DMP Mini Challenge_006 - December 2014 - Kung Fu Flashback


Happy holidays all, and welcome everyone to our sixth Digital Matte Painting challenge for December 2014, presented by CGSociety! As we’re providing a different guided theme each month, this time around we have something a little different for you. Like before, everything will be judged by Milan Schere and David Luong, plus one new guest judge in order to stay fair and square.

This is always meant to be fun, while at the same time allow you to create a nice looking piece in the end and win some prizes. Your piece should be a finished environment matte painting still image, matching into the style and quality of the brief.

All skill levels of artists are welcome in this challenge!

The prizes for top 3 placements are:

1st Prize: 1 x CGWorkshop, 1 xCGTOD, 1 x Ballistic Book of Choice, 1 x CGSConnect Membership
2nd Prize: 1x CGTOD, 1 x Ballistic Book of Choice, 1 x CGSConnect Membership
3rd Prize: 1 x Ballistic Book of Choice, 1 x CGSConnect Membership

Required in every monthly challenge to qualify for the prizes:

An early rough concept of your idea, at least TWO W.I.P’s (work in progress drafts) in the forum for critiques or you will not qualify. Your final draft must be delivered on or before 11:59pm PST on the last day of the month of the challenge.

To enter, simply create a new thread in this forum with the DATE of challenge and name such as: “December 2014 - Scott Brisbane”

For this month of Decmber, the theme is “Kung Fu Flashback” and the brief as follows:

The makers of Kung Fu Panda have decided to implement a flashback sequence revisiting an existing story point from one of the previous installments. For this, you as the Matte Painter, must create additional environment shots matching into the same sequence. This could be an establishing shot or a digital backdrop but must include the same feel and mood as seen in the already familiar scenes.

Objective: To create a full 2400x1000 pixel animated feature Matte Painting utilizing stylized techniques in order to match into your chosen sequence. Photography can be used but should be simplified to take off the photo-realistic look. You can work from concept to matte, using a typical refining and upgrading process, or create environments from scratch with 3D software based renders and additional 2D paint-overs for final sweetening. Both entails removing or adding detail and then really pushing color, shapes and form. All of the work needs to be tangible and not look “hand painted”. It must match the quality and detail level of the CG look of the film overall. The style and shapes are mostly designed silhouettes but the light and texture is tangible and more realistic. These guidelines should allow all participants some freedom for shot composition but the general world has already been established. Ideally you will try to also match the time of day.

Tip: A good starting point are landscapes in Vue or modeling and texturing structures in Maya. Then light them, render, and paint over with photography here and there for more detail if needed in Photoshop. Beautiful skies are very important. In film VFX you don’t really spend a great deal of time on the skies except finding the right mood and overall feeling or time of day. It’s quite different in animation where you spend equal time on the composition, color, and cloud forms to create a “style” and cloudscape.

We’ll be judging on creativity within the given spectrum, while matching as closely as possible to the brief in this challenge. Good luck to everyone! Please feel free to ask any questions here.

As always, you can ask general digital matte painting questions, and post WIP work not pertaining to this challenge in the regular DMP forum here:


Well this is best theme yet in my opinion, awesome!

As I understand with animation features the foreground elements and sometimes middle ground are mostly full 3D. In the brief it states that we are to create a digital backdrop, are we to construct our paintings to exclude a FG/MG as I think compositionally that would be very challenging?

Also, are we to select one of the screens provided to develop our ideas from, or be permitted to select a particular scene ourselves. I know that the scenes you have selected here are story transition points in the film where the true essence of Matte Painting comes through.

Hope my questions make sense,
thanks! :slight_smile:


Hio Aaron,

I think you can get away with having no FG/MG if you were to do a wider vista and something that is higher up like some of the examples shown. But if you were to do a FG or MG in with the digital backdrop, I would go with a 3D base that is within the same realm as this reference here, and not go too realistic, but go realistic enough to be as high quality as Kung Fu Panda in style. Use of all techniques recommended here, as you can still sweeten up the 3D with some photo textures but they need to be pretty specific if used.

Also, are we to select one of the screens provided to develop our ideas from, or be permitted to select a particular scene ourselves. I know that the scenes you have selected here are story transition points in the film where the true essence of Matte Painting comes through.

