Creating a Matte Painted shot in Blender


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.


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!


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.


  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…

    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!!

  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.

    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.

      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.

      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. 🙂

      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.

  3. why don’t you put this videos on youtube?
    i have problem watching videos here?

  4. 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!

  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.

    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.

      1. Yeah Natron tutorials would be great, I looked into Natron a while ago, but couldn’t get much from the documentation as it seems mostly empty.

      1. Hey,

        Do you think that it would’ve been better for this to be done in Natron?

      2. 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.

  6. Sean,

    Let me just say that your work and tutorials are a true blessing. The motion tracking help on this page alone is invaluable. I’ve learned a lot from your work and what you share. If there’s anything I’d suggest you share next would be color grading/matching of VFX. I know that’s more general and probably more of a Nuke or Natron tutorial, but I am curious of your workflow and any golden tips.

    I’m currently a VFX supervisor and artist on some student films at Brigham Young University, and it’s something I want to make a career out of. Once I finish those in the next month or two, I’d love to talk to you about career paths and advice in general sometime.

    Anyway, keep at it with work and family.

    -Spencer Magnusson

    1. Hi Spencer, thanks for the nice words, and very glad you find everything useful! 🙂 I definitely have some plans for tutorials on color matching for VFX, hopefully I can get those out by the end of the year. I definitely do have a few tips to share, and even a custom node group to help in Blender. And yes, feel free to contact me about your career path and advice whenever you’d like! Just use the Contact Me page here on the site. And thanks again!

  7. Hi Sean! Your tutorials have been very helpful! Just a quick question though. I see you use jpg-sequences. I understand you don’t use dpx or exr for the sake of the tutorials, but is there a reason why you use jpg before png? Stability? Quality? Performance? Thanks in advance! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Daniel! This requires a bit of a lengthy explanation. For tracking on projects at home, I typically make a jpg sequence. At work, I’ll tend to use png. Mostly this is just a file size and space issue, even though it’s not even that big of a deal. Jpgs are really small, but the only place they are suitable to use in a pipeline is for generic viewport backgrounds, rotoscoping, and tracking. Pngs of course work better for that, they just take up a little bit more space. So that’s the main reason, I guess. Also, when doing things like rotoscoping and tracking, I want something that moves in realtime, so I can work quick. Dpx and exr usually don’t, even once they’re loaded into RAM. Jpg and png both seem to, but jpg always seems flawless realtime. It also depends on where the file is located for realtime scrolling, I’ve found.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this detailed and free course, I searched all over YouTube for something like this, and I didn’t find what I wanted, until I came across this gem of a website to find this hidden treasure, thank you again!

  9. Hi Sean,

    Thank you for the tutorial. I just have a little request. Please, for your future tutorials, can you keep the size of your videos down a bit? 720p seems like a good take for a video tutorial without significant loss of quality. Or if you keep them at 1080p, may be you can compress them with a lossless compression (ffmpeg with 265 for example). It might not look like a lot, but for those like me who live in countries with difficult access to internet (high cost/bandwidth ratio, unstable bandwidth), it’s a big deal. I’ve downloaded the 11 videos tutorials for a total of ~6.1GB. When I compressed them (with ffmpeg h264) to 720p, they went down to ~1.5GB and they’re still watchable.

    By the way, I live in Cameroon, Central Africa (in case your are wondering).

    P.S.: If you have the links for the compressed version of your videos tutorial “Intro to Compositing in Natron”, I will be grateful if you share them.

    1. Thanks for the tips, and for doing some testing! I’ve recently starting uploading things to youtube and using that as my main video hosting. That’s acceptable, right?

  10. Hey Sean, my son and I are going to download the project and give it a try. We took some basic blender courses and can model and add textures. This is what we want to do and to be honest I did not know what you are doing here was even possible. When I saw the actress walk in front of the bridge I was like OMG…if he can pull this off this is what we want to learn. Thank you so much for creating this project…here we go!

    When we master some of this we want to add some of these skills to music videos. Check out their website and music.

    1. That’s great to hear, I hope they help you! Please share any projects you end up doing, I’d love to see it! The band is great, awesome music!

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