How would you define matte painting?


I wonder if you helpful chaps could help clarify the term “matte painting” for me when used in a CG context. As I’ve trawled the Internet and the amazing work on the CGTalk gallery I’m a bit confused as to what constitutes a “matte painting”. I was under the impression it was when you combined various graphics, such as photos and composite them together into a single image using hand-drawn techniques. Is that right?



[left]Hey - yeah, that’s what i’ve always assumed it was as well. It’ll be great to know exactly.


I always thought it was just a static (or close to static…) image used to define a location. Didn’t really matter how it was made…


Just a 2d facsimile of a 3d background. Used traditionally as a straight up 2d card, or even another layer used in compositing, nowadays they are sometimes used more photogrammatically (projected onto simple geometry). As regards technique, they can be painted or several photos skillfully photoshopped together, and the best ones are usually a combination of both. A lot of people use reference photos to get a base, and then paint or clone on top of that.

I think that’s fairly accurate? From what I’ve seen at least.


Thanks for the replies - any pro matte painters out there care to clarify? :slight_smile:


It’s also been called overglorified texture art, but that is the more recent development of the form. :slight_smile:


A matte is a motion-picture effect in which part of a scene is blocked out and later replaced by footage containing other material (such as a background painting). However, a matte replacement does not have to be a painting. A 3D image, scale model or any other composited element can be used.

Here is a good example used in The Last Samurai

A matte painting would be a 2D element used to replace the portion of the scene that’s been blocked out. See Gone With the Wind or Mary Poppins for excellent examples of matte paintings being used.


Well, the best way I’ve heard the difference between texture painting and matte painting explained is texture painting is generally painting with the lights off, and matte painting is painting with the lights on.

  • Neil


I’ve noticed matte in almost all the new movies coming out and it becomes harder to see them too these days! LOTR’s used alotof Matte, I think they hired a studio just for that part of the project. They used Miniature Models, Paintings (Traditional), CG, everything taht would make a realistic representation of something.


this is a good thread to let people know what really a matte painting is, well as some guys here think matte painting is a still image or static image of a required enviroment or set extension, yes it was, in the old times of cinema it was the only use for a matte painting, but now in the digital age matte painting is a whole new world of possibilities, as you can see in most of the movies shown at the theatres there are lots of matte paintings, all in 3D views , fly troughs etc.
now a days it would be called digital enviroment creation ,matte painter is like the traditional way to call an artist ,
it is not only 2D or 3D , miniatures or traditional painting,it is a new way to create a image, using lots of techniques together ,each artist has it’s own way to achieve the final result,


If you go to Orlander, Florida, go to Universal Studios and you will see the street that was used in Ghostbusters. It’s just LARGE paintings of the buildings, projected using different pieces (each painting was painted on wood) of the buildings at certain positions in the scene. This made it look 3D and real. But the camera can decieve because many of the paintings further in the background was less taken into consideration due to them being out of fovus anyway. I guess they wanted to save time with the back paintings of the building. If you look at that and consider Matte now, its developed A LOT since then!

So defining ‘Matte Painting’ is the above, where they use huge paintings on boards to represent buildings/scenery. But if you want to know what the artists here do, read the post above me.


what you are describing is called scenic painting and was a completely different branch of effects work.

matte painting was traditionally set extension or environment design produced by painting on glass (or latterly masonite).

current matte painting is the creation of digital set extensions or environments using both 2d, 2.5d and 3d techniques.

cheers, simon w.


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