Hope my questions make sense,
thanks! :slight_smile:

You can take any of these as reference, or anything in the movie themselves that would fit your taste as long as it would match that particular sequence. So we ask that you choose one of those shots from the movie as your base reference and then go from there. Definitely being more of a sequence rather than just a one off shot would be great to convey the story and expand a little upon it through this “flashback”.


That information helps a lot, thanks for the hasty reply :smiley:


This is AWESOME! Gonna be quite challenging as well! Man I am kicking myself for not getting involved in these mini-challenges sooner. Big thanks to all the judges for taking the time to do this. How long do you think CGSociety will continue to run these?


Np Aaron! And as long as Milan and I have the energy and time to do it :stuck_out_tongue:


Hi… thanks for this challenge!
So the final matte has to be as the reference you gave? is it an individual work or could it be a “group” work, for example to have the 3d models in maya done by another person…

Thank you :slight_smile:


We want everyone to be learning and having fun in this challenge, so this is to be a personal challenge rather than a group challenge. Try to delve into some 3D if you’re not too familiar with it. The point is not to win, it’s mostly about learning!


I have a question: what focal length is typically used in movies like “Kung Fu Panda”… or what focal length is typically used in movies generally (if there is no differentiation in that matter)? I’m asking because different focal length leads to different results (I know - that could seem to be obvious, but I’ve just discovered the “true meaning” of this mysterious term ;)).

I asked my question in the context of this particular movie to better match my scene for this Challenge, but if my question is to general to put it here (if so, I apologize for disorder), then maybe it could be moved to the regular DMP forum?

Thank you very much in advance for the answer.



Allo Jon,

A “normal” focal length, which is what your eyes see, is around 50mm in a full frame 35mm format. Most cameras (consumer level) aren’t full frame, and they will have a smaller sensor size, so you’ll have to figure out the crop factor math to multiply it and get an equivalent focal length. See this link for more info:

For the wider angle shots and landscapes, usually I would go with 20mm-25mm, wider if I want to get more in the frame. But the wider it is, the more perspective distortion it will have if shot at a tilt. Also depends on what you are going for. Wider for more of an overall establishing shot, or closer to 50mm and higher to around 70mm if you’re more focused on a particular area or object in the landscape such as a tree, or looking through a vignetted foliage frame to a destination in a landscape like a farther away house or building.

Play around with building a few objects in 3D, and changing the focal length while also moving the camera physically in 3D space to get a feel of what the perspectives will do. For this challenge, I’d go more with a wider angle approach, and have not much out of focus blur if any at all on objects. More info on cameras and how they work here:


Hello David and Milan…

I was sorry not to have time to participate in the last two challenges, but am on board with this one.

This may be a no-brainer question but I’m wondering if it’s OK to pull from KFP2 and/or the several franchise shorts for inspiration and the actual sequence match? I’m understanding the initial brief to suggest that we can do that. ("…implement a flashback sequence revisiting an existing story point from one of the previous installments.") But I realize each of the matte painting examples shown are from the 1st movie only and your Dec.2 answer to Aaron above (“You can take any of these as reference, or anything in the movie…”) suggests maybe I’m misunderstanding and you really want us to just stick with the 1st movie only?

Sorry to split hairs. I can guess what your answer will be but just want to make sure before I get too far along… :slight_smile:

Thank you,



I think keeping it in the same world and style as the Kung Fu Panda franchise altogether would be ok with me. Doesn’t have to be just from the first movie. Just post the image/sequence you will be drawing your inspiration from in your thread during the WIP posts so we can get a better understanding.


Stylized matte shot ?! Yes! This is what I was just waiting for, great theme - not sure if we had one of those around in the past, can’t recall. Looking forward to get into this! Kung Fu Panda films, in my opinion, consistently delivered amazing looking environments so this is not going to be easy - to be honest realism is probably easier! :slight_smile:

It’s been a while for me but excited to be joining again matte painting enthusiasts on CG Society and the challenge.

Just to clarify David, one of your comments points out:

Definitely being more of a sequence rather than just a one off shot would be great to convey the story and expand a little upon it through this “flashback”.

Animated sequence would be preferred rather than a single painting as a final entry?



