DMP Mini Challenge 003 - September 2014 - Ancient Walled Kingdom


Each month, we’re going to feature a professional guest judge from the industry from now on, in order to assist us in judging these monthly mini DMP challenges. For the month of September, please welcome Fabio Barretta Zungrone.

Fabio started his career in 2004 after graduating from the European Institute of Design in Rome. After 3 years working on movies and TV series, he moved to Madrid to join Ilion Animation Studio on their first CG feature, Planet 51.

In 2010, he joined the Cinematic team at Blizzard entertainment, working as a Senior Matte Painter on projects like StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, Diablo III, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.

His work has been featured in 3d Artist magazine, D’artiste Matte Painting 3, Ballistic Expose 7, 3d Total Prime books and the 3d Total card game Prime Wars.

You can see some of his professional and personal work on his website at with a preview of his work below:

Congratulations to everyone. Thanks to your great participation this month we’re having a very promising amount of final entries. Thank you to all of you. David and I are glad to have a guest judge to help us out this time around. Please stay tuned for the announcement of the winners as soon as we have come to an ultimate decision.


1st: Aaron McNaughton

David’s comments: Really loved your creativity in this one thinking “inside” the box, or walled kingdom here :stuck_out_tongue: You have the major part of the wall on the left hand side of the original plate, and it’s quite sheer with the height to stop a giant’s attack for sure. Inside is this beautiful castle and kingdom that you depicted well through 3D and painting. Composition is very classical, looks like an oil painting to me that was aged through time. Though I would have liked to see still a little more blue bounce of light coming from the sky into your shadows instead of it going so green in general. Also the haze on the top right tree is a little too strong, keep it more dark and silhouetted like much of your foreground pieces, but you can go just a hint lighter to convey some spacial depth. As for the sky, it looks pretty cool overall! Just a few of the two left side clouds are much more detailed than the rest of the sky, having a few more detailed clouds repeated on the right side horizon would make it more consistent. Awesome work!

Milan’s comments: Even though your final result is very stylized, I believe your entry
has come the closest to a Matte Painting within the objective of
creating a photo-realistic but imaginative vista. In order to get away
from such a fantastical look, I recommend trying to keep it less
monochromatic in the future. Real photography has more colour
variations which you should study. You seem to be developing a style
within your portfolio which might end up quickly making everything
look too uniform otherwise. Also think about exposure and don’t shy
away from silhouetting the FG elements more, as they would be
receiving much less light because the castle is sitting in open space.
This will also help you to lead the viewers into your world. Last but
not least, I always advise to work with complimentary colours or
tri-colour combinations. In this case, red flags on your structure
would have done the trick to balance out the visual rhythm, and
simultaneously could have infused motion, or a less hard surface
feature on your walls. Overall a good achievement and I hope you are
learning a lot every month. Your participation has been extremely

Fabio’s comments: Congratulation on winning this contest! This picture is really strong, so much so that we all agreed on giving you the first prize. The composition is sound, there’s a nice sense of scale and atmosphere and I really like how all the elements are supporting the main focus of the picture.

I agree with David on the palette, looking back at your thread I saw some early concepts that had a more varied color palette. I believe having a cooler tone in the shadow would have made the painting even stronger.The light wrap on the FG tree is a bit too strong, and I would add more fog between the FG rocks and the bottom trees to help separate them more.
My major note is probably about the shadow design. Looking at the light direction on the castle,I think you need to add a shadow on the BG wall and on the mountain. That would also help to cut out the silhouette of the castle on the right.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I made a quick paint over that should help you understand better what I mean.
Overall, well done! Fix a few little things here and there and you’ll have great piece for your portfolio.


2nd: Dylan Pierpont

David’s comments: All three winning entries this month have some nice dappled lighting, but I think yours steals the prize for most focused and well executed one. Hints of grass and trees here and there, and integrating the original base plate of the hill while matching the trees. The ancient ruined pillars on the right are definitely older than the architecture of our main focal point, which adds to the culture and mystique of this civilization…in sort of a double ancient kingdom, adding on from the ages! Really fortified walls and great expansive bridges connecting them. I pray for the souls that get sacrificed off of the far right side ledge there to the Gods! Unique colors on the green banners and flags for this castle too, it gives this kingdom a much more neutral visage rather than more of the bold colors such as reds or oranges that an aggressive kingdom might make for their flags. Great micro texturing of the bricks here. For the right side tree by the ruined arch, I would go just a little darker in the black values so it doesn’t blend too much into the mid ground behind it. Also the hills on the left hand side below the castle could get just a touch lighter and slightly more blue tones in the shadows overall in the entire image. Love the friendly (I hope) animals below just drinking in a serene lake!

