

Right click the names of the tutorials to download the videos directly.

Tutorial 1 – Tracking & matchmoving – In this first video, we’ll track the scene and get a good, solid matchmove. And if you need more practice on the details of tracking, click HERE.

 

Tutorial 2 – Zero weighted tracks – Next we’ll drop in some trackers that don’t affect the solve but will help us visualize the location where the scene was shot.

 

Tutorial 3 – Building set geometry – Now we can use all those track points to create the basic geometry of the actual location. This will let us place our matte paintings on cards in the correct places throughout the scene.

 

Tutorial 4 – Bringing in the matte paintings – We’ll start bringing in the matte paintings and placing them, making sure they’re the correct scale and right where they need to be.

 

Tutorial 5 – Creating a 3D cloth element – To bring some life to the shot, we’re going to add a fabric overhang to the side of the hut.

 

Tutorial 6 – Birds! – No outdoor matte painted scene is complete without background birds! I’ll show you how to build a super quick, basic bird, rig it, and set it up as a particle system in the far background. (Bonus – watch me struggle in vain to get the particle birds correctly oriented in the scene! Shameful!)

 

Tutorial 7 – Compositing – We can finally start the compositing, which at this stage is pretty straightforward. Let’s keep it nicely organized, though, so it’s easy to follow what’s happening and make changes.

 

Tutorial 8 – Foreground matte & rotoscoping – Now we’ve got to do some rotoscoping and some creative alpha channel work to get some of those matte paintings integrated behind our actress and other foreground objects.

 

Tutorial 9 – More Foreground matte & rotoscoping – Here we’re continuing on with our use of the 3D matchmove and plane tracking to assist with the rotoscoping. Hopefully this technique gets you thinking of good ways to use tracking to help rotoscope other scenes you may work on in the future.

 

Tutorial 10 – Timelapse Rotoscoping – If you want to watch a short timelapse video of the actress being rotoscoped, you’ve come to the right place! Sped up 400%, which only reduces boredom by about 25%, strangely.

 

Tutorial 11 – Finaling – Lastly, we’ll make sure the compositing is all looking good, colors are matching nicely, and we’ll render our final shot.

22 comments

  1. Thanks for this in-depth tutorial series! It is very well thought-out and stands out from many other tutorials on the Internet. I’ve watched three vids right now and already learned quite a lot.
    I also have one little tip for you: In video n°3 at 11:34 where you want to separate the blocked-out path from the point cloud, the shortcut ctrl+l might come in handy. It selects all geometry linked to the selected vertex/vertices. But you probably know this already…
    Thanks! I’ll continue watching…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks blenderfan! I do indeed know the ctrl L shortcut, and it totally slipped my mind during this. I tend to use it mostly during UV layout, to move islands around. Thanks for the reminder!!

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  2. Hi Sean, in the nightly build of Blender 2.80 is this helpfull Autotracktool.
    There is an option for tracking in,- or outside of the greasepencil.
    I never tried it so I cant say if its any good.

    Thanks for the tutorials!
    Maybe you could make a little update clip with the new Autotrack functions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the heads up, D.S.! That’s cool that the Autotrack add-on uses grease pencil like that. Honestly, though, with it’s main advertised feature, I don’t see what this tool is really doing differently. It’s simply a rename of the Detect Features button, with the addition that it begins tracking immediately after placing them without giving you the chance to review how many there are. Seriously, try it yourself. Without this plugin, use the Detect Features button, then hit F6 and adjust the parameters to get the coverage you want, then hit CTRL T. The process is no different than what Autotrack is doing, and the only step Autotracker cuts out is having to hit CTRL T. But I will explore it’s grease pencil function. I also believe that is already something Blender does inherently, and this is just a repackaging of that.

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      1. And as you can see below, the inside/outside grease pencil is also a default function of Blender. I’m really not seeing anything extra this Autotracker add-on is doing. WHich is unfortunate, because I really want to be able to have good faith in every add-on people work hard on. This one really is just a rename of the Detect Features, tool, though.

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      2. Yes, you are right.
        As I said, I never tried it. Coincidentally I saw it just one day before and remembered it.
        I gues it aims more for the easy to use guy not the professional who wants control of every aspect there is.

        I saw also your comment about some upcomming Natron tutorials. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I would tend to agree with you, but the Autotrack tool doesn’t even make anything easier, hahahaha! It literally only renames the Detect Feature button and starts tracking instead of waiting for you to push the track forward button. Very strange tool.

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  3. Hi Sean, thanks for the great tutorial. I’m mostly work on animation projects, but I always enjoy your great VFX tutorials. The answer to your question about detecting features inside a grease pencil, was right under your nose. When you press ‘Detect Features’ the first option you can tweak is ‘Placement’, there you can choose ‘Outside grease pencil’, ‘Inside grease pencil’ and ‘Whole frame’ (the default). Hope that helps. Cheers and thanks again!

    Like

  4. Hi Sean
    First, thank you for this tuto (full of informations and very interesting for me)

    I think what your looking for is in this video from Sebastian Koenig (20:46)
    (blender conference 2014)

    Like

  5. These clips have been a huge help for me, i’m an After Effects/Cinema 4D user with an keen interest in Blender’s composting capabilities, the explanations that cover composting in general are very much appreciated, as are the detailed descriptions of various techniques to help with roto. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re certainly welcome, Phill, glad you’re finding them useful. I’m also a long time After Effects user. I’ve also got some plans for some Natron tutorials, so perhaps you’ll find those interesting, too.

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      1. For the compositing, it would be very similar. You couldn’t do all the 3D stuff in Natron, obviously. But for the tracking and compositing, neither would be better or worse. Just different, and both could handle it just fine.

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