Glad you’re coming back! Oh you would only pick the sequence just to base your work off of, but this is a still frame image, not an animated one (that would fit image wise in a sequence).


We’d like to introduce this month’s special guest judge, Scott Brisbane!

Scott has been very busy over his ten year career working on a series of blockbuster films with a variety of “A List” companies. He currently holds the position of Head of Matte Painting for Dreamworks Animation where he is currently working on How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3 having just completed work on The Croods.

It all started when he graduated from USC’s School of Cinema-TV with a degree in Cinematography. He went on to study matte painting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and was hired shortly there after as a Digital Matte Artist at Matte World Digital (MWD).

While at MWD, Scott created concepts and final matte paintings for numerous projects including The Alamo, The Last Samurai, Catwoman, and the Imax film Greece: Secrets of the Past.

Scott joined Dreamworks Animation in 2005 where he built his credit list to include Over the Hedge, Flushed Away, and Shrek the Third. He was promoted to Lead Matte Painter on Kung Fu Panda, where he supervised a team of 15 artists. This was the first film at the studio in which Vue was used extensively to create the environments for over 700 shots in the film.

In 2008, Scott served as the Matte Painting Supervisor at Dreamworks Animation for the studio’s first stereoscopic movie, Monsters vs. Aliens. This film allowed the matte department the opportunity to push the boundaries of digital environments in 3D.

With his work on Monsters vs. Aliens completed Scott joined the team at Rhythm and Hues Studios to work on Land of the Lost, The Wolfman and The Cabin in the Woods.

In 2009, Scott made a move to New Zealand to join the Matte Painting Department at Weta Digital to work as Senior Matte Painter on James Cameron’s Avatar where he and his his team won a VES Award for “Outstanding Matte Paintings in a Feature Motion Picture”. Scott also regularly teaches for Studio Arts in Los Angeles.

Scott will be teaching the upcoming new workshop, “Matte Painting with Vue” in January 12, 2015. To sign up, go here!

Scott on Linkedin:
Scott on IMDB:
Scott’s Interview on CGSociety:

Some of Scott’s Digital Matte Painting work:

The Croods

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Land of the Lost


Kung Fu Panda


Heya everyone!!

Please give a warm welcome to Scott and feel free to ask him questions, especially regarding feature film animation in particular. He’s probably the most qualified person to answer them.

This is your chance to get some insight info!!

Just sayin’


Hello Scott. First of all it’s great to hear that you are in Judge Team this month (I had a feeling that David’s example for thread name wasn’t coincidence ;)). My fingers are shaking a little as I write this (I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy…) :wink: But… well… coward dies thousand times, brave only one, so…

This is the sixth monthly challenge provided by David and Milan (It’s really hard to overvalue what you are doing here for us all and you have my gratitude forever…). All previous challenges had at least one common feature - photorealism. This month is different. And I must admit, that I have a special pleasure working on this kind of matte painting. I think it’s too soon to tell if it’s a permanent break for me or not (right now I feel that way), but it would be great to hear what you could tell us about differences in DMP for movies like “Avatar”, “The Last Samurai”, “Vikings”, movies like “Kung Fu Panda”, “How to Train Your Dragon”, “The Croods” and animations for games… Because of specialization it would be good to hear some advices from you David and Milan for someone who would like to focus on one of this kind of matte painting. Additionally - I would be grateful for the same advice concerning 2D / 3D. Especially in a context of mentioned types of DMP.

Thank you very much in advance for your answers.



Hi Scott, its a pleasure to meet you on here, love your work! Its nice we have the privelege to ask questions like this, I’ll try keep it short and sweet.

Here’s my question:

  • Matte painting for animation is obviously very different from live action feature film productions, I’m curious if the skill to model your own assets, project and composite your painting is becoming more a necessity even within the animation field now? I say this as I’m pretty clueless about the true technical side of Matte painting, I know a little but I really find this area to be lacking in resources for self teaching people like myself, and the more technology evolves the more worried I become that I can’t keep up.

Main reason for asking this is because I consider myself more artistic than techy, I’d just like to know if I would be considered less of an asset, than someone who is for e.g less artistically skilled, and more technical-focused.