Milan’s comments: Your entry is definitely the most romantic and has the most beautiful
drama. You are on the right track of achieving a wonderful portfolio
piece but I’d take the classic oil-painterly lighting even further and
add pools of light combined with a greater shadow play. Don’t be
afraid to throw more areas into cast shadows, or increase the existing
one’s. Pop things with highlights to make them stick out and try to
create a triangle of interest in order to lead the eye through your
composition. I really like this painting and hope to see more of your
work in the future.

Fabio’s comments: Another great entry. I love the lighting and the overall mood in this painting. The color palette is rich and balanced, and I like how you introduced red in the vegetation.
To make the overall effect even more interesting, I’d add more blue in the shadows.
The atmosphere is very subtle and that’s a plus for me, but that shouldn’t stop you from separating the FG from the BG. There is a lot of distance between these planes in the painting, and by adding just a bit of haze you would make the environment more vast.
The biggest problem I see here is the scale. As soon as you see the deers, your brain uses that as a unit measure for the rest of the picture, so you need to be really careful about the relationship between all the other elements.

The Fg arch feels more like a real size piece scaled up than an actual massive structure. Try to add some smaller cuts and bricks on it and you should be good to go. Same thing for the decoration on the wall on the left. I would probably scale it down by 50%. The banners are a really nice touch, but I think those should be a little smaller as well.
I made a quick paint over for this painting, but there’s really not much work left to do. Good job and congratulation on your second place!


3rd: Nilesh Parmarker

David’s comments: Striking color palette in this one, beautiful sunset tones of complementary blues against golden hues and lush greens from pulled from the original base plate. Very interesting wall design, kind of a tiered approach like Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings, and logical parapets to mobilize the troops against attacks on either side of the wall. Although the waterfalls generally work, the one that doesn’t is from the giant statue at the end of the wall in the middle of the composition, as it’s drawing water against gravity. It also seems to be going just into a misty forest, but no actual lake or continual waterfall beneath it. Another thing I like about this piece is the saturated red piece of the person on the horse, with some nice vignetting if light on it. Reminds me of the Hudson River paintings that aren’t afraid of using saturated colors and light/saturation to draw the eye. Another thing that can be improved is the mountain peaks on the top right of the frame, it’s getting ambiguous in the detail there and not sure about the lighting totally on it.

Milan’s comments: Congratulations on making the top three. The first thing that stuck
out to me was your perspective. The added structures on both sides
seem to be off. While your image is a great illustration, it does not
really reflect a Matte Painting quality. Your sky is very good, and
that is the level of photo-realism I would be looking for throughout
the painting. You have a great artistic sense, and made good use of a
saturated palette but the MG and FG elements lack the redish and
purple-ish tones from the clouds, which could create a stronger visual
balance. Last but not least, you have extremely strong visual story
elements but you do not make enough use of shadows to lead the eye.
Play with your lighting more, so you can present a well thought
through depiction of your vision. Once you have all that figured out,
try not to soften areas too much because this is where you eventually
lose the realistic feel of your textures. Your transitions and edges
of different elements are not completely defined everywhere and make
some things appear painterly.

Fabio’s comments: I agree with David, beautiful color palette in this one. And the red accent on the character is a very nice touch.
I also really like the clouds and how they add depth to the painting.
Since you have so many waterfalls, I would add a little more haze to separate the fg tree from the bg. It would also help to add a shadow on the mountain on the left.
The only big problem I see here is the perspective. If you haven’t done it already, draw a perspective grid and stick to it as close as possible.
I’ve done a paint over to give you a better idea. My perspective is not 100% accurate, but it should give you a solid base to start from.
You have done an amazing job with your atmosphere and color, now take a little extra time and really nail the perspective to make this painting sing.
Good job and congratulations!