Thanks you very much for your time :slight_smile:
kind regards, Aaron


Thank you David and Milan for providing this amazing and really priceless opportunity to grow and learn as an artist and matte painter, and thank you Scott for adding to that this month.

Scott, my own questions tie in what Jonatan and Aaron have asked and I’m looking forward to hearing feedback about their questions. I’m specifically interested to hear you speak to the technical similarities/differences of working on live action film at MWD vs. animation at DWA.

If you’re willing, I’d also be curious to hear what insights you, David, and Milan may have on the following:

(On studio practice)
Is the use of photographic source material (as just one of many painting/layering/texturing techniques for building a stylized image) acceptable practice for the creation of matte paintings or texture assets for animation at Dreamworks? Or are all DWA assets strictly hand painted?

(On recruiting & artistic style)
[I]In regards to recruiting artists for matte painting, do film and/or animation studios like Dreamworks, MWD, Mr.X, Blizzard Entertainment, etc. generally look solely (or perhaps just primarily) for work that matches or fits seamlessly within the existing end product studio style and, if so, does the recruiting process therefore essentially disregard artists with portfolios demonstrating styles that don’t fit into the very specific stylized category seen in past films done by that studio? Or, again in regards to recruiting, do studios generally value personal style over conformity at the outset and simply look for undeniable artistic ability that demonstrates promise, with the understanding that variety is the spice of life and a talented artist can mold their work to fit a given style, and because upcoming films will likely vary in style anyway?

Does the answer also apply to recruiting for concept artist positions as well, where the entire point (not unlike a matte painter) is to show creativity and vision?[/I]

(On skills)
Like Charlie Bucket, I happen to live a block from Pixar. (Alas, no golden tickets but lots of chocolate.) I spoke with a Pixar Art Director & Matte Painter aqaintance at the CTN expo in LA last month and was sorry to hear him say they will probably not be hiring many matte painters in the future since (to paraphrase) “Unlike in most live action film where matte painters are still essential, our environments are trending towards being fully 3D and the need for matte painters is therefore limited.” I realize it probably differs from company to company and the statement was just an offhand comment and his personal opinion, but not exactly what an aspiring matte painter interested in animation wants to hear.

In regards to hiring, does Dreamworks (and live action film studios, for that matter) also now place a higher value on 3D environment building skills over traditional artistic ability and matte painting + compositing skills? In other words, is fully 3D environment creation (Vue, Maya) completely replacing 2d paintings and 3D camera projection matte painting techniques in animation? Must a matte painter encompass everything at this point?

Loaded questions, I know.
Sorry I’m so wordy. Oops. You said to ask questions, so I’m asking. :rolleyes:

Hope you can take a moment to enlighten me… your sage advice is truly appreciated!
Thank you, Scott, and thanks again Milan and David.



Hello Scott and thank you for taking the time to interact with us here on CGSociety. Big thanks to Milan and David as well for their amazing feedback and guidance each month. It really means a lot to those of us who are still striving to improve and make a living doing something we are all very passionate about. I am extremely interested in hearing the answers to Jonatan, Aaron, and Thaddeus’ questions, as they have touched on many aspects of this type of work that I am also very curious about.

However, I would like to direct my questions towards a different aspect of working as a visual effects artist in today’s professional environment. As I’m sure you already know, this industry is extremely competitive and also pretty volatile. With tax subsidies forcing a lot of the work outside of the U.S. (not necessarily a bad thing for those abroad and those willing to travel), the consistent shutting down of numerous VFX houses, and now the scandals with wage fixing being commonplace among many prestigious studios, what would be your best advice for a newcomer to this industry who still has a long climb ahead of them?

How can we help to remedy the situation in the future to ensure more job stability and fairer wages for everyone? Although I have yet to experience it first hand, I have a few friends who have been subject to mass layoffs at various studios. Do you feel that companies are more loyal or less loyal to employees today than they have been in the past? There are now more opportunities and different avenues to explore for artists than there have ever been before. And even for someone who is very passionate about working for a major studio, is it perhaps wiser to pursue personal projects? Or is it possible to do both?

I know these questions probably come with complicated answers, but I feel they are important issues for all of us in this industry, and would love to get the opinion of a more seasoned artist such as yourself. Thanks again for your time, it really does mean a lot.

Kind regards,